Wildlife Biological Technician uses degree to save animals | Collin Hildreth ’19

Collin Hildreth has used his UCCS Biology degree to help animals survive as a Wildlife Biological Technician.

When Collin Hildreth ’19 was just seven years old, he saw Steve Irwin “The Crocodile Hunter” on TV and was immediately inspired to work with animals. Now, at 23, Hildreth is using his Bachelor of Science in Biology to work alongside animals every day as a Wildlife Biological Technician.

Every day, he works to maintain the precious ecosystems surrounding military training grounds within unincorporated El Paso County.

“Animals have always been a very big passion of mine,” Hildreth explains. “I always knew I wanted to get a degree that would let me work with animals.”

Hildreth came to UCCS from his hometown of Gilford, New Hampshire when the great outdoors of Colorado Springs, and his own sense of independence, started calling to him. 

It helped too that Hildreth had family in the area, including an aunt who worked in the UCCS recruitment department and told him about competitively-priced tuition rates for out-of-state students.

“At that point, I got even more invested in UCCS and finally made the decision to come out here,” Hildreth says. “It was one of the best I’ve ever made.”

Right from the start, Hildreth’s General Biology Degree and classes like Conservation Biology and Methods in Evolutionary Genetics taught him essential skills that applied directly to his current Wildlife Biological Technician role.

“In my job, having a wide knowledge base is very advantageous,” Hildreth explains. “And that’s something that I’ve always aspired to have — to know as much as I can about wildlife and wildlife-related fields.”

To supplement his expansive learning, Hildreth’s professors, including Jeremy Bono of the UCCS Biology Department, guided him toward pursuing internships to get crucial hands-on experience.

During the summers between his freshman and sophomore years, Hildreth returned home to Gilford to work at the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center, where he led trail tours, handled live animals, and even hosted presentations about various creatures for appreciative audiences, just like his childhood idol.

“In my head, it broke down to: How can I be Steve Irwin?,” Hildreth recalls. “How can I get people as excited about this animal as I am? Just seeing people’s faces light up that was an awesome feeling, for sure.”  

It was out of this extra experience that Hildreth was able to reinforce his education while setting his sights on becoming a zookeeper or host at a nature centure, like Squam Lakes. But by the end his senior year, Hildreth wasn’t sure if he’d ever find a job doing what he loved.

“With the field I wanted to go into there’s limited job availability to begin with and [it’s] also very competitive,” Hildreth notes. “Once people get their jobs, they rarely leave them.”

After applying to countless positions with no response, Hildreth was approached by Bono with an opportunity to become a Wildlife Biology Technician through Sole Solutions, a wildlife conservation contractor for government agencies. 

In this role, Hildreth and his small team of fellow contract-based technicians coordinate with government employees to ensure that habitats located on military training grounds go undisturbed.

Day to day, they build nesting boxes that induce mating among local birds, refill artificial water sources used by animals in the area, and collect endless data that is used to inform future conservation policies.

These efforts are all part of an ongoing collaboration between the U.S. Department of Defense and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to make sure animals survive despite human activity, especially endangered species. 

“Some species that are on our watchlist are Burrowing Owls, Golden Eagles and Black Hill Prairie Dogs,” Hildreth says. “We have surveys catered to each of those species to make sure that training isn’t impacting their populations.” 

To Hildreth, his degree prepared him well for all the field-based research the job requires. 

“With our data, a lot of it involves direct observation,” Hildreth says. “Coming into this job, I already had experience in a lot of my classes using observation skills and gathering data through my labs.”

Hildreth also got invaluable observational experience through the UCCS Nature & Hiking Club, which he helped start just before his senior year with a few fellow wildlife lovers. 

“UCCS provides a really good framework for starting clubs,” Hildreth says. “So we provided a community for people to get together, explore new areas, and learn cool facts from each other for whatever we discovered.” 

By the end of his time in the club, Hildreth was helping lead a handful of students on fun and informative hikes, spreading important knowledge about the natural world.  

“That club was a huge benefit,” Hildreth says. “Just learning new things from other people that I had never come across or thought about.”

Likewise, Hildreth credits UCCS for opening his mind and eventually the door to a career path he wouldn’t have ever considered — one that helps keep our natural world in balance, one that Steve Irwin would be proud of.

“To me, it’s making sure that animals are allowed to coexist with humans,” Hildreth concludes. “The opportunity that UCCS gave me, getting a lot of experience in many different areas, really helped me prepare for that.”