For the Love of Wildlife
You could call it love at first draft. Girl meets wildlife, falls in love, and the love never fades. Claudia Nocke’s love for wildlife has taken her from her native Germany to England, Central America and now Florida, blending a career in conservation biology with a career in art.
When I met Claudia, her path in wildlife conservation was well established. I was at the time the director of a regional conservation and sustainable development project in northern Costa Rica. She was working in one of the projects my organization supported. The PROFELIS Wildcat Rescue Station had more than 40 wildcats, most of them confiscated by the Costa Rican Wildlife Department from poachers, illegal traders and misguided pet owners. They also had other animals, like a semi-wild coatimundi called Nasi (which means nose in German) and Freitag (Friday), a large male spider monkey, recuperating from a life of stifling captivity. Claudia took care of these animals for several months. I can hardly forget the image of a young woman, wild blond hair cascading over her muddy field clothes, sitting on a rickety chair inside a wired enclosure with the large monkey on her lap, his arm wrapped around her shoulder, quietly listening to her soothing voice as she read him a chapter or two of a wildlife biology book or a novel. She was one of the very few people that could enter Freitag’s cage.
In Florida, Claudia’s work has been concentrated in the ecology and conservation of large mammals. For the past year she has been following the tracks and trails of large mammals in the Brooker Creek Preserve in Pinellas County. Again, hours of field observations are beginning to paint an insightful picture of many species.
Recently, Claudia and I published a book on conservation of tropical carnivores. 96 drawings of 26 species of carnivores were made for the book, and it took almost three years of research to complete. The book’s message is one of conservation and natural history, but the drawings tell the stories more eloquently than any words could tell.
Claudia’s conservation work began in England the year before she became a zoology student at the University of London, when she worked at the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, Slimbridge, England and Caerlaverock, Scotland. Claudia participated in the care and maintenance of various species of birds, including flamingoes, African Crown Cranes and Nenes – Hawaiian Geese. Direct exposure to these semi-wild birds instilled in her a deep sense of appreciation for the intricacies of animal behavior and the one-on-one school of animal behavior pioneered by the famous German researcher, Dr. Konrad Lorenz. Immersion into the life of her subjects provided unique and rare insights into their secret lives, sharpened her observational skills, and planted a seed of care that defined her future in wildlife conservation.
After graduating from the University of London, Claudia traveled to Costa Rica to gain direct experience in conservation and wildlife biology. Here, she picked up on an earlier love for art and began sketching some of the animals in her care. She also participated in research projects dealing with the release of formerly captive animals back to the wild. These studies required daily and continuous observations of some of the animals. Day after day, these animals were trained to fend for themselves in large forest enclosures, loosing their dependency on humans and recovering or relearning their lost skills. Some of them would be released only after more than a year of training. The heightened observation skills demanded by these studies allowed her to discover the true personalities of her subjects which have been reflected in her drawings.
Claudia has chosen graphite pencil, not only for sketching but as a final medium. Sketches are prepared from photographs usually taken by her in the field. Many of her subjects have been animals well known to her. The near-photographic detail is achieved through the use of fine mechanical pencils and a painstaking construction of textures and volumes, almost hair by hair. The subject dominates the drawing and background is minimal. The viewer can then concentrate in the animal itself, discover its mood, even its thoughts. Some pieces are studies in expression reminiscent of early behavioral researchers. Others are vignettes of animal behavior, grooming, yawning, growling or sleeping. The drawings are more than just portraits of endangered or threatened species. They are insights into the nature and fragility of these species’ lives.
While much of her work deals with endangered and threatened, rare and common tropical wildlife, her interest are broad and we should expect to see more of her work touching other areas of the world. She is currently working on a book of Florida’s wildlife.
By Carlos de la Rosa