Greater glider in a patch of old growth forest in Munruben, Logan City, south of Brisbane © Josh Bowell

Greater glider in a patch of old growth forest in Munruben, Logan City, south of Brisbane © Josh Bowell

The team of women saving greater gliders

07 Mar 2022

Keywords
  • Partnerships
  • climate change
  • forests
  • new south wales
  • protected areas
  • threatened species
  • victoria
  • women
  • Regenerate Australia

This International Women’s Day, we’re shining a spotlight on some of the women working to give greater gliders a fighting chance for survival following the catastrophic bushfires of 2019-20.

WWF-Australia is working with our partners at Greening Australia and the Australian National University to develop thermally appropriate and long-lasting nest boxes to help greater glider recovery.

The project aims to repopulate our native wildlife, rehabilitate and restore their habitats and help build Australia’s resilience to climate change.

Meet some of the incredible women helping to save Australia’s greater gliders.

Dr Kita Ashman
Threatened Species & Climate Adaptation Ecologist, WWF-Australia

Meet Dr Kita Ashman, WWF-Australia’s Threatened Species & Climate Adaptation Ecologist, working to implement projects across Australia to keep our species alive in the face of climate change.

 

Dr Kita Ashman, Threatened Species & Climate Adaptation Ecologist, WWF-Australia

 

Can you tell us what your role is for the greater glider project?

I’ve been a bit of a jack of all trades for this greater glider project. My formal role has been leading on the design and management of the project, while also facilitating the exciting collaboration between non-profit, on-ground partners and world-leading academics who sit behind this project.

More broadly on the greater glider front, I’ve been working with a handful of amazing researchers since the end of 2020 to put together a few projects that will help to restore greater glider habitat after the bushfires, and that will give us new insights into their habitat use which will hopefully increase our ability to advocate for more protection for our greater gliders.

What do you love about greater gliders?

There’s so much to love about greater gliders. Firstly, they’re remarkably cute. To me, they look a bit like a mix between a koala and a possum, but they can also basically fly. These animals can silently glide distances of up to 100 metres through the forest, and they use their long tails a bit like a rudder to steer. Aside from their looks, greater gliders are a really important forest flagship species. They’re often seen in amazing old-growth forests, so if we can protect these gliders, we can also protect a whole host of other species that share their habitat with them.

Two of my favourite things about greater gliders is that they’re silent and that they often hang out in pairs. Unlike many other gliders, they don’t really chatter to one another or have a call, so it’s always such a beautiful surprise when you see them.

 

Greater glider © Josh Bowell

I remember one night, I was doing a spotlighting survey in the Central Highlands, Victoria and I ducked under a tree fern, and when I came up, my torchlight caught two little pairs of glowing eyes not far above my head. Right in front of me on a low branch, only about 3 metres above my head, were two black and white greater gliders sitting and watching me. It looked like it might have been a mum and her young; they seemed totally unphased by me being there and went on munching leaves with their long tails hanging down just above me. It was magic.

 

What’s it like working with a team of women? 

It’s been an absolute privilege working with such an incredible team of women. I can hand on heart say that the women on the project team are not only some of the finest ecologists in the country, but they’re also some of the most remarkable, caring, and inspiring humans I’ve had the pleasure of working with. Every day, they’re working so hard to create a better world for critters like the greater glider while simultaneously being remarkable role models for the next generation of women in STEM.

I think we often underestimate, undervalue and ‘pigeonhole’ women when in reality we are some of the most resilient, hardworking, and powerful people out there. I’m always amazed at women’s abilities to not just overcome adversity but to do it in a way that shows empathy and lifts others up in the process. It’s been a privilege to work with such an inspiring team of women on this project.

I’d like to highlight that while this project brings us hope for keeping greater gliders around in the short-term, we’re not ignorant of the root cause of greater glider declines more broadly and in the long-term. We’re actively working together to stop the destruction of our forests and greater glider homes so that in the future we don’t need to design or deploy nest boxes to keep these beautiful animals around.

