Working Effectively in a Multi-Ethnic Conservation Field Team in a Developing Country
American Association of Zoo Veterinarians Conference 2015
Michael R. Loomis, DVM, MA, DACZM
Hanes Veterinary Medical Center, North Carolina Zoological Park, Asheboro, NC, USA


Working effectively in a field conservation team in a developing country can be very challenging and very rewarding. Understanding the field setting, managing expectations of team members, and understanding cultural differences are keys to being able to work effectively.

The Field Setting

A knowledge of the study site’s remoteness, climate, geography, infrastructure, security issues, transportation, and supply availability are essential to pre-trip planning.1 These factors define equipment requirements, team composition, and project duration.

Managing Team Members’ Expectations

A field team includes a number of individuals fulfilling different roles, all of which are essential to the successful completion of the mission. These roles range from porters and trackers to field biologists and veterinarians. It is important that each team member is treated with respect and acknowledged for his contributions. Each team member should sign a contract that details his duties, pay, and duration of employment. This is especially important for daily paid workers.

Understanding Cultural Differences

Acknowledging cultural differences, beliefs, and customs is key to working effectively in the field. The ability to “translate” local customs and beliefs into a western equivalent adds to mutual understanding and respect, and thus makes for a smooth field experience. Examples of such translations of local customs and beliefs to western equivalents are described in Table 1.

Table 1. Translations of customs and beliefs to western equivalents

Local custom or belief


Don’t take the gizzard but, if offered it, accept with grace

Don’t expect or demand respect or special privilege but, if offered, accept with grace

Don’t dart my totem

Respect local customs and beliefs

Don’t let the phantom get to you

Don’t be the limiting factor in field operations


A gracious way to decline or say “no”


Reward excellence

It’s the economy stupid

The average person in developing countries lives on less than $2.00/day


Literature Cited

1.  Loomis MR. Suggestions for veterinarians working in Central Africa. In: Proceedings from the American Association of Zoo Veterinarians, American Association of Wildlife Veterinarians, AZA Nutrition Advisory Group; October 14–21, 2005; Omaha, NE:192–195.


Speaker Information
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Michael R. Loomis, DVM, MA, DACZM
Hanes Veterinary Medical Center
North Carolina Zoological Park
Asheboro, NC, USA

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