“Have a curious mind, pick a topic that really interests you - and if it happens to be saving species from extinction, you would be amazed by the science involved in that!”

These words of advice are from Siân Buley, our pest control coordinator here at the Zoo, who has used a variety of scientific skills in her 20+ year career, and says that science isn’t just the domain of people in white coats.

After graduating with a biology degree, Siân was unsure what career path she wanted to take but knew her passion was in conservation. She first volunteered for six months at Jersey Zoo in the UK - a Zoo at the forefront of conservation thanks to Gerald Durrell – and was soon offered a role. The next decade was spent caring for and researching the behaviour, ecology, and ex-situ requirements of animals both at the zoo and in the wild.

Moving to Aotearoa, Siân dipped her toes into part-time biosecurity and zookeeping work, before moving into a full time position at Auckland Zoo. Today, Siân limits pest pressures at Auckland Zoo as well as coordinating various pest management programmes in Auckland. This includes pest monitoring at Matuku Link, the largest wetland in Tāmaki Makaurau. Siân also collaborates with a wide range of other organisations and conservation partners, including Auckland Council, the Department of Conservation, Urban Ark – Manawa Taiao and other zoos.  

Further afield, Siân had a pivotal role in Samoa’s first large scale pest control project. This three-year partnership with the Samoan Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment and Samoa Conservation Society was created to assist Samoa in their goal to boost the populations of their native reptiles, plants, birds and save their national bird - the critically endangered manumea.

As we know, in New Zealand introduced pests wreak havoc on native species. Siân's role in eventing and humanely removing pest species has a huge knock-on effect for conservation efforts.

“An issue closest to my heart is research into humane traps. This science gives us the information to choose the right tools for our work and encourage others to do the same. There is a system of rigorous scientific testing developed by the National Animal Welfare Advice Committee, and the Zoo only uses traps that have passed these tests and are therefore humane. Unfortunately, not all traps for public sale need to be tested and there is no legal obligation to use a trap approved by this method, therefore advocacy plays an important role in promoting good welfare standards for pest control efforts.”

Another cool bit of science is that New Zealand also has a comprehensive vertebrate pest control research tracker, which Siân in her role follows closely. The Zoo is also keen to provide practical help where possible. “Our team has contributed to several studies over the years, which has been very interesting. Even simply collecting rat carcasses for DNA analysis is valuable!” says Siân. 

Siân's advice for young girls and women interested in a career in science is to get a good mentor – “There are experienced people willing to freely share their knowledge and connections with the next generation in any given field. Don’t be intimidated and recognise that scientists are not all in white lab coats or mythical creatures. They are eminently human and walk among us in many different guises. The most important thing to know is that science needs you!”