Jennifer Palmer


culturallyours podcast Jennifer Palmer wildlife biologist

Jennifer Palmer

Show Details

In this episode, we explore Lifestyle as I chat with Jennifer Palmer a wildlife biologist, women’s empowerment advocate and mindful traveler. Jen is not only a passionate wildlife and nature lover, but also the founder of an initiative called Women for Wildlife, an international movement to support, empower and unite women and girls around the world devoted to wildlife and conservation.

We talked about how nature and the natural world are such great learning platforms in all walks of life. The lessons learnt in observing the animal kingdom as well as ingenious groups as they interact with each other, care for each other and the world around them can show us so much of what we in cities and urban areas can do in living a healthier, happier and more productive life.

Show Notes

Karthika interviews Jennifer Palmer, a wildlife biologist, women’s empowerment advocate and mindful traveler. Jen is not only a passionate wildlife and nature lover, but also the founder of an initiative called Women for Wildlife, an international movement to support, empower and unite women and girls around the world devoted to wildlife and conservation.

Jen talks about her life and experiences in living and working all over the world on issues related to conservation, wildlife and lifestyles of indigenous groups living in harmony with nature. She says the lessons we learn from these communities around how to live in balance with each other and nature teaches her so much about life in general. Nature definitely grounds her and keeps her motivated and inspired to be an agent for change.

The Transcript

Karthika: Welcome. Jen, thank you so much for joining me on CulturallyOurs. I am very, very excited to have you on the podcast and I cannot wait to chat with you and get to know you a little bit better.

Jennifer: Oh, thank you so much. I feel the same.

Karthika: Absolutely. So before we begin, could you tell us a little bit about who you are, where you are from just to help set the stage for this conversation?

Jennifer: Sure. Well, I grew up in south Florida. I grew up with a really close connection to the ocean and to nature. And that sort of set the path and trajectory for my whole life, so to speak. And I ended up becoming a wildlife biologist and traveling the world, working with lots of different endangered species, working together with different cultures and communities and really trying to bridge the gap between conservation and travel and in our connection to nature and the healing powers that nature has. And I’ve done that in a lot of different ways that I’m sure we’ll chat more about that later.

Karthika: Well, a wildlife biologist sounds really exciting. I have kids and as a family, we are pretty into nature and wildlife. And when I was telling my daughter that I was going to be talking to a biologist, she was so excited. She was like, Oh my God, I have all these questions I want to ask her and how did she become a biologist. So tell me how did you choose this career path and what are you doing these days in terms of nature and conservation?

Jennifer: This is one of the things I often tell a lot of students probably young women like your daughter. The thing is that careers go in so many different directions and I think that’s an important thing for young women especially to understand. Mine in general, started out in wildlife biology. So more of a scientific track working with universities, collecting data, being able to present at conferences, the whole sort of science path. But along that journey I really came to understand that if we truly wanted to save wilderness and we wanted to save wildlife, we absolutely needed to be working with people and we needed to understand how to protect these places in a way that also helps support communities. So going from being a scientist to now traveling and doing a lot of presentations and working with the tourism industry and launching an initiative that is very close to my heart called Women For Wildlife, which is about building a community and supporting a network of women who are passionate and driven, all around the world towards wildlife conservation. And that’s just been an important part of my career in the way that it’s aligned with all of these parts and pieces.

Karthika: Sure. And you know you bring up a very good point where at the end of the day, the way change is going to happen is if people are involved, you cannot have things in a silo. You cannot only have data. And you know, all of that is important. But the action steps and the things that people do to make a difference, that is what ultimately makes a difference. So I love the idea of Women For Wildlife. Could you expand a little bit more on what your vision for this sort of organization is? And it’s been around for a couple of years. So tell me the kind of work that you do.

Jennifer: You know when the idea originally came to me, I actually was attending a conference and I was meeting all of these extraordinary women and I realized that none of them knew about one another. They were all based in different countries, whether it is somewhere in the Amazon or somewhere in Australia or somewhere in Africa. All of these extraordinary women were leading these efforts that I was incredibly impressed by. And they all had similar stories and they felt they were on their own that they were dealing with cultural barriers. They were struggling for the resources that they needed. It was just a similar story everywhere. And I just had this calling, wouldn’t it be amazing if we started connecting these women and we shared our stories and we built a foundation of support for one another and we shined a light on our work and we celebrated our successes and we didn’t reinvent the wheel every time we actually reached out for mentorship. And we helped connect to younger generations so that they could see the different areas that they could go into if they cared about wildlife.

