I get asked a lot why I chose UWA of all universities. I wanted classes totally different that I could ever take in Austin, a wholly other experience. So when I was looking at UWA, one class caught my attention- Wildlife Conservation and Management. It incorporates methods for field zoologists and the necessary things we must consider in conservation. Because this class is just so cool, my professor told us we need field experience before deciding if field work is right for us and arranged a night of field work at the Harry-Warring Marsupial Reserve. Which leads me to the greatest night of my college life. Ever. We got to spend the night tracking, trapping and tagging quendas! The picture included is not mine (field biology has a strict rule of no photos in the field, both for professionalism and animal welfare).
At 5pm we started off making bait to set the traps. We made a mix of peanut butter, oats and tuna- disgusting to us, yes, but irresistible to the animals. Off we went to set the traps! I learned that you must know a lot about the animals’ ecology before setting traps. Quenda prefer dense forests to have cover when they scurry about. Possums like more open forests because they nest in tree hollows. For that reason, we set out 60 traps across two kinds of “bush” as they call it. We all got a chance to set the bait, raise the trap, and hide it under vegetation where quendas and possums would be most likely to walk in.
Everyone went back to the field house to eat dinner and go over the night’s procedure, then went out again to see what we caught! Everyone was so quiet to not scare any animals, but the excitement was palpable. This was the first time many of us were getting to handle wildlife and everyone was looking forward to catching quendas! Our guide demonstrated how to hold the first catch and he let me take her foot and head measurements and tag her ears. I was terrified to tag a quenda’s ear, but it doesn’t cause any lasting pain and they can live just fine with an ear tag. Touching and working around this little beauty was amazing.
My favorite part of the night was when we caught a small female and checked her pouch to find three small joeys! Believe it or not, they were the size of gummy bears! Fun fact, for the first few weeks of life, quenda joeys fuse to their mom’s teats, which was the case with my girl. She was just so calm and I’m eternally grateful for getting to handle her. I really got teary eyed but pulled myself together to finish up the work and release her. At that moment, though, I knew that field zoology was what I wanted to do with my life. I loved everything about that night and seeing these beautiful animals was everything to me. That’s the experience I wanted from going abroad; to learn more about what I want to do in graduate school and do something I’ll never forget.
Ally Gunderson is a 2019 Global Ambassador. She is a biology major studying at the University of Western Australia in Perth, Australia.
Don’t get left behind. Read more about Ally’s experience in Australia>>