Telling the story of conservation – a student internship at Pūkaha  


by Rachael Dell

Photos by Jack O’Connor


When an Australian university recommended its students explore conservation beyond the classroom, it led science student Jack O’Connor across the Tasman to Pūkaha National Wildlife Centre, to take up an internship in conservation communication.

Jack O’Connor, an undergraduate student from Monash University in Melbourne, spent two and a half weeks as an intern at Pūkaha National Wildlife Centre in early 2020. His course of study has a long name, but put simply, he’s learning how to communicate the science of conservation to bring it alive for young people.  Now into his third year of study, Jack will emerge with a Bachelor of Science Advanced Global Challenges Honours (Major: Conservation Biology and Ecology, Minor: Zoology).

Jack was immediately attracted to the unique conservation model at Pūkaha:  balancing captive breeding programmes and conservation values alongside the visitor experience, in partnership with local iwi.




Upon arrival, Jack set to work exploring the reserve through his camera lens. No stranger to nature photography, Jack was in his element. He jumped into our school holiday programme, Junior Rangers, to learn how young people experience conservation at Pūkaha. 

During his internship, Jack developed a concept for an interpretive trail to engage tamariki through activities stationed around the wildlife reserve. Based on an “old-fashioned scavenger hunt with a twist”, the trail included interactive activities for youth of all ages.  At the end of the hunt, the final design included  a take home memento; a beautiful carved wooden plaque with traditional stamps collected along the way.  


Jack said it was a wonderful opportunity to bring all the theory and learnings from his university studies into a real-life project for Pūkaha.

One of Jack’s ideas included a child size wētā house for kids to experience being a wētā cocooned within its cozy wooden niche.  

Despite only being able to visit the centre for a short period, Jack’s time at Pūkaha cemented his desire to work in conservation communication beyond university. “There is nothing more important to me than the chance to preserve a world in which all species of life can co-exist.”

A big influence on Jack’s early life were the wildlife documentaries of Sir David Attenborough. It is one of Jack’s goals to film and photograph every species in the world.

He hopes that, subject to funding, his vision for the Pūkaha scavenger hunt could assist in inspiring the next generation of conservationists and ecologists.

Internships at Pūkaha are an ideal way to get a feel for conservation in action – get in touch at volunteer@pukaha.org.nz to find out more.