Jennifer: And so Women For Wildlife is really about community and it’s about building a movement that is about supporting and lifting up one another and in the ways that is happening and will continue to happen, evolve almost every day based on the people that come into our community. I’ll get phone calls and emails from women that say I really want to get involved. How can I be part of this? And I always say, well, you already are a part of it. You have issues that you are passionate about a community. And then conversations start about what is your voice? How is your community like? What do you think would make sense for you? Because of the different disciplines, the different voices, the different regions around the world, it’s evolving in a really amazing and inspiring way. I’ve been really excited to see how it has changed and shifted and will continue to do so based on the community.

Karthika: It sounds absolutely fascinating, Jen. Now can you share some experiences or people that you’ve met along this journey of yours as a biologist, as a nature lover now with women for wildlife that have perhaps made a really big impact on your life, your lifestyle or more importantly maybe your mindset.

Jennifer: Yes so for me it really has been some of the strongest moments I’ve had that I feel have forever shifted me as a human and not even just as a wildlife biologist. Just as a person connecting to local communities, especially indigenous peoples. Being able to live alongside these families and seeing how they go about life, how they treat one another, how they take care of each other, the connection to nature, their ideals, their philosophies, their approaches, that has probably had the most profound impact on me. It has been a guiding light for me along the way and it helps give me perspective of why we are doing the things that we’re doing and how do we get back to a place of taking care of one another and taking care of wilderness and of nature. And it really has steered the course of my career. And so I would say that has been probably the most profound opportunity that I have had. And I’ve been able to do it in multiple countries. And every time I walk away, I feel like I have changed and I have grown and I have a clear understanding of what really matters in life.

Karthika: I absolutely love it. And you’re so right. When you’re in the field, when you’re ingrained in these communities, you actually see it for yourself, you experience it, you have those conversations and that really sort of tie everything together, right? It is a different thing when you’re seeing it on a computer or watching a video or something, but when you actually talk to people, I feel like it connects the dots. Conversation is so important, that hands-on is so important.
Jennifer: You know, the word that comes to mind really is the simplicity of connection. I think we grew up with an idea that other places and other people are so different than we are. And then you realize we’re all pretty similar at the core foundation and I love that when I go to places and lets say I don’t speak the language. But you show up and you smile at someone and they smile at you and you use sort of your hands to communicate and you watch them play with their children and you share a meal with them. You just realize we’re really not that different. And I really loved that. That has made a big difference in my world.

Karthika: Absolutely. Now you’ve said you’ve traveled all over the world, you’ve kind of stayed in communities, you’ve met people. Is being on the road so much hard. I mean, we always see the glamorous bit, right? Look at her. She’s in the jungle or oh my God, she’s in Africa or whatever. Tell us a little bit about your travels.

Jennifer: You’re right, people often see it and say I would love to have your life. And I think that these glamorous amazing things I’ve gotten to see and experience I feel incredibly grateful for that. The other side of it, and the reality of it is that it is very challenging. It can be very tiring. You are catching planes and trains. You’re trying to navigate a new place and where to get your food and where am you going to stay and how do you get from point a to point B? And just the logistics of day to day life require a lot more energy. In New York, you’re kind of always navigating and problem solving. There is a routine. But there is part that it can be draining. And then the other side of it, you’re not surrounded by your community or your loved ones. So you have to build that community of support. And make those connections with new people. It is beautiful but it is also challenging. It can get a bit exhausting when you make a plan and the plan doesn’t line up, which is 99% of the time. It is learning to be flexible, learning to be patient, learning to be humble. All of that does require quite a lot of energy. And I think that people don’t see that other side of it, they don’t see the part where you’re stuck somewhere. Or you’re homesick or you’re in a loud place and really you just want to be in nature. Or you’re in nature and you see something that’s truly heartbreaking and you feel like there’s nothing you can do. Or you go to this community and you go into a school and you see the conditions that they are living in and it just breaks your heart, you know? So there are those extremes when you have a life like this and when you’re on the go, you’re a lot more vulnerable than if you were living in sort of a typical day to day life and that part is challenging for sure.

