Meet conservationist Kaila Wild
We chat to arborist and wildlife superhero Kaila Wild about his work at the frontlines of Australian wildlife conservation.

Home is …
Between Sydney and Port Macquarie. I volunteer as a rescuer at the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital.

How I start my day …
By smashing two really strong coffees and checking my newsfeed.

My workspace looks like …
The canopy of a tree. Working as an arborist and arboreal wildlife rescuer, I’m usually up at a height of 10-20 metres. It’s nearly always green, I’m usually surrounded by some kind of eucalypt foliage and how I’m feeling really depends on the weather. When the weather is cool and calm, I’m cool and calm. Climbing in strong winds can get pretty nerve-wracking, but heat is my worst enemy.

 

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On work/life balance …
My passion for climbing led to me working as an arborist, so what used to be a hobby that I would use to wind down is now my profession. Where I find the balance is having the freedom and flexibility to take work off and travel whenever I need it, which is a massive perk of working for myself.

Before I became a more full-time wildlife rescuer, I spent a lot of time volunteering with Greenpeace’s climb team, which took me to places like New Zealand and Brazil. There, I trained others how to climb and participate in protests. I’ve occupied old-growth trees in Tasmania and on the mid-north coast of New South Wales to protect native forests. I’ve also hung from Pyrmont Bridge with a banner urging big banks to divest from fossil fuels, and in Wellington I occupied the Tangaroa, a former climate research vessel that was being used for oil exploration. Both of those campaigns were ultimately successful. Working for myself made much of this possible.

On ambition …
Coming from a poor background, early in my life I defined success as being wealthy. I left school at 16 and started working to earn money. In my early 20s I was working in office administration and management. I was driven, but largely only ambitious in terms of what the job was giving me in monetary terms. I felt pretty unfulfilled and realised I was defining myself and compensating for the lack of fulfillment by my possessions, like the car I drove.

Although I grew up poor, I also grew up surrounded by nature and this was an influence that stayed buried within me. I had a pivotal moment after completing a 10-day walk along the wild and stunning south coast of Tasmania, where I realised that the life I was living was unbearably unfulfilling. I decided to pursue a career as a ranger, or something that would allow me to be working to conserve nature and wildlife. I went to TAFE to study conservation, land management and native wildlife rehabilitation. I ended up volunteering at a koala hospital and then helping with a study examining how koalas were being affected by climate change.

Basically, I completely rejected the materialistic worldview and defining myself by my possessions and decided to embrace insecurity if it meant I could embrace my passion for conversation. That’s what ambition is to me — wanting to live a full and meaningful life.

 

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On collaboration …
If you read my book, The 99th Koala, you’ll understand how desperate and isolated I was during those first two weeks on Kangaroo Island. I called in my friend Freya from New Zealand and as soon as she arrived that changed everything.
Two thirds of Kangaroo Island had been destroyed by fire by the time I got there. There were rows and rows of blackened trees and dead koalas that were so badly burnt it looked like they had been mummified. Nothing can prepare you for that.

Collaboration with Freya meant all the obvious things — practical help with climbing trees and rescuing the surviving koalas — but the most significant thing was having someone for emotional support. I was crying into my breakfast some days. Having someone there with me who understood what I was going through made all the difference.

On success …
To me, success looks like an end to native logging, urgent action on climate change, a treaty for First Nations peoples and having a government that doesn’t imprison people for seeking a safe home. To me, success looks like inspiring people to care.

On travelling …
Each year, for the last three years (pre-Coronavirus), I’ve travelled to Dharamasala in northern India to teach Tibetan refugees and freedom activists how to climb safely, so that climbing could be incorporated into their activism. A very effective way to gain attention for your cause is to climb structures and deploy banners with whatever the bold statement is you’re making, so being able to pass on my climbing skills is really important to me. I do get sick every time I go to Dharamasala — the water quality isn’t great — but going there is always the highlight of my year.

What I do to blow off steam …
Long walks on the beach, recreational climbing and sharing koala content.

Where to find me …
You can find me and a bunch of koalas on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter at @kailaswild.

 

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