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Taronga Zoo Bushrats

Research Associate - Ecology.

As an 11 year old, Grainne had the rare and privileged fortune to live in Tanzania for two years. While other kids her age were cheering on the Irish squad at the world cup, she was driving through the Serengeti, watching migrations and identifying birds. She fell in love with Africa and made a promise to herself to return some day as a zoologist. Her studies took her from an agricultural college in the south of England to a degree from the University of Aberdeen in the highlands of Scotland. Work experience was undertaken doing everything from tracking Eurasian Blue Jays in Stockholm to counting butterflies in the Dublin mountains to catching lizards in the south of France. She took every opportunity she was given (and created for herself) to advance her zoological skills and it all eventually led her to her PhD in Trinity College Dublin, working with the results of the controversial Badger culling project. It was while doing this PhD and working with the farming community that she realised that her real passion lay not just in the wildlife itself, but in human interactions with wildlife. She found that she was never happier than when she was explaining to lay people about the magic in their own back garden and coming to terms with the conflicting needs of people versus the environment they live in.

A couple of days after handing in her PhD, Grainne was passing through immigration at Sydney Airport, praying that her husband had gotten all the paperwork right and that her cat had arrived in quarantine safely. They were here for keeps with nothing to go on but a place to crash and eventually a contact in Taronga Zoo – Dr Rebecca Spindler. Rebecca kindly agreed to meet with her to give advice on potential career avenues. From this meeting and with a lot of unpaid graft working with Chris Dickman from the University of Sydney and Peter Banks from UNSW, Grainne started to pull together a project working with Bush Rats in Mosman. 

In the meantime Grainne did a lot of bush regeneration work with Taronga bush regeneration expert, Wendy Kinsella on the foreshore around Taronga zoo and learned so very much about native Australian bush land. With sponsors on board, media interest from the Zoo Show and amazing support of Taronga zoo she had her first pilot study, which was a resounding proof of concept. And now with ARC funding secured, they are set to begin our three-year mission to evict the black rats permanently from study sites all around the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Reserve.

Grainne is not an academic who believes in research for its own sake. She hopes in the future to continue to always be of real benefit to conflicts with wildlife and keep bringing the magic of zoology back to the people.

Grainne Cleary