I am so pleased to bring you this interview!
Jessica McKelson is someone who has dedicated her life to her passion and done a really good job of it! I have been drooling over the tours and gorgeous pics of the animals, so I highly recommend checking out her links below.
What was the catalyst for your Good Life Crisis?
Ten years ago (age 20) I travelled to Indonesia to learn more about orangutans (as I was working with these animals at Melbourne Zoo). I was shocked by the issues that affected the orangutan and its rainforest home, such as the huge scale deforestation.
I decided that I would not drown in the negativity of the issues that surround wildlife conservation, but become an ambassador for change in protecting natural resources.
I surrounded myself with amazing mentors who have been incredible over the past ten years and I couldn’t thank them enough of where I am today. I have since committed my entire life to creating awareness and volunteering at one of the largest orangutan orphanages in the world.
I also work with local communities that live in environmental hot spots within Indonesia, assisting them to protect their backyard environment and provide alternative incomes that do not destroy their natural habitat, including through eco-tourism through Raw Wildlife Encounters (RWE).
How has this changed your life?
My main passion is working with all primates, so as I continue to work full time at Melbourne Zoo to inspire, educate and promote Primates to the zoo community. However, the growth of Raw Wildlife Encounters means that I now effectively work 2 full time jobs!
My life has seen me come out of being a naive teenager to a more inquisitive and self driven woman. My determination, passion and vision to protect key environmental hot spots and orangutans has lead me to some of the most beautiful places within Indonesia.
The past decade has seen me travel extensively and work directly with indigenous communities throughout Indonesia, inspiring them to put in the infrastructure of what we are today.
I am more involved on a volunteer basis in fundraising projects where we work with some of the best conservation organisations in the world. I am now in a position to make a significant difference and I couldn’t be happier and more proud of where I am today. The teams I work with are incredibly supportive and patient.
What has been the biggest lesson and your proudest moment in this journey?
The biggest thing I have learnt is to immerse yourself fully and not give up. Everyday I work with brilliant people and surrounding myself with positive energy. This can make a huge difference in what I am doing, my creative thinking and the outcome of where I go and what I do. It keeps me grounded and inspired.
The proudest moment on this journey is seeing the local community get inspired and support me. Seeing my vision of Raw Wildlife Encounters come alive – wow! – without their ongoing support, strength and expertise none of this could be possible. They support me daily and seeing their changes and love for the environment has been a blessing.
A defining moment was seeing young Kesi, an injured orangutan I had seen when she was very young, climb a tree and play in it with her orangutan friends. With only one hand, she has not given up and can show us all that you can adapt and problem solve to any situation.
Watching her gives me hope and I am thankful that I had the opportunity to visit her a while ago.
What strengths and characteristics have been critical in your journey?
Persistence – when things get tough and don’t always go to plan, you must persist.
Flexibility and Problem Solving – being able to handle change and be flexible is a must! Most of the time you are working with indigenous communities that have a different set of priorities. You need to be able to be flexible, meet their needs and compromise when working away from home.
Dedication & Passion – if you are not 100% committed to your cause then it is not right. You need to be passionate and surround yourself with passionate reminders of why you are doing this work. Everyday I am passionate about my vision and seeing it come alive is very inspiring. But I never give up!
Most importantly you need to listen, be honest and work with what you have. Staying positive and being busy will keep you on the right path. Surrounding yourself with leaders in the industry is also important.
What is your top tip for staying motivated and inspired?
Working with passionate people and developing teams with people that can see your vision and get involved. With their energy they can continue to inspire you, provide you with a spark and support you through your journey. These are the true friends who are there for you when you are in troubled times.
What is one thing you wish you knew when you started this journey?
I wish I already knew about the critical environmental situation before going to Indonesia. A part of my soul was lost when I flew over and landed in Central Borneo and saw the mass deforestation that had occurred. This is why I am doing as much as I can today to create positive behavioural change in all aspects of the places we choose to work in.
I also wish I knew more about business development. I have had to invest a lot of my own time and energy into business development to start and grow my eco-tourism agency. Having that initial education would have better prepared me and excelled me further than where I am today.
I am very inpatient so now I surround myself with wonderful mentors that give me the grounding, guidance and support to take my mission to the next level.
Continue to develop Raw Wildlife Encounters and roll this initiative out and develop the model to protect other environmentally sensitive regions around the world.
I hope that with my own and the teams expertise we can make positive changes to other regions around the world. We need to be strategic and also sensitive to where we work and prepared for change. The world is changing at a fast rate and we have to keep up to date with these changes.
I hope that we can also contribute greater to our conservation and community program – seeing the vision and meeting the vision of RWE is an exciting aspiration. Being one of the top 5 leaders in eco travel is going to challenge us for the next 5 years, but we can do it and we want to share it with everyone!
Jessica’s ultimate goal is to save orangutan populations and their habitats, and to extend that work to other animal species, benefiting not only the environment and indigenous cultures, but the entire planet. Learn more about Jessica’s amazing work and tours available on the Raw Wildlife Encounters website.