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UWA and me

Since completing my honours degree in Zoology at UWA, I’ve gone from managing a project which teaches predator recognition to small marsupials, presenting and filming wildlife documentaries for four years with Discovery Channel and Nat Geo Wild, a conservation genetics PhD on humpback whales with the Australian Antarctic Division, to now developing new technology for species detection, which focuses on caribou and the big cats with McMaster University in Canada and the University of Calgary. The project is a global multi-disciplinary project funded by the Canadian Government (NSERC), the Canadian Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA) and Alberta Innovates, and involving partnerships with the South African National Biodiversity Institute and the Senckenberg Institute in Germany.

Developing holistic approaches to conservation

My passion is in developing new and innovative genetic tools to help us monitor rare and elusive species in the wild and track the illegal trade of their parts. More importantly, I’m passionate about developing species detection technology that can be used by everyday people so that the public can be directly involved in conservation efforts. Developing more holistic approaches to conservation which empower and include communities is what makes conservation efforts sustainable in the long-term, and I’m exploring some of these ideas with collaborators in Nepal to help protect apex predators, those at the top of the food chain.

The sky is the limit

One of the most interesting aspects in using and developing genetic tools for the detection of rare and elusive species is working with some phenomenal wildlife in some of the most isolated and remote regions of the world, like the Southern Ocean, Antarctica and the Himalayas. However, this work is also enabling me to collaborate with some very inspiring research groups and NGOs, with diverse interests ranging from biomedical research, big cat conservation, illegal wildlife trade and community conservation. The sky is the limit with this new technology and I’m excited to see how far we can take it in terms of both terrestrial and aquatic species applications.

Words of Wisdom

My advice would always be to follow your heart, do what fills your soul and don’t be afraid to constantly challenge yourself. Following your heart is almost always the most challenging path, but your life will be so much richer for it.


Natalie Schmitt BSc '98

Natalie in Antarctica.

Natalie is a marine ecologist, conservation geneticist, and documentary presenter with a long history of deep passion and dedication to protecting biodiversity using a multi-pronged approach; from hard science to public education and community conservation. She has studied rare, elusive, endangered species on land and sea, conducting international collaborative research geared towards conservation and management.

She is in the process of developing a leading-edge technology to detect DNA from endangered species in real time, at low cost and ease of use, that will shift the paradigm of customs conservation law-enforcement, field monitoring and public involvement. She has developed a proof-of-concept and has built an extremely skilled team of geneticists, conservationists, communicators, business partners, and institutions, all invested in making this technology a reality in the next 3 years. Her community conservation work  has led her to also establish alliances and empower local communities in Nepal for snow leopard conservation.

For more about Natalie and her work, you can follow the @NatsCatsDNA Facebook page or visit the links below.