Griffith University alumnus Emma Dale knows a thing or two about the magical beasts of Mongolia and where to find them. Wolves, marmots, wild horses and bears are among the wonders lurking on the forested border with Russia.
Based in her 10th-floor apartment on the outskirts of the capital Ulaanbataar—where the outside temperature could plummet to -30°C and the air was hazy with the pollution from coal fires—Emma felt completely at home.
And when the time came to trade the comforts of the apartment for the rigours of Hustai National Park and accommodation in a felt-covered tent known as a ger, Emma was equally content.
The question is: how did this young woman from the Gold Coast end up in Mongolia? After travelling to Nepal in 2013, Emma founded the Red Panda Trust, a non-profit charity based in Kathmandu and which connects research to conservation for the red panda.
Emma, who graduated with a Bachelor of Science (Ecology and Conservation Biology) in 2014, has led three research teams in Nepal and remains the Trust’s CEO.
“I had always wanted to see red pandas in the wild, so the opportunity to work on projects concerning the red panda and other endangered Asian mammals has been rewarding,” she says.
Then in May 2016, Emma joined the Steppe Forward Program in Mongolia as an ecologist and conservation support officer.
She spent the next year working to preserve and protect the wildlife of this truly enigmatic land. She also monitored the impact of climate change and human influence.
“Mongolia has the lowest population density on the planet, but the human footprint is both growing and visible in factors such as the mining industry, deforestation and poaching.
“I read an article recently reporting that red pandas and their habitat are disappearing from the district that I used to live in, Taplejung, in far eastern Nepal.
“Those forests are where I first learnt how to scramble up moss-drenched trees to find panda scat; where I first heard red pandas scrap over territories from my goat shed bedroom; where I first saw a panda trapped in a snare.
“Obviously, it’s a place close to me emotionally, but it’s also the home of many thousands of people who rely on roads and infrastructure to survive.
“It’s important to focus our energy on the animal species that have such a key role in preserving the world’s biodiversity, but it’s just as important to care for the people of these cloud forests,” says Emma.
Currently back in Australia and seeking new challenges—including the possibility of a PhD in Tasmania—Emma continues to embrace her career path, wherever it might take her in the world.
Emma Dale was awarded the prestigious John Monash scholarship to attend the University of Oxford where she will study the behavioural ecology of carnivores with a focus on conservation and preservation.
There have been 147 John Monash Scholars selected to date, all of whom possess significant leadership potential, are outstanding in their chosen fields and aspire to make the world a better place.
Emma plans to return to Australia to lead research initiatives to protect Australia’s carnivores, including the Tasmanian Devil and Spotted-tail Quolls. These native Australian animals play a vital role in Australia’s food chains and their extinction would unbalance supporting populations with serious implications for Australian ecology.