Conservation and Communication: A Clemson Graduate Student’s Unique Approach to Saving Tigers in the Wild

September 4, 2019

Louise Orr had finished her undergraduate degree and was working in state government, when she decided she needed a change.

“I had always loved wildlife and been interested in conservation, and had briefly considered studying zoology in college, but went a different route by studying communications instead,” she says. “I realized a few years after my graduation that not only could I still pursue that love for wildlife, but I could apply my communications background and experience to making a difference in the conservation field.”

Clemson PRTM graduate student Louise Orr and her dog.

Clemson PRTM graduate student Louise Orr is combining her communications experience and love of wildlife to help save Clemson’s tigers in the wild.

Louise is now pursuing her master’s degree in parks and conservation management in Clemson University’s Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management department. Her research focuses on how our political beliefs influence what types of conservation messages are most likely to reach us, or motivate us to take action.

“Most people have never seen an animal in the wild, making them largely disassociated from problems tigers face,” says Louise. “My research is exploring several variables, such as levels of knowledge about tiger conservation, their political ideologies and their moral foundations, to find out what kind of messages they would be most receptive to, so we can help organizations working to save tigers better encourage people to get involved and learn more about the need for tiger conservation and how they can help.”

One of the variables Louise is exploring is whether a person’s connection to a tiger mascot school would have any influence on their engagement in conservation behavior. If someone is passionate about their university’s mascot, does that translate to a passion for that animal in the wild and make them more likely to participate in conservation efforts?

Louise’s research for her master’s agree transfers well to her part-time job working as an Assistant Project Coordinator for the Tigers United University Consortium. The consortium is devoted to tiger conservation and consists of four land-grant, tiger mascot universities working collaboratively on this issue – Clemson University, Auburn University, Louisiana State University and the University of Missouri.

The consortium’s universities are all raising awareness of tiger conservation through Tigers United Week, which runs from September 3 to 7 in Clemson. Several activities are planned, including a documentary screening about a man’s quest to get a Siberian Tiger on camera, a Scarcity Scavenger Hunt with a grand cash prize, and an information booth with an opportunity to meet Clemson’s First Lady Beth Clements and her daughter, Grace. The week culminates with a launch of a new, 30 second video about the consortium’s mission during the Clemson football game on Saturday, September 7. More information about Tigers United Week and its activities can be found on the Tigers United blog.

Dr. Brett Wright, dean emeritus of Clemson’s College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences, is the consortium’s Director and Louise’s faculty advisor. He says Louise’s background in communications and her current research focus makes her a valuable part of the consortium team.

“A big part of the work we do at the consortium is getting the message out in a way that motivates people to make a difference, and Louise’s research and communications expertise will help us figure out how to best get our message across,” he says. “After all, students, faculty and alumni chant ‘Go Tigers’ on a daily basis, but not many know the truth about the animal we hold so dear – and how close they are to extinction. Fewer still may know how they can help.”

Louise is excited to help organizations like the consortium refine their conservation messaging.

“It’s a great feeling to combine what I’m passionate about with my knowledge and experience in the communications field, and to use it to make a difference in the world” she says. “Especially since this work is critically important. If we don’t continue to work hard and do what we can – our children and grandchildren aren’t going to have tigers in the wild. They’re going to be gone.”