Karthika: Yes, for sure. Now, what would you say are some of your sort of mottos or maybe mantras in life? Maybe another way to put it is kind of what motivates you and drives you. Would you say it’s kind of these sort of things that you have talked about or anything else?

Jennifer: I picked up a card many years ago and I love quotes. Anybody that knows me knows I love quotes. I love mottos. I love mantras personally. They help me, they help ground me. And I picked one up a long time ago. It says ‘little by little step by step, it happens.’ And I remind myself of that quite a lot because I do have big dreams and I do have big aspirations and we all get impatient with the amount of time it may take and figuring something out or building something new. And but it doesn’t mean it’s not happening. It just might not be happening as fast as you want it to. And I think that’s been something that has helped me keep going and keep it real, so to speak. Those steps along the way are the important parts. And they don’t always come in big leaps and strides and that’s OK. I think in general with what really motivates me or keeps me going is that deep love and connection to nature and to one another. You know, compassion and empathy are qualities that I hold very close to my heart and no matter where I am in the world, I think about those qualities often. And whether I’m frustrated in the moment or whether there’s something I don’t understand about what’s going on, I take a deep breath and I understand that we’re all navigating this world in our own ways and through compassion, empathy and kindness. That’s what keeps me going really.

Karthika: For sure. Those are very important qualities. Now you had mentioned that you travel a lot. You are 100% nomadic. I’m just curious, how do you balance all of these things in your life? Being on the go, your family, your career and your business and perhaps you know, your own aspirations.

Jennifer: There will always be a shifting of priorities on any given day, right? So there may be times where your work needs to take that front driver’s seat, and then there are times where that needs to pause and your family really needs you or where you feel that you’re getting a little lost along the way and you need to take some time, some self care, go into nature and, and get grounded and centered. So I think that it’s not that those can’t coexist at the same time because of course they do. But I think that the balance of it changes all the time. And I think one of the things that helps me is just to accept that and to know that there’s going to be times where life isn’t as in flow and it’s evil and there’s going to be times where it feels complicated and complex. But if I set intentions every day for what’s going on that particular day, that helps keep me in check and say, ‘okay, what’s important to my heart versus what society is saying or what my fears are telling me.’ And I have those deeper conversations. You know, I meditate, I do yoga, I journal and that’s what helps me understand the balance of family, friends, career, personal aspirations, personal growth, and things like that.

Karthika: Yes, Life changes in an instant. In a second. So now Jen, if you’re open to sharing with us, because I really feel people connect better when they share sort of personal narratives. So whatever you’re comfortable sharing. What have been some of your life’s most beautiful seasons or experiences? And on the flip side, what have been some of the harder experiences and what have those sort of taught you?

Jennifer: For me, it has always been when I’m in the wilderness, when I’m truly immersed in nature. It lights me up. I am just a big glow of energy whenever I’m around wildlife. When I’m in the wilderness and when I’m in deep nature, I truly feel connected. That’s probably the most beautiful seasons I can think of when I reflect back as I have always been. I’m on an island, I’m in the jungle, I am in the bush, I am experiencing something that’s very natural. And I feel that connection to the people around me and I’m living in the moment. So for me living remotely and really understanding our world, how it all works, it just makes things more simple for me in some ways where it’s like the circle of life, so to speak. You watch the animals and you learn from the animals. You’re in a village, you’ve learned from the people in the village and there’s an easefulness for me that I feel makes such a beautiful season. And then in terms of the hardest, for me, it’s the in-between times. I call them the impasse, the spaces of the unknown. That’s really the breeding ground, if you will, for all those fears and the self doubt and the vulnerability and the loneliness comes when you’re not sure what’s next. You’re not quite sure where all this is going. When are you going to get your next contract or where is that next round of funding going to come from. How are you going to make that trip happen? Or how are you going to get to this country you really want to go to or how are you going to pay your bills this month? It’s the in between. That for me is when I look back in my life that I struggled the most. But it always works out. An opportunity always comes around. You have a network of people to support you, you are loved, you are safe. And it always leads to something amazing, even if you have to go through uncomfortable times or struggles in the meantime. So I am trying to learn to be kinder to myself during those hard seasons, fully understanding that it’s like flowing water. You can watch a river and sometimes it gets stuck in a swirl and sometimes it’s going too fast and sometimes it’s slow and all of it’s okay.

