zoo horizontal strip

Meet the Team: Women in Science Edition – Dr Holly Farmer

This week, we’re celebrating women in science ahead of International Day of Girls and Women in Science on Friday 11 February.

International Day of Women and Girls in Science is a day created by the United Nations to help achieve full and equal access and participation in science for women and girls. We have lots of female scientists in our midst here at Wild Planet Trust, and we’re really glad to introduce you to some of them over the course of this week.

Today’s woman in science is Research Manager here at Wild Planet Trust, Dr Holly Farmer.

What is your role at Wild Planet Trust and what does your day-to-day job entail?

I’m the Research Manager here, and I coordinate and manage all zoo-based research at Paignton and Newquay Zoo. I also manage the higher education teaching – we run a Master’s course in Zoo Conservation Biology with Plymouth University and other local colleges, which I lecture for.

I coordinate the EAZA ex-situ breeding programme for Sulawesi crested macaques, which helps to maintain a healthy population of animals within European zoos. I also oversee welfare assessments and behavioural husbandry for the animals at Paignton Zoo.

How did you get to where you are today?

I first completed a BSc in Zoology before moving onto an MSc and PhD in Animal Behaviour at Exeter University. Between my Master’s degree and PhD, I managed a conservation charity for cetaceans (aquatic mammals like whales and dolphins) in the Canary Islands. I then volunteered at Paignton Zoo to gain experience in the field before beginning my PhD.

What qualifications and experience particularly helped?

My PhD means that I have been able to lecture students and supervise those doing their MSc – it has opened lots of doors for me to progress in my career.

Outside of the academic realm, volunteering at Paignton Zoo really helped to show my dedication not only to the field, but to the zoo itself. Working abroad for a conservation charity allowed me to learn about in-situ conservation, which really broadened my knowledge base.

What’s your favourite part of your job?

Nothing beats working with a community of like-minded people, both here at Wild Planet Trust and with BIAZA and EAZA. We’re all working towards a common goal – to help halt species decline and combat climate change. I’m so passionate about what I do, and being surrounded by people that feel the same way really inspires me.

Day to day, I love managing the breeding programme for Sulawesi macaques. These primates are Critically Endangered, so it’s a real honour to working with zoos from all around Europe to help conserve them. I also get to work with our in-situ partner, Selematkan Yaki, who work with communities in Sulawesi and government officials to conserve the species in their native habitat.

What advice do you have for other women looking at a career in conservation?

Gain as much experience as you can. Volunteer at zoos, animal shelters, vets, conservation projects, and don’t just focus on exotic animals – working with native species is just as important!

Reach out to people you want to work with. Email them, ask for meetings, offer your time and listen to their wisdom. Quite often they’ll guide you on how to gain experience, and just meeting these people helps to get your name known.

Any final thoughts?

Since I started my career, I’ve seen a real shift in management within zoos; I see so many more women in managerial roles across Europe now, and especially here at Wild Planet Trust. It’s really important that our voices are heard, and seeing so many other women in leadership is inspiring to me.