We collaborated with Katie Thompson, elephant researcher and enthusiast, at Shambala this summer to create a wildlife arts and crafts workshop. Katie shares her experience of this colourful creative event. 

GS: So Katie, what do you research and how did you get in to it?

Katie: I just started my PhD where I am looking at the impacts of African elephants on trees and other species in Kenya and South Africa, my two favourite places! Since as far back as I can remember, when my dad used to sing me to sleep to the jungle book, and bounce me around the house to Colonel Hathi’s march, I have always been interested in wildlife and the environment. After two years of saving, I began a masters in 2015. I was determined to go abroad to see what the wildlife was like, and I was not disappointed! From that moment, I have been fighting the academic funding battle, and was finally able to start my PhD in June this year.

GS: What is the strangest thing you’ve learnt from your research?

Katie: That’s a hard one! I have been discovering new and exciting things about elephants and their environment regularly, but I have to say that the strangest finding is that elephants are afraid of bees. The fact that a tiny insect can invoke terror in the largest land mammal that roams the planet absolutely fascinates me. When I was in South Africa, a lot of the farmers were concerned about how to manage elephants destroying their crops, and now ingenious methods using bee fences are being installed all over!

GS: How did you get involved with Guerilla Science?

Katie:I first heard about Guerilla Science when me and my friends went to Secret Garden Party in 2016. We absolutely loved the experience, and I must admit we spent about 80% of the festival at the GS tent. I have wanted to get involved since, and I was lucky enough to be able to this year.

GS: What was your thinking behind Wildlife Making Club?

Katie: I reached out to Guerilla Science, spoke about the work I do and the science communication events that I have been involved in. I think the key to conserving animals is education, and getting people connected to nature, which was what I wanted the event to encompass. We thought about making animal hands so that people could literally become another species to see how they feel. This then developed into mask making and becoming different animal species, which worked perfectly with the avant garden carnival! It was great to talk to scientists and artists about ideas and to come up with creative, educational fun!  

GS: How did you collaborate with illustrator Laura Girling?

Katie: I was lucky enough to meet Laura when I moved in with her in Bournemouth to study for my masters degree. She was studying illustration and we clicked instantly; always working together, bouncing ideas, inspiring each other, and the collaboration forged naturally. We began working on a children’s book together to illustrate my research, and when I heard about Shambala I knew she would be great for it!

GS: What do you think the audience took away from the event?

Katie: It was great to talk to people of all ages and backgrounds about wildlife research, and how they can get involved in conservation. People really seemed to enjoy getting involved with every aspect and loved that they could take their mask away with them to complete their animal outfits!

GS: And lastly, was your favourite thing about Wildlife Making Club?

Katie: The whole event ran amazingly, I was so impressed at the amount of people willing to participate. I enjoyed the whole experience, especially how creative people got when we let them loose with some mask shapes and paints – it was wonderful wildlife creative chaos! I also loved talking to people about my work, hearing about what other people do and sharing experiences.