Intern spotlight: Sabrina Carter

28 Oct. 2020
© Alex Taylor/AWC

 AWC offers opportunities for promising graduate students to gain valuable conservation field experience via our Internship Program. Previous intern, Sabrina Carter, shares her experiences below. 


Tell us a little bit about yourself…

My name is Sabrina, I’m 35 years old. I completed a master’s in Animal Science, majoring in Wildlife Biology at the University of Queensland. During my studies, I conducted original research investigating the feasibility of using commercially available microchip-automated devices on the endangered Bridled Nailtail Wallaby (Onychogalea fraenata). This research sparked my interest in utilising technology to collect ecological data in more efficient ways.

After graduating, I focused on gaining field experience across the Australian landscape. I participated in over 20 weeks of biological fieldwork with conservation and research organisations.  Through these experiences I gained valuable skills including radio telemetry, setting up and checking standard survey arrays, deploying camera traps, mist netting, spotlighting, fauna and flora identification and vegetation survey techniques.

I’m really excited about AWC’s translocation projects and gaining a better understanding of the different aspects of animal reintroduction including post release monitoring.


Sabrina Holding A Centralian Blue Tongued Lizard Felicity Lhotellier © Felicity L'hotellier/AWC
Sabrina holding a Centralian Blue Tongued Lizard encountered during biodiversity surveys.


What were the details of your internship with AWC?

My internship started at the beautiful Scotia Wildlife Sanctuary in July. For the first couple of weeks I helped the Scotia ecology team scout the property for suitable habitat to add an extra 15 EcoHealth monitoring sites. Once found, we measured and marked the locations of each site before digging in pitfall bucket traps. I also spent a couple of days searching parts of Scotia for new locations of a threatened shrub species, Acacia acanthoclada, with Senior Project Officer Michael Todd from NSW Office of Environment and Heritage. I learnt from him that this species is generally in decline, but that Scotia has one of the most secure populations of this species. This is thought to be as a result of AWC’s feral herbivore management program, and the exclusion of feral herbivores from inside Scotia’s feral predator-free fenced area.

In August, I was fortunate enough to attend the Sixth National Malleefowl Forum where I learned a lot about the ecology and current conservation strategies of this iconic threatened bird species. It was great to see some presentations from AWC colleagues on Malleefowl monitoring on AWC sanctuaries. My team hosted a field trip with forum attendees to nearby Mallee Cliffs National Park, to tell them of the benefits of the future feral predator-free area to Malleefowl.

In September, I relocated to the Pilliga National Park where the feral predator-proof fence had recently been completed. I helped out on spotlighting surveys targeting nocturnal birds and arboreal marsupials. This was my first experience with spotlighting surveys, and despite not detecting koalas, we often heard the calls of different owl species. During office days, I updated fauna keys, downloaded camera trap images and created applications to assist data collection. I also participated in a scheduling and planning meeting discussing the upcoming translocations in the Pilliga and Mallee Cliffs. I really valued being part of this experience as it helped me appreciate the effort that goes into these initiatives, as well as further understand the inner workings of AWC.


Sabrina Post Release Monitoring Of Bilbies In The Pilliga Alex Taylor © Alex Taylor/AWC
Post-release monitoring of Bilbies in the Pilliga.


Another great aspect of my internship has been my involvement with Scotia supporter events. I got to give a few of the presentations in the field as well as guide supporters on nocturnal walks spotlighting for the reintroduced mammals at Scotia. These opportunities allowed me to share my passion for wildlife conservation with the people who make possible all the fantastic work that AWC does, through their generous financial support.

In October, I relocated back to Scotia for the annual small mammal and reptile monitoring survey. The teams were run by super supportive leaders who helped me not only gain knowledge of the local fauna but also to develop leadership skills.

In November, AWC ecologists from the South West, South East and the Pilliga travelled to Scotia to catch, process and translocate 60 Bilbies to feral predator free enclosures across AWC sanctuaries. This was an amazing experience to see these elusive animals up close and to work within a large team of ecologist.

During the last couple of weeks of my internship I carried out the post-release monitoring of Bilbies in the Pilliga. It was fantastic to see these animals, that had been absent from the environment for 100 years, quickly adapt and make it their home.


What was the highlight of your internship?

The absolute highlight for me was the Bilby translocation. Every experience, from catching, processing, flying in a tiny plane, releasing and post-release monitoring was a dream come true.


Were there any challenges?

The biggest challenge for me was getting used to plans changing all the time. I overcame it by trying to anticipate it and being prepared for anything at anytime. I came to understand that in order to deliver such wonderful conservation work, the staff must be very flexible to allow for the unpredictable nature of the work.


Olympus Digital Camera © Jamie Dunlop/AWC
Sabrina holding a Knob-tailed Gecko – Jaime Dunlop.


How has the experience influenced your future?

I was very very lucky. At the end of my internship, there was an opening and I was offered a contract that was then extended to a permanent position within the Pilliga team. If this opportunity had not presented itself, I felt confident that the experience and the contacts that I had made, were going to help me build my career.


Any tips for applicants and/or future interns?

Whichever sanctuary you end up in, make sure that you talk to all the staff. It is a great way for you to show your enthusiasm for ecology/conservation and also gain an insight into the inner working of the different components that make up AWC.