5 June 2020
MEET RACHEL LOWRY, WWF-AUSTRALIA’S CHIEF CONSERVATION OFFICER
This World Environment Day, come behind-the-scenes at WWF-Australia and discover what made and motivates our Chief Conservation Officer, Rachel Lowry.
1. Describe yourself in 3 words
Empathetic. Determined. Chocoholic.
2. Tell us about you and how you got to be to where you are today?
I was born with the nature-loving gene. Animals have always been a huge part of my life, somewhat due to luck but largely by design. When I was spending time with my father on his farm, I was always where the animals were. My mother lived in the city so I had to work a little harder at it, but there were always bird nests to find or parks with frogs calling. I chose a Bachelor of Science as my first Degree with the hope of pursuing a veterinary career, only to discover the world of Zoology and Conservation, which formed my double major upon graduation.
I spent the next 18 years working within the zoo-based conservation sector, and pursued further study across the human dimensions of environmental conservation, including Education, Conservation Psychology and Social Marketing. This led me to designing and leading environmental campaigns locally and globally, cementing my belief that community will is a powerful force for good when harnessed well. Six years ago my husband and I purchased a property that backs on to a wildlife habitat corridor, and thanks to my children, I now have two fresh pairs of eyes to explore what life holds for us outdoors.
My career as a zoo-based Conservation Director and Chair of the International Zoo Educators Association and Centre for Sustainability exposed me to conservation experts from all around the world, and all sectors of society. As a consequence, my world view grew. The more I learnt about the impacts of climate change, increasing food security issues and accelerating biodiversity loss, the more I found myself eager to join those with the daily remit to tackle the big issues driving species loss and inequity. Those issues threaten all that we love, but also present enormous opportunities if we rise to the challenge of solving them in time. And that’s how I found myself at WWF-Australia.
3. Tell us about your work with WWF? What do you love about it?
I lead a talented group of conservationists, scientists and innovators that have dedicated their careers to finding solutions that benefit both people and wildlife.
Today I spent the morning meeting with ministers discussing the need to strengthen our nature laws. I then met with a donor to discuss how we can help increase the capacity of Indigenous ranger networks across the Australian landscape. Later, I chaired a meeting with the WWF Healthy Land and Seascapes team to progress the design of a koala recovery intervention - made possible thanks to funds raised through WWF’s recent bushfire appeal (what a year 2020 has been! And what a way to prove that we can band together and respond to the challenges at our doorstep).
The thing I love most about my role is watching our supporters grow in number and might. From signing petitions to purchasing sunglasses that have been made from commercial fishing nets that WWF managed to retire, it’s a reminder that there’s a movement building that is for both people and nature, and it gives me great hope for the future. Oh and I’d be remiss not to mention field work! I especially love the opportunity to visit the field and see the impact WWF is having first-hand. Spending a day with Gudjuda Rangers tagging green sea turtles last year is a day 2020 is yet to beat.
Ultimately, my role is about taking time to really understand the problems we are tackling. To do that I need to make sure that we are reaching out to the right experts to help us create pathways towards impact. It’s then over to the communication guru’s to help rally our community behind each critical cause. As a leader I try to set the pace and programmatic composition that ensures we land wins with enough frequency to keep our teams and supporters charged with the energy and confidence we need to take on the next challenge, without taking our foot off the pedal when it comes to the big issues.
4. What does World Environment Day mean to you?
It’s a beautiful day on the calendar! It prompts me to reflect on everything that we have that makes our world beautiful and function. It’s a day to appreciate our natural assets, which happen to need our protection as much as we need them. I’ve had the chance to work with species of all shapes and sizes and my sincere hope is that World Environment Day serves as a reminder to us all of the species that are so dependent on a safe and healthy environment. From the southern white rhino through to the endangered Lord Howe Island wood-feeding cockroach (a species I stumbled across once on a hike and felt so lucky to find) our world is diminished with every species we lose. My ultimate hope, of course, is that each year, World Environment Day presents an opportunity for us all to learn, and motivates those who want to lean into or lead the changes we need to secure.
5. Who inspires you and why?
Children often inspire me. The way they view the natural world is often with uninhibited awe. I wish I could bottle it! Their desire to protect nature is often pure and grounded in fairness. They want to protect something they love and value. They serve as a reminder of how the adult lens of viewing the world can alter once the motivation for lining pockets or securing votes begins to prevail.
When it comes to where I seek inspiration from, in respect to the quality of solutions put forward however, I’d have to pay my sincere and deep respect to 99.9% of the world’s climate scientists. Prof Lesley Hughes, a WWF Board member and eminent Australian scientist is a great source of inspiration for me. She keeps her eye on the goal and is a champion for scientific integrity. Her focus cuts through any barriers that stand in the way, including perverse political motivations or apathy, which is exactly the kind of resilience and perseverance we need if we’re going to secure a new deal for people and nature.