From Newbury to Cameroon: Laura Praill’s path to a career in wildlife conservation

Laura Praill Limbe Wildlife Centre

Former St Bart’s student Laura Praill from Newbury is living her dream working for a wildlife sanctuary in Cameroon. Penny interviewed her to find out more about her incredible journey.

Wildlife conservation is one of those exotic careers that most people only dream of. Where did you start on your journey?

“I always loved animals, so I pursued the veterinary route, doing my work experience at Donnington Vets and volunteering as a farm hand growing up. I wasn’t actually getting the grades in school to become a vet, but I didn’t let that deter me!

“When I was 16 between my GCSEs and A-Levels at St Barts, I signed up for a trip to Borneo. It was an incredible opportunity and I fundraised for the trip to pay for all the expenses and equipment. Once I got there and saw wild orangutans for the first time, I immediately knew that wildlife was my calling. I was lucky to meet conservationists and visit sanctuaries and national parks.

“Back home in Newbury, I volunteered at The Living Rainforest in Hampstead Norreys in my spare time. And after my A Levels I contined down the route of conservation and primatology by going to Salford University to study Wildlife Conservation and Zoo Biology.

What advice do you have for anyone wanting to get into conservation?

“Now I am glad I didn’t get the grades required for vet school because that’s how I found conservation. But conservation is not easy to get into, as many of the jobs demand lots of unpaid/voluntary experience and some voluntary roles you actually have to pay to do.

“I recommend that anyone that wants to work in conservation gets experience at home, even if it’s once a week in a local zoo/animal shelter. It adds up over time. I also recommend doing a university degree that has a sandwich/placement year. You can get financial funding through your university to support you, should you want to go get experience that is relating to your degree. Take advantage of university funding, whilst you can!

“In my placement year, I spent two months in Malawi working with rescued primates. I became an International Ambassador for the Lilongwe Wildlife Trust in Malawi and completed their Primate Conservation and Behaviour course, led by Ian Redmond, a world famous primate conservationist and advocate. I also spent three months in Spain working with primates rescued from the illegal pet trade, a month in Brazil on a Tronical Ecology field trip learning scientific methods of studying in the field and six months working at Combe Martin Wildlife Park in North Devon.

“I then went to do my MSc in Primate Conservation at Oxford Brookes. When the pandemic hit, I had to complete my studies online. For my thesis I compiled the world’s largest primate roadkill database – called the Global Primate Roadkill Database. I’m still working on publishing my data…

“Whilst I waited for the world to return to normal post-pandemic, I worked at The Globe pub in Newbury, running their weekly quiz (which went online during the pandemic, too).

“I started my own small business painting plant pots (Pots by Praill), and began to really enjoy the marketing and social media side of things. I thought I would try and combine the two things I was interested in – conservation and marketing – and applied for the Fundraising and Communications role at the Limbe Wildlife Centre in Cameroon.

“I was over the moon to get the job and moved to Cameroon in May.” 

What does the Limbe Wildlife Centre do and what is your role?

The Limbe Wildlife Centre was founded in 1993 to look after animals that have been rescued from the illegal wildlife trade – they are captured from the wild for bushmeat (consumption) or the pet trade. Currently, we look after 14 critically endangered western lowland gorillas, 40 chimpanzees and many other monkeys. 

My main job is to advertise the sanctuary to the world – through social media, pictures, videos, reports etc. I also am responsible for getting funding for the centre through international donors and organisations. Penny Post readers can help by liking and sharing the posts, doing their own fundraisers (run a 5k, events, bake sale etc!), make small monthly donations, sponsoring an orphan or even coming to volunteer at the wildlife centre!” 

How financially difficult is it to pursue this career route?

“There are some volunteer opportunities that are free (ie you don’t have to pay for the experience), but require long term commitment. The biggest expense volunteers usually have to worry about are flights/visas/insurance etc. It’s not easy or cheap to uproot and move somewhere like Africa to work, so it is worth having some savings set aside in case an opportunity comes up. If you already have relevant experience, some organisations will pay you a stipend/allowance, meaning that you will not have to worry financially once you arrive in the country. 
 
“Conservation, especially in your early career, is not something you go into for money! I was working and saving for two years in the UK from when I graduated until I found the right job for me, and fortunately those savings helped me get here. I was prepared to sell my car to get here btut I am lucky, as my Mum offered to pay the car bills whilst I was gone…thank you Mum!
 
“Anyone can do what I have done, you have to be prepared to work hard, step in and step out of conservation jobs and volunteer roles, sometimes you have to go back to living at home and working odd jobs in the UK, but one day you will get that big break!” 
 
 
If you would like to support Laura’s work please email her at fundraising@limbewildlife.org
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