“Animals…need strong, fearless human advocates and that is what I aspire to be.”

Mon Jun 17, 2019 at 11:25 AM

Jessica Jimerson with pangolin, VietnamAs a young girl, Jessica Jimerson collected pictures of people working with wildlife from National Geographic magazine and plastered them on her bedroom walls as inspiration. Now, many years later, she is one of the wildlife conservationists featured in a National Geographic article about the endangered pangolin. She has been working for over a year at Save Vietnam's Wildlife (SVW), a non-profit, Vietnamese NGO that works to save and protect native small carnivores and pangolins from extinction in Cuc Phuong National Park in Ninh Binh, Vietnam. In addition, she co-wrote a chapter on pangolin rehabilitation for a book that will be published next year. Here are excerpts from an email interview.

On her Blue Ridge education in veterinary technology:

I attended BRCC from 2012-2014. I had never studied or prepared so hard in my life than I did during the two-year program. The memories of sleepless nights and overbearing anxiety stand out to me. Another memory is of a small assignment to write a paper about an endangered species for our zoo/wildlife class with Dr. Porter. I decided to write mine about the pangolin: the most trafficked mammal in the world. Who knew that four years later I would be a part of a leading movement to save this species!

I decided to go to tech school because I thought gaining practical experience and technical knowledge could be highly useful in the conservation world. I couldn't afford to go to a big university, and I was certain that going into debt at all to work in conservation would be a huge mistake. I am currently living debt free from my school choice, and I have a degree and skill set that is quite versatile.

On her career progression:

I made it clear to instructors, colleagues, and classmates that my goal was always wildlife medicine. I had already been working in wildlife rehab and zoos by the time I started tech school and continued to work in zoo/wildlife practice throughout my time at BRCC. I continued to work for a zoo as well as large animal and dog/cat practice to solidify my technical skills until I landed a job with the Houston Zoo. BRCC really gave me in edge in the lab world. I was ahead of most techs in Texas as far as lab skills go and that comes down to education and experience. BRCC is really a great school in that regard. My lab skills and position at the Houston Zoo are also what started my relationship with Save Vietnam's Wildlife because I received a grant called the Staff Conservation Fund. SVW saves hundreds of exploited animals from the wildlife trade each year. Animals are trafficked for meat, pets, traditional medicine, etc. This is how I found my place. Tech skills are THE skills needed to manage these animals when they are rescued. Intensive care, nursing, and compassion are critical needs for these animals. BRCC provided me with not only the knowledge and skills but also with the expectation that I need to do more than your average "extra set of hands." I felt liberated by the instructors at BRCC to take responsibility for my patients and not let my title, or the public perception of what a tech is, decide my importance or worth in the practice. That is why I work currently as the Veterinary Manager for SVW. Being an LVT has given me so much confidence in my knowledge and my instinct that I feel strong enough to be a team leader for this Vietnamese NGO.

On living in Vietnam:

To be honest, I love my life in Vietnam. I love living in the middle of a jungle with so few people around. It isn't an easy life out here. It's difficult. In the States, I took a lot of luxuries for granted. I miss the variety of beer, clothes dryers, and the lack of mold and parasites from back home! Vietnam is a communist country. People are oppressed in many ways. This society is dominated by a patriarchy. For me, a strong and empowered woman, this can create problems. But I enjoy being a role model for the other girls out here! On the flip side, Vietnam has strong family values and people take care of each other out here. I have never had so many friends and people I barely know step up to help me when I need it! Although there is a language barrier, I have made many amazing friends and I feel like I belong to this village.