Karthika: The unknown is brutal at times. What advice would you give other conservationist nature advocates or maybe even people who are just very passionate about the environment and wildlife? How can they make an impact? And that can look different for different people, right? But how can they make an impact effectively for themselves?

Jennifer: Take a look at your home, take a look at your workplace, your school, your community. Start where you are at and then work from there and think about what kind of voice you want to have. What platform do you have and what do you have access to? That could be people or resources or skillsets. And take stock of what is causing concern for you and what you feel is your best method of addressing that. And it is different for everybody and I think it’s important that once you have a little bit of clarity on that, it’s easier to create steps to build something that works for you. I think you don’t have to do it alone. It’s a big part of why I launched Women For Wildlife. You have a network of people to lean on, to ask questions and to get mentorship or get ideas. You can learn from and you can scale out easily. And so I always say, use your passions, start where you’re at. And I see it in so many beautiful ways. Like for example, I have a cousin who is a musician professionally, trained French Horn and she’s incredible. And she also loves wildlife. And she started an initiative called Horns For Rhinos. And she is helping share the message of conservation to the music community. She’s done incredible fundraisers, had concerts and helped take musicians into the bush to show them these animals and how important it is that we save them. She started where she was at. She wasn’t a scientist. She didn’t know a lot about this in the beginning, but she’s learned so much and she’s doing such great things. That’s the kind of message I like to share with people. Start where you are.

Karthika: Yes. A lot of times we want to make these big impacts, right? And so when we feel like, okay, my voice is not enough. It’s too small or what could I possibly do? So we don’t do anything. But every bit matters. I love what you said, start from where you are, use the resources that you have, then do research and figure out this. There are people who are doing this and all we need to do is just reach out and say, Hey, I want to help and how can I do that. You may feel like your voice is small, but when we put them all together, it makes a mighty roar.

Jennifer: I love that concept. And we’re seeing it more and more, especially with younger generations and with this incredible movement of what happens when we really come together on something that we’re passionate about. And that’s why I say you don’t have to do it alone. There are people that can help you. And there’s a community out there. But taking that first step is usually the hardest. And once you’re on it, it’s a lot easier from there.

Karthika: I agree. Let’s perhaps start to wrap this up a little bit just in the interest of time, what has been your biggest ah-ha moments?

Jennifer: When I was younger, I used to think environmentalists are good and poachers are bad. And when I got to Costa Rica as part of my research. I met poachers to visit their communities, to see their homes, and to meet their children. I had this massive Aha moment when I realized that there were so many limitations on what was possible for them to earn money and to take care of their family. I had a strange feeling that if I had lived in that area I would be forced to be a poacher cause there wasn’t anything else I could do to survive. And that was very powerful for me to understand the difference between being a conservationist, caring about the environment, fighting on behalf of wildlife, and also understanding that these people are just trying to make a living and they don’t have access to water, food, education, healthcare and other resources. And I see that all over the world. It just that the Aha happened in Costa Rica for me. But since then I have been able to recognize that as a really fundamental part of the work that I do. And being able to share the complexity of conservation, what I call contribution conundrums, we have these issues that are very complex. It’s not just a matter of right or wrong, poach or don’t poach, hunt or don’t hunt. It involves a lot more depth than that. And have compassion.

Karthika: Yes. It goes back to what you had said earlier, right? Understanding and empathy. Those are key no matter what. You have to be willing to listen to both sides or multiple sites in some cases before me making a decision or before even kind of saying, okay, I get it.

Jennifer: Yes. We in terms of the conservation community, go into a place with ideas about how local communities should manage the resources without even having a conversation with them. They know the land and the animals way more than we do. And when you listen, you create a dialogue and you share the fact that these are really precious resources and this is why we want to help protect it. That connection for the long term for generations, for the land, whatever it might be. Those are the conversations that you can together come up with some great solutions. But when it’s one or the other, or there is no dialogue or a bridge, it is really complicated to get to a solution.

Karthika: Absolutely. Now, what advice or even sort of life lessons would you tell a younger Jennifer?

Jennifer: Actually I can say I’ve done this sort of internal work, the spiritual path if you want to call it that involves talking to your younger self and trying to understand. So I’ve actually had this conversation. But I think part of it is  really you are stronger and more courageous than you will ever imagine. And I tell that to younger people all the time because I think it’s an important lesson to remind yourself because I think when you’re younger, you don’t necessarily feel that way. You might not feel as strong or you might not feel as smart or you might not feel as accomplished. But you are. And I think that is an important thing to be sharing with younger generations. You have this ability to connect with other people and you can use it for good. You are more powerful than you think.

