FAU Alumna Builds an Environmental Legacy in New Zealand
October 14th, 2013 (Jupiter, FL)—When students graduate from Florida Atlantic University’s Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College, they leave with the desire to apply what they’ve learned to new, exciting opportunities and to find fulfilling careers in their areas of interest. Many Wilkes Honors College alumni have gone on to prestigious academic careers, public service positions, social and political activism, and research with great success. One such story is that of Megan Selby, who graduated from the Honors College in the spring of 2006. While Selby is currently working to pursue a PhD in Environmental Studies, her other interests lie outside of what some would consider to be “conventional” academic life. This year, Selby, her fiancé, and a group of passionate activists joined forces to purchase Nelson’s Natureland Zoo in Nelson, New Zealand, opening up a wealth of new opportunities for Selby to put her knowledge of environmental studies to good use.
After leaving the Honors College, Selby began her graduate studies at Yale University, where she completed her Master’s degree. After graduation, however, Selby began to look for opportunities to study outside of the United States, and was drawn toward the beautiful natural landscape of New Zealand. After being accepted to the University of Auckland, Selby packed her bags and headed off to explore the environmental richness of Oceania. She writes in her graduate student profile that “[as] an American, having completed my undergraduate degrees in the United States at Florida Atlantic University and then Yale University, I appreciated the opportunity to learn in an international setting, a valuable experience as conservation is a global priority that transcends borders.” She adds, “I wished to continue themes studied in my masters’ program, and the School of Environment allowed me both the flexibility and the resources to develop a doctoral research topic.” Selby's masters research was on social ecology of red ruffed lemur conservation in Madagascar, and has re-directed her doctoral research to silver gibbon conservation in west Java, Indonesia. "Both projects have in common that the species protection was funded and motivated by organizations linked to zoos in western countries and therefore the role zoos play in international conservation and development interventions," she explains. "I look to see whether these species based efforts have any positive impact on the species itself, as well as intended and unintended consequences for human residents who are affected by the conservation projects." However, outside of her graduate studies, Selby has become involved in a conservation effort all her own.
Nelson’s Natureland Zoo is a small recreational park at Tahunanui Beach in Nelson, New Zealand. The park faced lots of difficulties in recent years, nearly resulting in its termination in 2008, halted only by outcry and public protest by the citizens of Nelson, who insist that the park is an important part of their town. After witnessing the public support for the park, the Orana Wildlife Trust, which supports another nature center in a nearby city, stepped in to temporarily take over the park’s maintenance until a more permanent administrator could be found. Thankfully, Selby and her fiancé Mike Rutledge stepped in to fill that role.
When the Orana Wildlife Trust suffered from financial strains due to earthquake damage at one of its parks, Nelson’s Natureland Zoo was effectively put up for sale. Selby and Rutledge, along with a group of concerned citizens, banded together to form the Natureland Wildlife Trust to support the park, and quickly took on the job of managing the park and its inhabitants. “Some people have gotten on board with us, which is actually really nice,” says Selby in an interview with Kate King of Nelson’s 3 News Network. “It shows that people believe in it.” Selby and Rutledge are combining their respective expertise in the fields of ecology and marketing in order to make Nelson’s Natureland Zoo rise to its full potential. “I’ve spent a lot of time and energy studying what does and doesn’t work with zoos and education, when too much is too much and how to keep the animal at the forefront and make sure it’s well cared for, and really doing what’s best for the animal,” explains Selby. “Then you add in Mike’s expertise on the other hand, and hopefully we have a good shot.”
Selby and Rutledge are focusing right now on developing species-appropriate animal exhibits, which includes transforming the smaller bird enclosures into a walk-through aviary, which will allow visitors to view the birds in a more natural state. Rather than attempt to acquire large zoo animals, like lions and elephants, Selby insists that it’s more important to create a great environment for the native animals that currently reside in the park, which will allow for more interaction with visitors and help educate the populace about the biodiversity of New Zealand. “You can do just a few things, and do them well,” she states. “We’re a little zoo in a little area, but we still think we can get some great results to come out of it and really have some educational experiences to offer.”
As Selby continues to improve the zoo, she’s also looking forward to continuing her academic career. “When I have graduated I would like to continue as a field researcher for a period of time. I hope to continue working on strategies for species based conservation and land use management in a way that does not compromise local human livelihoods,” she explains. “Longer term I would like to remain involved in academia and conservation education.” So far, Selby has demonstrated that she will be motivated and successful in whatever path she decides to take. She has shown herself to be a great ambassador of the Wilkes Honors College both in the U.S. and abroad, and exemplifies the kind of determination and enthusiasm that all Honors College students hope to carry with them into the future.
About Florida Atlantic University: Florida Atlantic University, established in 1961, officially opened its doors in 1964 as the fifth public university in Florida. Today, the University, with an annual economic impact of $6.3 billion, serves more than 30,000 undergraduate and graduate students at sites throughout its six-county service region in southeast Florida. FAU’s world-class teaching and research faculty serves students through 10 colleges: the Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters, the College of Business, the College for Design and Social Inquiry, the College of Education, the College of Engineering and Computer Science, the Graduate College, the Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College, the Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine, the Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing and the Charles E. Schmidt College of Science. FAU is ranked as a High Research Activity institution by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The University is placing special focus on the rapid development of three signature themes – marine and coastal issues, biotechnology and contemporary societal challenges – which provide opportunities for faculty and students to build upon FAU’s existing strengths in research and scholarship. For more information, visit www.fau.edu.