I am a second year PhD Anthrozoology student, studying interactions between hikers and wildlife on the Appalachian Trail.
I was born in South Africa, lived in Germany for a few years, and finished school in the UK. I obtained a degree in Theatre Studies from Royal Holloway, University of London (2002), after which I worked at a rescue centre for dogs and cats, where my interest in human–animal relationships grew, leading me to obtain an MA (Distinction) in Anthrozoology with the University of Exeter (2013). After completing the MA I ran a dog walking and photography business, before enrolling on the PhD with Exeter.
My academic interests centre around narrative research, which looks at the stories that people tell, particularly in relation to what they say about their interactions and relationships with other animals. I’m also interested in ecotourism and pilgrimage, anthropology of the senses, humour/comedy (specifically when talking about nonhuman animals), neoteny and the idea of “cuteness”, and academic perspectives on animal advocacy.
My current research looks at interactions between hikers and wildlife on the Appalachian Trail in the United States (the world’s longest hiking-only trail). My primary aim is to find out how hikers experience living among and encountering autonomous (wild) animals, and to begin to think about how the animals on the trail experience living among and encountering humans.
There is a lively community of long-distance hikers who post blogs online about their experiences on the trail. Having reviewed thousands of these narratives, I have been able to identify some recurring themes that influence how hiker–wildlife interactions are played out. These include the notion of hiking the Appalachian Trail as a pilgrimage, attitudes towards the black bear (the most prolific predator on the trail) as a metaphor for “wildness”, the idea of certain animals on the trail as “cute” and “petlike”, the sensory aspects of encountering animals on the trail (touching and being touched, licked, stung or bitten) and reactions of disgust towards certain animals – culminating in the occasional killing of animals on the trail.
My goal with this research is to gain some insight into what influences people’s ideas about autonomous animals. Is it primarily their pre-existing cultural “knowledge” about wild animals? Or do embodied experiences with wild animals endow a different kind of knowledge about them?