After getting his Bachelor of Science Degree in Biology, Rustle decided to further his education. He ended up getting a master’s degree in plant biology and conservation at Northwestern University in Chicago. Ever since then he’s been working for the Chicago Botanic Garden in various capacities, and today he is its Vice President for Landscape, Gardens and Outdoor Collections.
Rustle’s days are all different. Sometimes he spends all day at the gardens surveying its more than 1 million charges (all the plants feel like his children to him) and holding and attending meetings with his staff, volunteers and curators. Sometimes he’s holed up in his office at the garden performing necessary administrative work. And some days he finds himself in his home office working on the book he’s writing: “The Decaying Flesh Odor of Rafflesia arnoldii, the Biggest Flower in the World.”
This one's close but no cigar.
During the school year, Rustle may spend days at various elementary schools giving presentations about how and why the survival of plants is critical to humans’ own survival. (His stock presentation used to be about guerilla photosynthesis and the plants who suffer from it until he realized he’d lost the kids’ attention and even scared a few.)
Today is Rustle’s favorite kind of day. One of his colleagues from graduate school, Lark Bunting, called; she works for the Chicago Zoological Society as the Conservation and Education Coordinator. Lark needs Rustle’s opinion and recommendations regarding the savanna-type enclosure for the Kroi Bustard (a large bird), the Scimitar-Horned Oryx (a desert antelope) and a large extended family of Meerkats. Apparently the Oryx are gobbling up all the newly-planted grass and flowers that the environmental planners laid down in order to develop a thriving system for the insects that the Meerkats eat. To make it even more complicated, the Kroi Bustards are swooping down to eat any insects that do figure out a way to breed in the quickly disappearing grasses. Needless to say, the Meerkats are wondering why they’re here in this godforsaken place and not living the good life on Meerkat Manor.
Rustle walks around the enclosure and takes some samples of plant life and soil from the area and sits down to observes what’s happening. Sure enough, the Oryx are gobbling down the stalks and shoots faster than the birds can suck up the insects. And the Meerkats look on sullenly.
Although… maybe “sullen” is just their usual expression.
Rustle tells Lark he’d like to head to the lab he has access to and see what’s going on. He hasn’t had a chance to do some of this nitty-gritty field work in a while and he really loves it.
At the lab, Rustle carefully unwraps his treasures from the zoo and proceeds to test them with various chemicals and dyes. He thinks he’s figured out why the ecosystem in the savanna enclosure is out of balance and he wants to write up a paper so that Lark and her coworkers will know how to make it work.
Rustle spends a few hours writing his paper and making recommendations about how these species can live in eco-harmony, with each of them eating what they need. The soil pH needs to be less acidic, and types of grass, shoots and other botanical life that was put into the enclosure are incompatible with all those types of animals living together. Separately, maybe; together, no. Rustle makes some suggestions after doing some research about each of the animals, and also after calling around to several other zoos in the country that have a similar type of enclosure.
As it turns out, Rustle’s ideas end up helping many zoos all over the world that have been having similar issues. Some of them had the identical animals with the identical problem; some had rainforest type habitats with animals incompatible to the temperature as well as each other; and some simply had soil that couldn’t sustain the types of microbes and bacteria necessary to grow the kinds of plants needed in that particular enclosure.
Rustle’s paper has gained him world-wide acclaim and he’s on the shortlist to receive an award from the International League of Conservation writers. But he doesn’t let it get to his head. He’s happy with his job at the Botanic Garden where he meets with flower curators, landscapers and Garden members who are folks just like him—happy to be outdoors and amongst nature.