Career College – 10 tips to making it in conservation

Written by Student Nannies

This week we chat to Anna Dunlop, 33, International Communications Manager at the Lilongwe Wildlife Trust, Malawi. Anna was a journalist and editor for many years before recently taking the plunge and deciding to chase down her dream job. Anyone considering a career change should read her inspiring story… and how amazing does her job sound?!


1.Tell us a bit about your job, what the average day looks like and what’s involved…

In Malawi there isn’t really an average day – every one is different! The great thing about this communications role is that it’s really hands-on. I do the usual things, such as writing blogs, managing the website and social media and volunteer and supporter marketing, but I also get to go out into the field and get stories first hand. For example, the other day I helped with and photographed the capture and release of two bushbuck (antelope) back into the wild and in a few weeks I will be documenting the translocation of lions to Malawi from South Africa!

2. How did you get your first job in this industry and what tips would you give to students for routes in?

This is actually my first job in the conservation industry, despite having a masters in Conservation Biology. Getting this role at Lilongwe Wildlife Trust was a combination of good timing, good professional experience and the absolute determination that I was going to get what is my dream job. I started my career as an administration assistant for the Daily Mail’s Femail section in 2008 and worked my way up from there. I didn’t have any journalism experience, so I was very lucky – most people I know either started out on local papers or took part in a graduate scheme.

3. What one piece of advice would you give to someone/a student wishing to forge a career in conservation?

The world is finally starting to realise that wildlife conservation isn’t just a luxury, it’s a necessity, and consequently, it is becoming a much more competitive industry. But while most people think of conservation as working on the front line, you don’t have to be out in the field to make a difference. Communications, marketing, advocacy and education are all just as important as rescuing animals or catching traffickers and poachers. When starting out, it’s also important to get as much experience as you can – volunteer in a local animal shelter or write a blog or articles for your local paper. It’ll show that you really are passionate about your chosen career.

4. Who was the one person who had the most influence on your career to date?

My grandfather. He and my grandmother took a lot interest in my education and were hugely supportive of everything that I did. My grandfather was an amazing man – he was press officer for the navy during the Second World War, travelled all over the world, worked his way from the bottom of an advertising firm to the top, wrote two books and was a brilliant photographer! He was a big influence. He died when I was at university, but I know he’d absolutely love that I’m in Africa doing this with my life.

5. Considering all the people you’ve met in your field, what personal attributes are essential for success?

I’m going to make this answer specific to working in Malawi, because, as you can imagine, working here is very different from working in the UK. Malawi is a land of opportunity – there’s so much that can be achieved and no doesn’t always mean no, so you can’t be beaten and have to be good at finding ways around obstacles. Tenacity and flexibility are very important, as is adaptability – animals don’t stick to strict schedules, so plans very often change. Patience is also vital – things don’t happen quickly here and it can be frustrating. There are some days when Malawi just wins. When those days come, you just have to go home and start again tomorrow.

6. What do you wish you’d known (but didn’t) when you first contemplated this career as a student?

I wish that I’d worked harder to get into the conservation industry earlier. I’m grateful for all the experience I’ve had as a writer and editor – and I wouldn’t have this job now without it – but wildlife conservation has always been my real passion.

7. What is the best bit of career advice you ever received?

If you’re not satisfied in your career, don’t be afraid to take a chance and make a change. It’s never too late and you never know where it might lead.

8. What is your career highlight to date?

What I’m doing now! I’m not exaggerating when I say it’s my dream job. I’m learning so much and I get to combine my skills in writing and editing with my knowledge of and love for conservation. And I’m doing it in Africa, the continent with the world’s most incredible wildlife, but also the place that needs our help the most.

9. What are the best and worst things about your job?

The best thing is that I’m in Africa! And I actually feel like I’m making a real difference. We can see the results of all our hard work. I also love the variety in my role and there is the opportunity and freedom to explore projects that I am really interested in. The bad bits? We do a lot of work to fight wildlife crime, so you see and hear about some horrible things. And, as I mentioned earlier, living and working in Malawi is hard – it’s one of the poorest countries in the world and there are power cuts nearly every day.

10. What do you think the industry will look like in the next ten years and what skills do you think graduates will need to stay ahead of the game?

As I said earlier, conservation used to be seen as a luxury, but now it’s becoming a necessity – people are starting to realise that without biodiversity, the human race won’t survive. The major issues we face in the coming decade are habitat loss and the illegal wildlife trade, and, due to climate change and increased pressure on land, the problems are only going to get worse. A wider understanding of conservation will become integral to more disciplines, as well as the humanitarian response. These days, conservation is a very broad industry – we don’t just need technical conservationists, we need business people, communications specialists and law enforcement. We are already moving from poachers to looking higher up the chain to trafficking and, in the future, financial analysis and cyber intelligence will be a lot more important than guns and boots on the front line.

Anna’s Mini CV…

BSc in Forensic Science from the University of Kent – 2003-2006

MSc in Conservation Biology from the University of Wellington, New Zealand and the University of New South Wales, Sydney – 2007-2008

Admin/Editorial Assistant, Daily Mail – 2008-2012

Page Editor, Mail Plus, Daily Mail – 2012-2014

Deputy Editor, Metro Supplements 2015-2017

International Communications Manager, Lilongwe Wildlife Trust, 2018-present