From sports management to protecting rhinos

I had the awesome luck to room with a stranger named Sarah Cox at the Lemkin Summit. Not only is she doing pretty cool stuff, but she also has an unusual career path. So obviously I had to talk to her some more.

Introduce yourself, and share a fun fact!

Hello! My name is Sarah Cox, and I am a graduate student at Antioch University! A fun fact is that I once got trapped in a tent for an entire night due to an angry cape buffalo outside.

Ok, I have to Google what that is…here we go. Yep, I’d hide inside a tent too.

Cape_Buffalo

Can you tell me a little about your “career path” from undergrad to where you are now?

In undergrad, I was a Sports Management major, with big aspirations of working for a professional hockey team or the Olympics. I worked my butt off as a 4-yr. intern for my university’s Athletic Dept. However, when I graduated in 2008, the economy tanked, and marketing/admin positions in Athletics were being dropped. I ended up working retail while living with Mom and Dad. It was a rough time for me, as I felt like my 4 years had given me nothing but debt.

I think a lot of people can relate to your last statement…#studentdebt #help

A few years later, I visited a friend in Baltimore. She had an empty, furnished room in her house, and I had some savings, so I took a risk, moved to Baltimore, and started looking at sports jobs. After nothing for several months, I started applying for anything else I could and suddenly got offered a job at the Maryland Zoo.  I’d loved animals as a kid and once wanted to be a marine biologist, but some bad science teachers buried that passion. I  soon worked my way to to a Membership Supervisor. //  It was at the zoo where I first learned about rhino poaching, and fell in love with the zoo’s two rhino. A little over a year later, I ended up getting offered a job in membership & fundraising for PBS back in my home state – I took it.

I loved my job, but missed my experiences with wildlife. I decided it was time for me to travel, so for a year and a half I scrimped in saved. In August 2014, I went on a 3 week trip to South Africa, volunteering in rhino and elephant research. For the first time, I was on the front-lines of a cause I cared so deeply about. It changed my life and I started thinking about another career change. Knowing I’d need more education to be successful, I started looking at graduate school.  //  However, my desire to return to Africa was so strong that I started looking at careers over there, and the Peace Corps. The Peace Corps offers a program that combines graduate school and Peace Corps service, and there was a nearby program in Conservation Biology. I applied, and here I am! 1 month away from finishing my second semester, and 3 months away from leaving for my service in Tanzania!

What are a couple things about rhinos/elephants that you think most people get wrong, or would be surprised to learn?

  1. Rhino horn is made of keratin, which is the same thing as your fingernails! Elephant tusk is made of ivory.
  2. They are both different substances, with different reasons for being poached. But the money earned is going to the same thing…violence, corruption, and terrorism.

What does what you study/rhinos and elephants have to do with humans?

So much! Most people don’t realize the real cycle with rhino poaching. When the rhino is killed and the horn removed, the horn is sold to Asia. The money is used in Africa to fund terrorism and violence. (detail here) So many people only see the rhino, and miss the human issue.  As inhabitants of this planet, we have a moral obligation to hold our governments accountable for their roles in violence, corruption, and terrorism. Only by working together and understanding the cycle can we actually make a difference.

Here’s where I’m going to make a plug for US folks to support anti-wildlife trafficking legislation ->> HERE if folks would take 15 seconds to sign a letter urging their Senators to support this bill.

In a nutshell, there’s a bill (already passed the House w. bi-partisan support)that expands the toolbox the US gov.’t has to fight poaching/wildlife trafficking by adding to the toolbox some existing regulatory laws v. money laundering – it’d let the US crack down and seize assets linked to this activity which would otherwise go to terrorist groups & perpetrators of massive human rights violations like genocide, and the seized assets will go towards funding measures to fight poaching/trafficking.

Something I like to say on this blog is “good intentions are not enough” as evidenced by lots of failed humanitarian initiatives that backfired. Thoughts?

So true. So many people volunteer, assuming they are contributing something good to the world. However,not all volunteer organizations are equal, and not all have projects that are actually sustainable to the populations they are trying to help.

If you want to volunteer, great! But do your research, make sure your time is being well spent. The same thing goes to any kind of wildlife initiative. Do your research! Understand the whole issue before you jump in and potentially waste time, money, or cause more damage!

Any examples of “good intentions are not enough” that come to mind either in another experience or in the area of wildlife protection/trafficking?

There was an initiative a few years back where rhino horns were being removed in order to make them useless to poachers. However, rhino were still killed, either for the stub, or to avoid being tracked again. So most countries have abandoned this tactic, because there are thoughts that tourists don’t want to see dehorned rhino, plus it removes the rhinos’ own defense mechanism. Zimbabwe is one country that still removes its rhino horns.

What are you MOST excited about re: Peace Corps?   Just knowing that I’ll actually be living in Tanzania, and have a home there, is so exciting.

What do you anticipate to be the biggest challenge? Biggest challenge will be my job as a science teacher. I’ll be teaching in Swahili and English, and I have a duty to make sure that my language issues don’t affect my student’s learning.

I hear a lot of clashing perspectives from people on how recent-grads in the Private Sector should go about socially impactful work, etc., generally in 2 “buckets” of opinion.  Bucket #1- “Quit your job and go into a super-socially-impactful function or industry as your day career!” vs.Bucket #2- “Stick it out longer with your private sector current job and switch later or contribute in other ways like money!” Thoughts? Ideas for Bucket #3?

This is a difficult one to answer. Of the two, I’d go with Bucket #2 – I am obviously a HUGE supporter of chasing your dreams and working for a job you believe in. However, it’s a touch economy, and being broke/unemployed is not a good position to be in.    What worked for me was to take a job, work really hard, learn all kinds of important, transferable skills and be a great employee. In the meantime, I used my vacation time to travel and volunteer, and my free time to study the subjects that interested me.I bided my time, did my research, and waited for the right opportunity to come along.

My best advice is, no job is too small and unimportant – do the best you can, be patient, and things will fall into place.

Final $0.02 for people contemplating what to do with their lives / careers?

Look at what you loved when you were 8, before there were outside influences telling you what they thought you should do.

The End! If you want to keep reading: 1] How expensive is elephant ivory? As much as $1.5K per pound.  2 tusks ~ 250 lbs. $1.5K x 250 lbs = USD$375,000. See here. 2] A tragic example of how violent poaching is here. 3] Press release from Enough Project when the bill passed the House here.

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