Investing in the Conservation Leaders of Tomorrow

This week, we have a guest post from our new Director, Peter Zahler, introducing a fantastic new partner program for Zoo New England!

In my 30+ years of international field conservation, I have had the great honor and privilege of meeting and even working alongside local wildlife conservationists in many other countries. These young people work to save wildlife in some of the most difficult conditions on earth – at the tops of remote mountains of the Himalayas protecting snow leopards, in the damp rainforests of Malaysia saving tigers, and in searing deserts of the Gobi protecting Bactrian camels. They work for little pay and often put themselves in harm’s way, whether from the local conditions of heat, cold, injury and disease, or from the threat of poachers.

A Mongolian man in a green waterproof jacket and brown ball cap smiles at the camera as a Bactrian camel nuzzles the side of his head. The man's right hand is raised to the camel's cheek.
Dr. Adiya Yadamsuren with one of the wild Bactrian camels he helps to protect in his native Mongolia. Photo courtesy of WCN.

These young conservationists often come from local villages and work in remote, isolated wilderness landscapes, so they have scant opportunity to advance their careers. With little in the way of money or connections to the larger international community, getting an undergraduate degree at a local university is usually the greatest and last opportunity they have for education. To get an advanced degree – a Masters or Ph.D. – is more than they could hope for. And yet these are the very conservation leaders of tomorrow, dedicated and committed to saving the wildlife and wild landscapes in their home countries.

Zoo New England now has one solution to this problem. We are delighted to partner with the Wildlife Conservation Network (WCN) to help provide graduate scholarships to these conservation leaders of tomorrow. The WCN Graduate Scholarship Program provides scholarship funding to young conservationists from the developing world to get their Masters or Ph.D. degrees at some of the leading universities in the world – Oxford, Cambridge, Yale, and Berkeley, just to name a few.

A Somali woman in a lavender hijab and black-and-purple floral print dress smiles as she kneels on the ground, watching a small cheetah cub she has just released from her gloved hands.
Somalian Dr. Asma Hersi with a baby cheetah. Many cheetahs in Somaliland are victims of the illegal wildlife trade. Photo courtesy WCN.

Nominated by WCN partner organizations (of which ZNE is now a member), awards are given out to between 15 and 25 young wildlife conservationists each year. A separate funding stream is also now available for wildlife veterinarians, working on threats to wildlife such as Ebola in gorillas or canine distemper in Ethiopian wolves. A third funding stream is now available to young Tribal wildlife conservationists from the United States.

Being a part of this program is one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever done. It is enormously rewarding to know that we’ve helped advance the careers of these young conservation leaders, exposing them to new information and best practices, and enabling them to join the international conservation community by meeting others in their field, to share their own hard-earned knowledge and learn from other practitioners from around the world.

Over 200 scholarships have already been awarded through this program, changing lives and helping drive conservation at the national level in multiple countries. I invite you to learn more about this new program at Graduate Scholarship Program | Zoo New England.