MDWFP’s Mississippi Museum of Natural Science
STAFF SPOTLIGHT: Kathy Shelton
South MS Conservation Biologist
Kathy has dedicated her career to conserving Mississippi’s wildlife.
Get to know her in the interview below.
WHAT’S YOUR WORKDAY LIKE?
My workdays really vary. Some parts of the year I am out in the field quite a bit, surveying for one of the many species I manage.
This could be looking in caves for wintering bats or checking under bridges for bat maternity colonies, counting gopher tortoise burrows to determine population status, or out at night listening for frogs calling. There can be long hot days and late nights, but also some great days of boating on the Pascagoula River or walking on one of our barrier islands surveying shorebirds.
I also work with a great team of collaborators helping to make management plans and decisions for habitat management and long term monitoring plans.
I also tend to spend a LOT of time in front of a computer, looking at data, writing reports, developing management strategies, and answering questions/giving advice to the public.
ANY FUNNY WORK STORIES?
I work with such a great group of people that it’s always fun! I could recall hundreds of funny stories. One of the most recent occurred this past winter.
I was surveying a box culvert for hibernating bats with a volunteer. Walking through the dark culvert with my light mostly shined up to the ceiling of culvert, I didn’t notice the dropoff that was under the surface.
I’m walking happily along and all of a sudden there is no floor under me. I went pretty much all the way underwater, and it was COLD!!!
It took a few seconds for me to realize I just had to put my feet down and stand up, and even longer to catch my breath after that icy plunge.
I made it out just fine. Along with spare clothes in my truck and some donations from the volunteer I was with, I managed to get some dry clothes on. I did call it a day for surveying culverts though. One polar plunge per day is enough.
WOULD YOU SHARE A LITTLE ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND?
I’m originally from Greensboro, NC where I got my B.S. in Wildlife Management from North Carolina State University.
After a short stint working on a military base in Yakima, Washington, I moved to Mississippi to get my Master’s Degree in Wildlife Sciences at Mississippi State University.
I met my Mississippi native husband while in school and stayed in the state. I started working for the state of Mississippi pretty much right out of college, first with the Department of Marine Resources, then transferring to Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks.
My first 7 years with the agency were spent in the Wildlife Bureau, mostly dealing with game management on public lands. I transferred to the Museum in 2007 and have been working with non-game species ever since.
My hobbies reflect my love of nature: hiking, birdwatching, kayaking, and sitting in the shade listening to the wind blow the trees.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS CAREER?
Way back in the late 80’s I read a story about bear poaching in the National Parks and how lack of law enforcement was hindering efforts to control it. Right then I made the decision to go back to school to become a wildlife law enforcement officer for the National Park Service.
Once I started school it didn’t take me long to realize wildlife monitoring and management were my true passions and I adjusted my classes to fit that. Pretty much from day one I knew I had made the right choice.
HOW DOES YOUR JOB CONTRIBUTE TO CONSERVATION?
My job is the epitome of boots on the ground conservation.
Everything I do from surveying animals to restoring habitat to writing reports and management plans has the final goal as conservation of a species or a habitat.
ANY ADVICE FOR A STUDENT INTERESTED IN A BIOLOGY OR MUSEUM CAREER?
Don’t give up. This has become a very competitive field. Volunteer and take internships as often as you can to get experience. Don’t limit yourself. Get experience in many areas. You never know which will be the one that gets you that first job.