Interview with Elissa Sursara – Wildlife Conservationist

Who are you, What do you do and What did you have for breakfast?

I’m Elissa! I’m a wildlife conservationist, amateur photographer, diver and animal lover. I’m hugely interested in equality and environment and spend a lot of my time studying and writing. For breakfast this morning I had some peanut butter on toasted multigrain with a banana and some leftover coconut water.

What did you get up to last Tuesday at work?

Last Tuesday I was stuck in front of my computer studying. I’ve kind of turned into the Van Wilder of conservation! I’m completing a secondary degree and finishing up a masters degree. I’m lucky that a lot of my original credits transferred, but I’ve got a few interesting subjects to complete and some research to pile together. I don’t think I’ll ever be done studying. There’s too much to learn… microbiology, organic chemistry, veterinary science…

Elissa Sursara

Who or what inspired you to do the job you do now?

I think everyone in conservation is inspired by Jane Goodall, and I’m certainly no exception! She’s been such an incredible scientist and her research work has significantly changed the way we view our primates and other species by association. I look up to women like Alexandra Cousteau and Cristina Mittermeier. These women are warriors for the environment. I can only hope to be as fearless and accomplished as they are.

What is needed to succeed in your career?

It altogether depends on what part of conservation you want to work in. If you want to write about the environment, study words and literature and graduate with qualifications in journalism and relations and arts; if you want to research wildlife and discover new species, study their anatomy and ecology and management and graduate with qualifications in science and biology. Study law if you want to implement policy! On top of that, I think you need to be prepared to work hard and long hours, sometimes for free, sometimes far away and sometimes in remote conditions. If you’re passionate about it, I don’t think it’s a problem!

Elissa Sursara

If you could go back and change one thing, what would it be?

If I could change anything about my past in environmentalism, it would be to trust big media less. They aren’t our friends when it comes to saving the world. I gave an interview about shark diving once and it was a disaster – nothing printed was accurate. It was then that I learned how it works for popular media, they’ll print what they need for a headline. There’s plenty of independent and unbiased media for us to learn about the world from. If I could change anything, it would be trusting big media for too long to be a partner in progression.

What is your proudest moment and/or biggest regret?

I was part of an Antarctic crew that saved 932 whales from the harpoons of an illegal Japanese whaling fleet with Sea Shepherd over three or four months at sea. That was amazing. It was hard work but certainly my proudest moment.

Elissa Sursara

What is your favourite quote?

David Attenborough once said, “I just wish the world was twice as big and half of it still unexplored.” I love that quote, and I admire him greatly. To me it resonates
because I have such a passion for exploring the world and experiencing other cultures, and finding ways to protect their wildlife and landscapes.

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