 

Dr Kara Youngentob
Wildlife Ecologist, Australian National University
Dr Kara Youngentob is a wildlife ecologist, researching the intersection of landscape ecology, plant-animal interactions, animal physiology and conservation biology.
 
Kara Youngetob, Wildlife Ecologist, Australian National University

I love the challenge of trying to understand the factors that influence the distribution and abundance of animals and then using that knowledge to conserve species and their habitat.

What’s your role in the greater glider project?
My role in the greater glider project is to provide scientific advice, guidance and support to the students, staff and collaborators involved in project implementation and associated research.
 
What is it like working with a team of women?
I’ve had a few moments in-the-field and in-office meetings when I’ve looked around and realised that I’m surrounded by other women. It’s not something that I’ve often experienced. I’ve been in the minority for most of my career. It’s uplifting and encouraging to have so many confident, strong women around me who share my passion for applied research and wildlife conservation. It’s remarkable, but it shouldn’t be and I wish it wasn’t.

In the academic sphere, there are still far fewer women in continuing, senior research positions. Academia is also experiencing an increase in insecure, contract-type work, similar to many other professions, and the majority of people in that insecure work are women. It feels like two steps forward, one step back sometimes.
What’s your advice for women who want to work in conservation?
I often get asked what advice I’d give women who want to work in ecology or science. I’d give them the same advice I’d give anyone - follow your passion, work hard, take every opportunity to put yourself in the places you will learn, and let nature be your guide.

Jenna Ridley
PhD researcher, Australian National University
Jenna Ridley is a PhD researcher at the Australian National University in the Fenner School of Environment and Society. She’s studying the southern greater glider in fire-affected areas in NSW and East Gippsland.

 

Jenna Ridley, PhD researcher, Australia National University © Supplied

 
I really enjoy working with threatened species, collaborating with different groups of people and figuring things out in the applied ecology space. I like to challenge myself, so I thought, why not study another threatened species in an area I’m yet to explore.
 
Can you tell us what your role is for the greater glider project?
My role has been to determine the experimental design and methodology for the deployment of nest boxes across areas burnt by the 2019-20 bushfires in East Gippsland and New South Wales.

This has involved a lot of fieldwork in these areas, firstly and most importantly to find the greater gliders! As they have been declining across their range, I conducted numerous spotlighting surveys across these areas with many nights of zero findings and some nights of great success.

Once I had narrowed down the areas where greater gliders were still persisting, I was able to work on selecting sites and setting these up for the eventual deployment of nest boxes. Many weeks in-the-field have been spent with members of the team to get these study sites up to scratch. Once the nest boxes are deployed, I’ll be monitoring the sites through double-observer spotlighting surveys bi-annually.
 
What do you love about greater gliders?
I love that they are insanely cute, unique and kind of weird little bush gremlins. Seeing them in the forest never gets old, no matter how many you see. Looking at their long fluffy tails and their big ears as they look down to stare at you from a huge eucalypt tree is pretty amazing. I think it’s incredibly cool that they’re found in different colour morphs and that working with greater gliders means we are working with the entire forest ecosystem and experiencing beautiful areas with numerous other spectacular native species.

What is it like working with a team of women?
It’s great. I’ve worked with amazing female ecologists in the past and continue to do so. This is a field led by incredible females who work so hard and are so dedicated to a cause that is outside of themselves. Working in a team with all-female leads means that there’s often a greater understanding of how hard you’ve all worked in order to get where you are and produce the high-quality work that we are all so dedicated to produce. The greater glider team is a team of females all with different experiences and backgrounds, which only adds more to its success.

What advice do you have for other women who want to work in conservation?
Go for it! Take chances on yourself and explore. There is nothing better than taking an opportunity somewhere and being exposed to not only different aspects of the career but an entirely different way of living. The conservation and environmental space is full of amazing insightful people and what could be better than getting outside and experiencing nature for work, living and working on Country and giving back to the Earth that sustains us. Passion is a pretty important ingredient to get you started, from there, this field could take you anywhere.

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