Sean Laughlin Interview
This week I spoke to conservationist and environmental educator Sean Laughlin. Originally from Houston, Texas, Sean spent most of his childhood in Cozumel, Mexico. He then moved to Colorado and, after graduating high school, attended college in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Sean majored in Environmental Studies and minored in Biology and Coastal Management at Eckerd College. After university, he returned to Cozumel for six months to complete his divemaster course, and during this time he also assisted the local wildlife park rangers with sea turtle and crocodile research.
In October 2016, Sean travelled to Korat, Thailand to radio track king cobras at the Sakaerat biosphere reserve. During the seven months he spent there, he was able to build up his snake handling experience with king cobras, as well as other field research skills. His role was to study the spatial ecology of the snakes and how they interact with the surrounding natural and urban environments.
After Thailand, Sean backpacked around Southeast Asia, before heading off on an expedition to Madagascar with Operation Wallacea. In Madagascar, Sean was one of the herpetologists that collected data on the Malagasy giant hognose snake. They caught the snakes during the day and covered them in UV powder so that they could track their trail routes at night with a torch. Sean also led groups of students along transect routes, teaching them everything about the native reptiles and how to find them. The transect routes were part of a large biodiversity analysis carried out to get an estimate of the species density.
After Madagascar, Sean returned to the United States where he now works in environmental education and teaches people (usually school students) about nature and the importance of conserving it. Since educational work is seasonal, Sean also carries out field research projects during the summer and winter months.
Sean is a keen traveller, hiker, scuba diver and photographer, and he says his number one goal in life is to just explore the world and photograph as many amazing things as he can!
Was there a defining moment in your life where you knew you wanted to pursue a career working with exotic animals?
I grew up in a nature-orientated family that spent a lot of time travelling, which exposed me to exotic animals and unique environments. However the defining moment was when I went to Peru with Field Projects International on a field research course in the Amazon. The days were long and full of extraordinary experiences, research methodology, and amazing wildlife. It was on the 60 meter watchtower photographing the mammals and bird foraging in the canopy at twilight that I knew that this is what I wanted to do.
Who has been your biggest inspiration?
As a child I was a complete fan of Steve Irwin, Jeff Corwin and Nigel Marven. But through one of my college roommates and best friend, Mick Mittermeier, I had the privilege of meeting his father Dr. Russell Mittermeier who is the President of conservation International and is the coolest person I have ever met.
What does wildlife conservation mean to you? Why is it so important?
Wildlife conservation means the protection of ecosystems and the animals within them, especially the non-cute and fluffy ones. All animals are important, but I like to raise awareness for reptiles and invertebrates, even though they may not be the most photogenic or loved.
In your opinion, what poses the largest threat to conservation?
Unfortunately I believe that the human desire for material goods and consumption will continue to degrade our planet.
What kind of messages do you aim to get across in your environmental education? And how do you get them across?
Although I love teaching everyone about ecology, my passion is to take people with a fear or lack of understanding for snakes, spiders and other misunderstood animals and turn it into genuine love and appreciation. I struggled with learning differences as a child but was fortunate enough to go to Denver Academy and through their patience, trust building and focus, I am now able to bring those skills to all the people I work with.
What’s the best part about your job?
Currently I am working on seasonal contracts which is great because it allows me to do environmental education, takes care of travelling itch, and do field research.
Have you had any close calls with an animal?
When I first started field research I caught a 5ft crocodile and dislocated my shoulder. In the process of putting my shoulder back in place, I lost my grip on the crocodile’s mouth and got bit on the hand!
Can you tell me a bit about Operation Wallacea, and how people can get involved?
I had an amazing experience with working for Operation Wallacea in Madagascar in the summer of 2017. They were professional, engaged, organised and provided a remarkable experience for their students and colleagues. For any student groups doing summer trips abroad I would highly recommend Operation Wallacea. You can check them out at opwall.com
What’s your dream wildlife adventure?
I have been fortunate enough to go to many people’s dream locations such as Borneo, Komodo, Thailand, Great Barrier Reef, Mexico, Costa Rica and Madagascar. My dream adventure would be to do a six month trip in a 4x4 from northern Africa to southern Africa and explore everything in between.
Do you have any advice for someone wanting to follow in your footsteps?
Follow your passion! Raise, care for, and study the creatures you love and pursue any degree in natural sciences. However, if you have a wide range of experience in things like herpetology, ornithology, entomology, ichthyology and mammalogy, then it will be easier to get internships and experience for future jobs.
What’s next for you?
I’m off to another environmental education contract in Alabama, and then plan to work with Operation Wallacea again this summer. At that point, I will have enough experience to hopefully get a more permanent field research position.
Thanks for speaking with me Sean!
If you would like to hear more from Sean and keep up to date with his story, then be sure to follow him on Instagram: @GingerBeast1