Karthika: Absolutely. Now what do you do for fun? I know the answer, but I’ll ask it anyway. How do you unwind? How do you sort of unwind and relax?

Jennifer: Dance. I also enjoy yoga. I enjoy being outdoors, hiking, camping, paddling, swimming, anything that gets me outside, and really fills my cup back up and makes me feel very joyous. But dance is usually my go to.

Karthika: All right, let’s do a quick rapid fire round, so don’t overthink it. Whatever comes to mind.

  • Coffee, tea or something. Coffee.
  • Favorite flavor of ice cream. Coffee flavor.
  • Quote that you get inspired. I have this piece of paper that I have had for the longest time. It is by a Spanish explorer. And the quote is ‘The sea is dangerous and it storms terrible, but these obstacles have never been sufficient reason for a ship to remain a shore. Unlike the mediocre and trepid, spirits take victory over those things that seem impossible. It is with an iron will that they embark on the most daring of all endeavors to meet the shadowy future without fear and conquer the unknown.’ I keep that in my wallet and I read it whenever I am in doubt and it fills me back up and charges me.
  • Action, adventure or drama or horror movies – Drama.
  • Favorite seasons spring, summer, fall and winter  – I love the heat so summer.
  • What was your childhood dream job? Marine biologist
  • Mountains or beach – I’ll say beach
  • This might be a hard one, but as a wildlife conservation, what’s your favorite animal? – It’s very difficult but the one that comes to mind are elephants. I think we have so much to learn from them, their social structures, the way that they interact with nature by just watching them.
  • Three must haves that you take with you on every trip – a sarong, my journal and my metal water bottle. I have a little water bottle. I’m very anti plastic as you can imagine. So I don’t go anywhere without that thing.
  • What’s your favorite country in the world? – I know I’ve been asked this question before and I have tried. I’ve agonized and I really don’t know how to narrow it down to one because each country has so much to offer in terms of culture, in terms of architecture, landscape, wilderness, well of life. So I don’t actually have a favorite. I would tell you if I did.

Karthika: That’s okay. That’s a good answer because you’re right. Every country has something to offer. So Jen, what lies ahead for you? Are you sort of fully living your dream or what comes next if it’s okay to share with us.

Jennifer: Yes and no. The things that make me feel very fulfilled really have to do with creating opportunities and experiences in nature for people to understand the healing power of nature and all that nature has to bring our lives and the importance of protecting wildlife and protecting these wild spaces. And also doing that in a way that also supports local communities and conservation initiatives. So really threading together my passion for nature and wildlife with that piece of adventure and experience. I’ve been able to, to find a way to do that for part of the time, but not all of the time yet. I’m really looking to building Women For Wildlife, building communities and finding creative ways to support all of these projects that are led by women. And doing it in a way that I’m able to facilitate that experience for others because these are magical places and I know how healing they are.That it’s my dream. And so I’ve been able to do it part time, but not full time yet.

Karthika: Jen. I’m sure it’s going to happen very soon. I love your enthusiasm. I love the passion that you have for the outdoors, for wilderness. Like you say it, it comes across loud and clear and I have no doubt you will be living your dream full time very, very soon.There are not a lot of people who can do what you are doing. I mean, we all  want to do something. We all have that deep desire to make a difference. We want to protect nature. But not a lot of us have the funds or the ability or whatever it is. So when we hear stories like you, it’s very inspiring and it’s empowering. And I know when people listen to this, they will be empowered and do something – whatever feels right for them.

Jennifer: Find your passion, find what lights you up and what you feel really inspired by. Go exploring, say yes to adventure, be open to the healing powers of nature and connect to any of these wild places and these incredible cultures because it is very invigorating and inspiring and it can change your life. I really feel like these are transformative experiences to have. And so I try to inspire more people to go out there on their own or do it with me or do it together in another group. I’ve just seen people’s lives change and in really miraculous ways. To be able to do that while we’re helping wildlife is just amazing. So I hope to continue that. Thank you for the opportunity to share my story.

Karthika: Absolutely. Jen, thank you so much for coming on Culturally Ours, and I really appreciate you taking the time.

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