“We are establishing genetic markers to identify illegal wildlife trade within Europe and beyond. The exciting thing is that we can provide direct support to law enforcement.”
© Sabine Heine
Albia Consul wants to curb the wildlife trade and at the same time inspire young people biologically through knowledge transfer: She manages the balancing act at the LIB by coordinating a special project to identify illegal wildlife trade in Europe and at the same time being involved in the LIB’s education and outreach work. In the interview, she reveals why a change in thinking is important, especially among the younger generation:
What led you to biology? Was there a key experience?
I grew up in a village in the Rhineland with forests, mountains, streams and maars all around – very idyllic. As a child, we were always out and about with the whole family, and I was already asking incessant “why” questions about every bug, bird and plant. My curiosity to understand connections was very great and has remained a passion. So it was a must for me to get to know the scientific side of nature as well.
Which aspect of your daily work is your highlight?
In the current FOGS project (Forensic Genetics for Species Protection) we are establishing genetic markers to identify illegal wildlife trade within Europe and beyond. The exciting thing is that we can provide direct support to law enforcement. It is also interesting for our own work to get to know and understand the processes of other professional fields. At the same time, it is inspiring and, in a positive sense, challenging to be in contact with people who share the same interests and goals and, moreover, to form communication networks. I see it as a main task of mine to communicate complex scientific content of our research projects to the general public. I am always pleased when there are children and adults on guided tours, who often listen very quietly with their mouths open and then curiously ask lots of questions. I am also passionate about working on new exhibition formats: Here I incorporate my expertise and create my own concepts.
What does nature mean to you personally / Where is your favourite place in nature?
Nature is indeed everything for me. It is me in communication with my environment, the flora and fauna. As an outdoor biologist on excursions and private travels, I have been allowed to discover many beautiful places in deserts, rainforests and temperate zones, as well as getting to know the most diverse people and cultures. Glaciers and mountain landscapes have always made the most lasting impression on me. At altitude, I feel part of something bigger. Now I’m a city dweller and often take the opportunity to go hiking in the surrounding area. For example, in the Siebengebirge or in the Eifel, there are many small favourite places that I like to visit again and again.
Crayfish, fish, butterflies: Who has your very personal affection?
As a herpetologist, reptiles are naturally high on my list because they come in all shapes – with and without legs, for example. Their mutability is simply fascinating: whether on air, on earth or in the water – they can move almost anywhere with a fascinating dynamism and assert themselves evolutionarily.
What do you see as the greatest challenge in environmental protection?
Not getting tired of talking about the topics of climate, sustainability and consumption and also staying in communication with each other. We have to understand that only if we understand our human society as part of nature, of an ecosystem cycle, can we really initiate positive changes. Within the LIB, we have formed a working group on sustainability. We want to take big green steps not only privately, but also for and especially with our employer.
What would you have become if biology had not worked out?
Most likely, I would still have come to the Natural History Museum in a roundabout way and taught biological topics to groups of visitors as a nature and travel guide.
What advice do you have for young biologists at the beginning of their careers?
Follow your passion and above all stay curious. Ask questions from the beginning and stay in contact with colleagues as often as possible. But get a clear picture of what opportunities are available on the job market early on, because that helps you stay open and flexible. At the moment, there are a lot of new fields that could be interesting.
Which sub-area at the LIB is particularly close to your heart personally?
All areas stand out individually, but they are also very strong in their commonality. Teaching interdisciplinary research is close to my heart. I find it particularly important to communicate nature-related LIB research topics to the public. We have to start with our children and give them the opportunity to experience nature and teach them about biological topics in an interesting and exciting way. Together we can bring about a global change in thinking.
Do you have a dream of what your work might have achieved in five or ten years?
If I look back ten years at this point, I can already see positive effects from previous projects: In knowledge transfer, we get feedback quite quickly and I was able to inspire pupils to become more interested in scientific study options again. For the FOGS project, I hope that the creation of databases with genetic information will become routine and that we will thus create a network, especially globally, with which we can support the judicial authorities and make a visible contribution to the protection of biodiversity.
Albia Consul studied biology at the University of Bonn and examined the reptile fauna in Bolivia for her final thesis. She spent several months in a nature reserve in the Gran Chaco, the second largest biome after the Amazon. As a certified project and process manager, she led projects at the Natural History Museum in Stuttgart, Berlin and the University of Gießen, among others.