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News > LoOK > The Wild Life of Astrid Alex Andersson

The Wild Life of Astrid Alex Andersson

Astrid Alex Andersson (OK 1992-97) has always had a passion for wildlife, but even she wouldn’t have predicted she’d end up being a leading Cockatoo researcher and the postdoctoral researcher at HKU!
16 May 2024
Hong Kong SAR

The Wild Life

OK Astrid Alex Andersson (OK 1992-97) has always had a passion for wildlife, but even she wouldn’t have predicted she’d end up being a leading Cockatoo researcher! Here, the postdoctoral researcher at HKU shares what led her into this niche profession and why she feels grateful she followed her passion.

Running Free

When I was little, I always wanted to be outside exploring. We lived in Chung Hom Kok and I was constantly out in the wild looking for snakes and other interesting creatures. I used to release my pets into the wild too—I remember a red eared slider and canary in particular. Of course, now I know the problems non-native species can bring, but then I just wanted them to be free!

Kellett Memories

I was at Kellett in Pok Fu Lam campus from 1992-1997 and I still remember the playground vividly. There was a huge frangipani tree and we spent hours playing with the flowers that dropped on the ground. I also remember the class pets; each year group had a different one and I used to get so excited when it was my turn to take it home. I loved my Year 2 teacher, Mrs. Speed, and I also used to look forward to assemblies when we got to choose the song we wanted to sing. My class would always choose one of two songs; “Peanut Butter'' or “Bright Eyes.” I remember the teacher rolling her eyes when we wanted to sing about rabbits with myxomatosis, my personal favourite!

Nature Trail

I remember being at a zoo in Sweden and telling my Dad I wanted to work there, so I think I always knew I wanted to work in conservation. The thing was I didn’t really know how to go about getting a job in the field and I ended up studying a Bachelor of Arts in Politics at Leeds university. The recession hit as I finished, so jobs were pretty hard to come by and I decided to go to Thailand for a while. I taught English and then got a job with The Phuket Gazette where I began covering environmental stories including an injured turtle that washed up on a beach there. I think that’s what reignited my passion for nature.

Back on Track

After 4 years in Thailand, I returned to Hong Kong and started volunteering for NGOs including Wild Aid. Antique ivory was still legally on sale then, but it was difficult to regulate and there was still a lot of poaching going on. I organised protests and our work lobbying the government was instrumental in the ivory ban of 2015, which spurred me on to continue working in animal conservation. I did a Master of Philosophy and converted that into a PhD in ecology and biodiversity studies, and I began working with Humane Society International on pangolin research. A professor at the university initially approached me to do a PHD on this, but they’re such elusive, solitary creatures, so we came up with the cockatoos instead. cockatoo

Flights of Fancy

Many Hong Kongers don’t realise that the beautiful yellow-crested cockatoos we take for granted are a critically endangered species. Most arrived here from their native Indonesia and Timor-Leste via the exotic pet trade, and we now have 10% of the 2,000 surviving in the wild. Sadly, it’s still legal to sell those bred in captivity and illegally caught wild birds still turn up in the markets since it’s difficult to tell one from the other. As part of my research I’ve designed a technique to determine a bird’s diet through feather analysis, but we still need to disseminate this information to the frontline protectors of wildlife. I’ve also been doing roost counts for the last eight years and the population has remained stable. Unfortunately, there’s no baseline data so we don’t know whether it’s a breeding or aging population. I suspect that there isn’t too much breeding going on, since Hong Kong doesn’t have many trees with the large cavities needed for this species to lay their eggs. I’ve proposed to the AFCD that we provide nest boxes and they seem to be on board with this, but it’s not cheap. One box will cost around 10 to 20,000 dollars to build and maintain, including monitoring a camera to track the egg laying and the chick development. I’ve looked into various grants, but I’m still looking for ways to raise money for the project.

Follow your Dreams

I think Hong Kong is such a great place to grow up—you have nature and the city right at your fingertips. It’s a very resilient city and the biodiversity we have here is amazing. I’ve never been a big planner, but I’ve learnt that skills are transferable, so it doesn’t matter so much which route you take. I think if you follow what you’re naturally good at and apply it to your passion, you’ll end up doing what you love.

You can follow Astrid at @astrid_alex_andersson.

Below are some pictures of Astrid's from her time at school (login to view).

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