As a young girl growing up on a rural property south of Adelaide, Flinders University student Saskia Gerhardy was always caring for any sick and injured birds or small animals she discovered.
It’s not surprising, therefore, that Ms Gerhardy, who is in the second year of a Bachelor of Science (Conservation and Biodiversity), was destined to become a leading young conservationist.
She is one of two Flinders University students to be chosen as finalists in this year’s Channel 9 Young Achiever Awards in the environment category.
Patrick Taggart, a Biodiversity and Conservation Honours student, is also among the four finalists to be considered by a judging panel for the award, to be announced this Saturday (28 March).
Ms Gerhardy, of Willunga, dedicates herself to rescuing orphaned, injured or sick animals and helps with local programs to monitor endangered animals.
She also leads a group of high school-aged environmentalists in Willunga, encouraging them to be active in local environmental projects, and has recently been appointed as a school services officer at Willunga Primary to co-ordinate and deliver an EnviroKids program.
“I was always very passionate about animals and always liked looking after them from a really young age,” said Ms Gerhardy, whose parents are also conservationists.
“I think I first started when I was a little girl with caring for a tiny chick, before taking in other animals.
“I’ve always loved being outdoors and I guess when you’re really young, you don’t realise there are so many environmental problems going on.
“As I got older though, I gained a greater awareness of the damage that had been done to the Earth and I just wanted to be a part of finding solutions.”
Mr Taggart’s interest in native fauna and flora also started at a young age. He remembers that he always liked to “get his hands dirty” and uncover creatures in the bush.
“Growing up, I was lucky enough to have a dad who worked in the field of conservation. I would regularly head out with him on research trips so I was exposed to the amazing wildlife and environments Australia has to offer,” Mr Taggart said.
“I always remember wanting to hold and touch animals and plants that I was shown, and I was always turning over logs or rocks for creatures while out on bush walks or around home.”
Mr Taggart, who is from Victor Harbor, has aspirations to pursue a career in the field of environment, conservation and sustainability after completing his PhD.
He has already received a number of environmental awards and scholarships and has spoken at schools, Rotary Clubs and Flinders University on current threats impinging on Australia’s unique flora, fauna and ecosystems.
The Young Achiever Awards acknowledge, encourage and promote the positive achievements of young South Australians up to 28 years of age.
Joshua Morony, a Flinders University software engineering graduate and mobile application and website developer, is also a finalist, in the online category of the awards, which will be announced at the Hilton Adelaide.