Something Wild: Teachers Spread the Nature Bug

Feb 24, 2017

No one knows better than teachers how quickly a bug, once introduced, can take hold. We’re not just talking about head colds and stomach viruses. Today on Something Wild we’re taking a look at how biologists are first bitten.

  Not surprisingly, many of the biologists we’ve spoken to over the years were inspired to join the ranks at a young age by a teacher. Susi von Oettingen is an endangered species biologist with U.S. Fish and Wildlife here in New Hampshire. For her it was her advanced biology teacher in high school who captured her imagination. “We did an experiment with a growth hormone on little tadpoles and I thought holy cow how cool is this!”

Susi von Oettingen releasing a plover.

  And that carried her through college, where she worked with an ornithologist called Dr. Bird. Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up. Von Oettingen remembers “I had a lot of mentors and inspiring professors who were willing to take a suburbanite, under their wing.” But enough with the bird jokes. Each teacher and mentor she met along the way introduced her to more remarkable species of plants and animals. “I got into this because I could combine all these amazing adventures. It was great. And I’ve loved it ever since.”

That life-long love affair is one of those universals among wildlife biologists. We saw that too with Dr. Rob Bierregaard. Something Wild listeners might remember Bierregaard from when we went out tracking ospreys a while ago. He’s been unlocking the details of osprey migration for 30 years. Basically, if there’s an osprey wearing a satellite tracking device in this hemisphere, chances are he’s the guy who installed it. And he got an early start to his career, too.

Bierregaard told us about it as we stood in the rain searching the Tilton skies for osprey. “I must have been 6 or 7. There was a summer day camp at the Greenwich Audubon Society. And it’s been pretty much downhill ever since from there.”  It was an outdoor camp, and couldn’t get enough of it. After the summer camp, that initial spark was fanned by…you guessed it, a teacher.

Dr. Rob Bierregaard releasing an osprey.

  “The final blow was going to a small school and the biology professor had created this amazing zoo,” says Bierregaard, “and I got onto the zoo squad and worked my way up the ladder of animals. I graduated to Empress the golden eagle and I got to sit in her cage and hand her sticks to build a nest and that pretty much did it.” And he’s been keeping an eye on raptors ever since.

We really do rely on teachers as a profession and as a society to help kids tap into their passion. The Something Wild team would also like to shout out to Mrs. Hunter, J. Daniel Webster and Mr. Hubley as science teachers who set us down the path we find ourselves on.

We want to hear your first bitten stories too, whether it was a teacher or a close encounter of the furry kind, how did you first discover the outdoors? Post your story in the comments below, email us at Something Wild at nhrp.org, or share it with the world with #FirstBitten.