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Kathryn Davis ’24 explores wildlife conservation in Australia

Kathryn Davis ’24 studied in Australia this summer through the School for Field Studies.

Kathryn Davis ’24

Kathryn Davis ’24 lived an adventurer’s dream over the summer in Australia.

She swam alongside a hawksbill sea turtle, a critically endangered species, while snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef—and spotted humpback whales on the boat ride over.

She watched wallabies during an overnight camping trip to Australia’s Granite Gorge Nature Park and visited two wildlife sanctuaries.

And those were just the excursions she took with her fellow students in the School for Field Studies (SFS), one of the United States’ largest environmental study abroad programs.

The actual work Davis did was based at the SFS Center for Rainforest Studies in the Wet Tropics of Queensland World Heritage Area, which stretches along the northeast coast of Australia.

Made up largely of tropical rainforests, it’s home to a wide array of plants, marsupials, and singing birds, as well as other rare and endangered animals and plants.

“Since my program focused on marsupials, almost all of which are nocturnal, we did a large amount of spotlighting for both terrestrial and arboreal activity between dusk and dawn,” said Davis, an environmental studies major. “We split into groups and walked around in various forested locations with headlamps and flashlights to see what activity we could spot.”

Living and working in the environment they were studying was invaluable.

“It gave me firsthand experience with conservation field work in one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world,” Davis said. “As students, being with our program leaders and professors a majority of the time gave us so many opportunities to never stop asking questions and get more information to push our education further.”

Her time in Australia was supported by a RISE grant and a global studies scholarship, which provides assistance to students who want to study abroad.

“Having something like the RISE grant and the scholarship directly available to students only encourages us to pursue alternative learning opportunities,” Davis said. “There is a lot of support from faculty and staff to apply.”

Davis and the students in the SFS program completed final projects sharing data from their nights spotlighting; her presentation focused on how mammals there are reacting to changing conditions in the rainforest.

“Deforestation of rainforest areas is a huge issue in North Queensland, but there are many volunteer organizations focusing on rebuilding the fragments of open area between old-growth forests that were previously lost to logging and agricultural development,” she explained. “Our report focused on the question of how mammals in general were reacting to the new-growth forests being rebuilt in the fragments between the old-growth forests.”

Davis has always been interested in conservation, and after exploring different ways to pursue it, decided wildlife conservation is the right path.

“It’s where I feel I can have the most impact,” she said. “My SFS experience helped prove that to me as well. I’ve been around animals my entire life, and protecting and caring for nature is something I have always been passionate about, both in and out of the classroom.”

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