“The things you are passionate about are not random, they are your calling.” – Fabienne Fredrickson
I am Jo and it is a pleasure to meet you. I know that you cannot hear my accent while reading this, but if you have seen any of my videos or Instagram stories, you might have guessed that I am not originally from South Africa. I grew up in America, in a really small town in Maryland called Poolesville to be exact. I have always had a passion for wildlife and conservation, for truly as long as I can remember. Other children would tell their parents that they wanted to grow up and become astronauts, doctors and firefighters. From a young age I discovered the word zoologist and promptly decided that it what I wanted to grow up to be. My favourite childhood show was not on Saturday morning cartoons, but instead I was captivated by Jonathan Scott and Simon King as they narrated the lives of lions, cheetahs and leopards in the Mara on Big Cat Diary. It was all said and done after that. Six-year-old me told my parents that I was going to work with cats in Africa. Boom. Dream set.
Of course, it was not all that easy.
I tried to cater my education that would set me on a path to become an ecologist and took up every opportunity I could to volunteer and gain experience with animals. Growing up on a farm raising goats, horses, hogs, lambs, and Texas Longhorn cattle was a great start – it taught me the raw hard labour of being outside that working with animals required as well as learning basic animal behaviours which pertains to nearly all species. I joined the Global Ecology Studies Program at my local high school which focused on natural sciences and the environment. Later on, I attended West Virginia University earning a Bachelor’s degree in Wildlife and Fisheries Management with a minor in Conservation Ecology.
During university, I worked as an intern for National Geographic’s Big Cats Initiative and fell even more in love with research and the work being done in the field, on the front-line. After university, I worked with the North Dakota Game and Fish Department through Frostburg State University doing home range assessment surveys for mesocarnivores. It was an incredible experience with long days working out in the field searching for signs of North America river otters while trekking up and down riverbanks by foot or coursing through the water via canoe. But it was not Africa.
Reality hit and I needed a job that was going to pay the bills. My love of big cats sent me on the zoo career path where I worked for four years as a big cat and lead ungulate zookeeper at the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium in Pennsylvania. I would start my days hearing the resident lions, Ajani and Razi roar and made dear friends with a giraffe named Lewis. It was incredible, but it was not Africa. Every guest speaker and visitor we had from NGOs in Africa captivated me and reminded me that I still had to follow my calling. And then it finally happened.
I jumped at the opportunity when I was offered to move to Namibia to work for the Cheetah Conservation Fund as the assistant operations manager. Three weeks after being offered the position, I was on a plane on my way to move to a continent that I had only seen on the television and in my dreams. From the moment I landed that very first time, I knew that I have arrived exactly where I have always belonged.
One of my favourite quotes that I heard while living in Namibia, and it could never be more true.
One year later, I was offered an incredible opportunity to advance my career and moved to South Africa to work for Panthera as a research technician for Panthera’s Leopard Program where I ran camera trap surveys focused on determining leopard densities and their distributions across South Africa.
My career as a large carnivore ecologist went a few cat sizes smaller when I started my master’s dissertation in conservation biology looking at the influence of camera trap deployment on serval density estimates through the University of Cape Town and Panthera’s Small Cats Action Fund.
Since 2017, I have been involved in various conservation projects all over southern Africa and have assisted in projects focused on cheetah, wild dog and rhino conservation. In addition to volunteering as an Honorary Officer for North West Parks Board.
In early 2020, I moved to my fourth country in nearly just as many years as I took up my current position at Karingani Game Reserve in Mozambique.
I did it. My name is Jo Taylor and I am living my dream.
I enjoy sharing my passion with you and inspiring others through photography and my stories. So please join me on my adventures. And as always, feel free to drop me a message or ask any questions.
Help support my work!
An unfortunate side of conservation is that can be very expensive and does not pay much (or sometimes anything) to those dedicating their lives to it. My projects costs include fuel, basic living and accommodation (because I kinda do require food and water to survive), and other programme costs. Donations are always so appreciated and a big part of how I am able to continue my work. If I need anything specific such as camera traps, collars, etc I will do a seperate fundraiser for those specific items so that you can be a part of the action! Thank you so much for your contributions!