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Young Conservation Biologist Becomes Mental Health Advocate

Photo/Andrew Snyder

Meshach Pierre found his passion for nature in the savannah of Pakuri, but it was in therapy he found his life’s purpose - mental health advocacy.

His love for conservation biology began in 2013 while studying at the University of Guyana. On an impromptu trip to Pakuri, formerly known as St Cuthbert’s Mission, he observed international research scientists, Dr. Lany Day and Dr. Willow Lindsay’s processes as they studied bird mating behavior and brain plasticity on manakins. Though his participation was limited, he was fascinated by their processes and decided to major in biology.

Protecting Wildlife in Guyana

Meshach Pierre's fieldwork in a variety of habitats including marine, savannah, highland habitats, and rainforest led to him being awarded the prestigious Winston-Cobb Memorial Fellowship from Panthera. The Fellowship afforded Meschach the opportunity to participate in a World Wildlife Fund expedition where he studied jaguars in logging, mining, and hunting landscapes. “We were trying to understand how the jaguars and their prey populations respond to these types of impacts. And the reason for that is that we believe that a lot of Guyana’s landscape might have these types of habitats, where there is overlapping land use, and it’s really important to understand how animals respond to these land uses in order to make policies that ensure that their population is still around, he noted.

Meshach Pierre would go on to do his Postgraduate Diploma in International Wildlife Conservation Practice at the University of Oxford in 2018.

Conservation Biologist Meshach Pierre in his element.
Conservation Biologist Meschach Pierre in his element. Photo/Liz Condo

Opening Up About Mental Illness

Meshach always felt different as a child. Although he excelled academically and was an outstanding athlete, he never truly felt like he belonged. This feeling made living with undiagnosed mental illness difficult. What threatened to put him over the edge was the loss of his high school friend Lisa to suicide. The sudden death shook him. Unable to understand what would cause her to feel so hopeless and unable to process his grief, he spiraled. He blamed himself for not seeing the signs and that ate away at him. After encouragement from his sister and his mentor Dr. Evi Paemelaere, Guyana’s Project Biologist for Panthera’s NSA Jaguar Program, Meschach Pierre eventually went to see a therapist to work through these issues.

In early 2020, while studying Criminology at the University of Florida, he was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. According to the US Disabilities Act, Meshach is now considered disabled. In Guyana, under the National Commission on Disabilities lists, he would be classified as learning impaired. By the time of his diagnosis, he had done five years of therapy.

In the days following his diagnosis, it was all he wanted to speak about. Meshach's newfound commitment to being open about his mental health led to him organizing online conversations to discuss the pandemic's impact on mental health. The latest discussion, held in May of 2021, was hosted by Meshach and his friend, Vidyaratha Kissoon. This event created a safe space for attendees to speak freely about how they are coping and the type of support they need during the pandemic. People from Guyana and across the world showed up for this important discussion which ran for two and a half hours. It was the kind of openness needed but wasn't always present in his life.

Excelling Through Adversity

By the time he graduated from the University of Oxford in 2018 with a Postgraduate Diploma in Wildlife Conservation, he had written two scholarly articles, ("Amphibians and Reptiles of Kusad Mountain and the Parabara Region in the South Rupununi of Guyana", and “Large and Medium Mammals of the Upper Berbice region of Guyana”) worked as a data scientist for Panthera, and spent time as a research assistant for both the Smithsonian Institute and World Wildlife Fund. His most memorable experience is working as a Bird Scientist for Operation Wallacea where he got the opportunity to work alongside Dr. Brian O'Shea, an ornithologist who has interests in the ecology and conservation of birds, particularly in South America.

Meshach Pierre overcame his learning difficulties to become a credible conservation biologist in the Caribbean, where he is striving to utilize his research to inform both national policy and local community approaches to living alongside sometimes dangerous wildlife. Through the use of his online blog Guianesis and social media, he is taking small steps to help raise awareness of mental health issues in an attempt to change Guyana's number one ranking for suicides per capita worldwide among sovereign nations. Whether it be in the fields or the public domain, Meshach just wants to make a difference. So far, he is on the right track.

Currently, he is spending his summer vacation in Rupununi, a region in the southwest of Guyana bordering the Brazilian Amazon, conducting research for his upcoming scholarly articles.


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