Pria Ghosh joined the Synchronicity Earth research team in October 2020. With her expertise in amphibian conservation and particularly in amphibian disease, Pria was well placed to take the lead on our amphibian conservation programme. In this interview, she talks about how she came to work with amphibians, describes her new role at Synchronicity Earth and gives us her thoughts on diversity and inclusion in the conservation sector.
This interview is an edited extract of an interview by Prof. Trent Garner (ZSL) that appeared in the World Congress of Herpetology Newsletter (June 2021, Volume 2, Issue 1).
What are your earliest memories of nature, and how did your interest in herpetology (the study of amphibians and reptiles) come about?
My earliest memories of being with wildlife come from school holidays, mostly with my two grandads. My Mum’s Dad would take me fishing in the river near where he lived and then we’d barbecue the trout we’d caught, and I have strong memories of stomping after him as he flattened down the high grass to get to the river and sitting still enough to catch fish but also watch the river life carry on undisturbed.
My Dad is from India, and when we’d go to visit we’d often stay for quite a long time. My Dadu – my grandad – would take me, my brother and my cousins to a different game park every time we visited, always to a new part of the country, so he showed me India through its changing wildlife and environments. Watching the sun come up in the forest in the freezing cold with a thermos of chai was very special for a girl who spent most of her time in London.
My interest in wildlife conservation began way before my interest in amphibians and reptiles.
I’ve always had a soft spot for causes and things that are a bit under loved and overlooked and when I finished my biology degree, I was desperate to reconnect with why I had wanted to study the subject in the first place, and to get away from computers.
I wrote to Durrell and asked if I could train as a student zookeeper there. They said yes, and my first placement was in herpetology.
That was really my introduction to studying and working with reptiles and amphibians. I ended up asking to stay on the section for my full 6 months, rather than rotating through the other departments. While I was at Durrell, the number of amphibians being kept as ‘assurance populations’ (conservation breeding programmes designed to prevent a species from becoming extinct) from chytridiomycosis hit me hard.
Seeing tank after tank of amphibians being kept in captivity due to the same single threat hammered home the scale of the issue more effectively than any paper could have done. The two areas of biology I had focused on at university, and which have always interested me most both academically and as a cause, are wildlife conservation and public health. I guess it was sort of inevitable I would end up working on a wildlife disease.
Your post-graduate research career was based strongly in fundamental science, yet now you work for Synchronicity Earth, a conservation charity. Why this switch?
I love fundamental science and will always be a passionate supporter of it – but the two things that motivate me most are wildlife conservation and human health and equity. I loved doing academic research, but I could feel my motivation lagging and my research moving further away from translation into on the ground conservation.
I suppose I just wanted to take that fundamental science and what I’d learned but focus back on those two main drivers that motivate me.
Synchronicity Earth focuses on ‘overlooked and underfunded’ conservation causes, and also puts a respect for human rights and community participation in conservation central to its approach, so it felt like a really lucky aligning of the stars that they were hiring while I was looking for a job