“That bear at work, that’s me”

Curious, discovering new paths, listening, patiently observing, thinking along and standing up for things that are important.

Planting a seed

From an early age I was touched by the nature around me. Therefore, it was no surprise that I felt completely at home when studying Forest and Nature Management at Wageningen University. It was there that a seed has been planted to really understand conflicts between people and wild animals. Especially what lessons we can learn in order to learn to live together. However, this seed was not planted during regular lectures. And, even not in the Netherlands. It was planted during my internship in and around Yellowstone National Park, Montana, USA.

Gaining new insights

This internship was an eye-opener in many ways. For instance, I participated in a project about the interactions between people and bears. Part of the project entailed looking for paw prints and bear droppings, and we needed to check camping spots for leftover garbage. When we met people on the trails, we asked them a few short questions, such as where they slept, if they had met any bears, and how they act when they would encounter bears. In the meantime, we carefully observed if they were carrying a gun or pepper spray. It was here, in the outback of Montana, that I understood the importance of understanding the interactions between humans and wild animals. It was also here that I became fascinated by bears…

Where there is a will, there is a way

That seed needed some time to develop. After having worked in policy settings for a number of years and gaining valuable knowledge from this practice, I returned to the university to start a PhD trajectory. That drive to do research into human-animal interactions kept haunting me. This time I started a social scientific research, after an ecologically oriented study and experience in policy practice. This was a perfect match, since my research focused exactly on such tensions between disciplinary thoughts as well as transcended them. Honestly, this career switch did not happen without any figurative bears on the road (a Dutch saying, meaning encountering various obstacles on the way). Along the way, I learned not to become discouraged by all those different bears. On the contrary, I learned to understand all those different bears with their own characters and to understand how we can pursue the same goal.

Connecting People and Wildlife; a conversation with all the bears on the road

I don’t know how, but there is always a way

My whole life has been about finding ways to reach certain goals. One example is my internship to Yellowstone I wrote about. Nobody at the university had contacts in that region. Still, I wanted to do my intern there. So, where there’s a will, there’s a way… And the ‘magic’ happened. Similarly, the combination of a PhD trajectory and four small children is an absolute challenge. But, likewise, not impossible!

And so it is with conflicts between humans and wild animals. Based on my experiences, I can tell that various people, from various disciplines, basically all want to live together with the wild animals they regard “problem animals”. However, they get stuck in answering the ‘how’ question and rely on standard ways of thinking and possibilities, often including lethal measures.

Time to wake up and . . . action!

My motivation for this theme did not arise only from my own experiences. I also observe a social (and ecological) necessity. There is a reason why the subject of sustainability is a top priority on various political agendas. Related to this, the effects of climate change on the spreading of wild animals is another important theme. As a consequence, for example, Dutch people might suddenly find a brown bear in their backyard (ok, maybe wait a few more years). Wolves, on the other hand, have been established in the Netherlands. That is something we couldn’t imagine about ten years ago.


What drives me most: Are we willing to ‘listen’ to the other person, as well as the wild animals surrounding us? To listen to the voice of other people and to the ‘voice’ of wild animals around us. By truly listening, understanding and discovering why the other person expresses himself in a certain way, it is possible to take sustainable steps. This means, literally, letting go of control and remain open to mutuality in relations. I accept that challenge with people (and wild animals).

By truly listening, understanding and discovering why the other person expresses himself in a certain way, it is possible to take sustainable steps.

Have a look from another perspective

Providing insight into the various perspectives of both humans and wildlife around conflicts is my expertise. This ranges from which words are chosen in specific contexts, to actual stories told by humans and the wild animals themselves. I collect these stories from various practices. These stories are key features of my presentations, workshops, conversations and masterclasses. They contribute to inspire you to think differently with wild animals. Additionally, these stories also help me to critically reflect on my own position in relation to (certain) wild animals.

I am always willing to learn and to understand different perspectives. You too?

Do you want to know more about me and where I stand for?

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“I know Susan as very friendly, empathetic and conscientious – both privately and professionally. Susan works with full attention and diligence and can think along very well on a wide variety of subjects.”

Dr. ir. Hanneke J. Nijland
Independent Researcher – Hanneke J. Nijland Research & Consultancy