March is Women’s History Month, and March 8 is International Women’s Day. To celebrate, we thought this would be a great time to honor 10 female animal rights activists who have dedicated their lives to wildlife conservation.
Some of them are famous, such as the founding mothers of modern primatology (Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birutė Galdikas, a.k.a. the Trimates). Some are lesser-known pioneers in nature and wildlife conservation.
Others, such as Lek Chailert of Thailand‘s Elephant Nature Park and Lori Robinson of Animals Asia, represent a new generation of women fighting for the survival of our planet’s most endangered animals.
What these incredible women all have in common are drive, determination, and leadership skills that have allowed them to change the world for the better.
Our endangered species need advocates now more than ever. And these women have proven that there’s nothing a person can’t accomplish through passion and persistence.
So let’s celebrate these influential animal rights activists and join them in taking the movement forward. Whether it’s by volunteering in local conservation projects or supporting those overseas, there’s no shortage of work that needs to be done by the women of today and tomorrow.
DR. JANE GOODALL
A rare female in a scientific field that was dominated by men, Goodall was often criticized early in her career. Experts took issue with her giving names to the Chimpanzees she studied and interacting with them rather than remaining a passive observer of their behavior.
And yet her work forever changed our view of apes and mankind’s history.
Dr. Goodall established the Jane Goodall Institute in 1977 to support her Gombe research and help conserve Chimpanzee habitats. The institute is recognized for its innovative educational and community-based programs throughout Africa.
Dr. Goodall also uses her knowledge to improve the conditions of lab Chimpanzees and those in zoos. As a United Nations Messenger of Peace, she continues to tour the world on average 300 days a year, educating the public and raising awareness about Chimpanzees.
One of history’s most controversial animal rights activists, Dian Fossey’s passion for Mountain Gorillas took her all the way to the misty mountains of Virunga, Rwanda in 1967.
She immersed herself in studying the familial relationships and societal structures of these primates for the next 20 years, and became a staunch opponent of poaching. She also invented many of the “active conservation” techniques still used today.
In 1983, Fossey published her memoir, Gorillas in the Mist, an account of her influential work studying four gorilla families. Fossey started a nature preserve for the study of Mountain Gorillas in Rwanda, and gradually habituated them to human presence.
She also built the Karisoke Research Center, where she was found brutally murdered in 1985.
Although Karisoke was destroyed during the Rwandan Civil War, her spirit continues via Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International. The NGO is dedicated to protecting Mountain Gorillas, less than 900 of which remain in the wild today.
DR. BIRUTÉ GALDIKAS
Long before pictures of orphaned Orangutans in lands deforested to clear the way for palm oil plantations became common, animal rights activist Dr. Biruté Galdikas was interested in their preservation.
When she first received funding to travel to the wilds of Indonesian Borneo in 1971 to study Orangutans, many dismissed her research as impossible due to their elusive nature.
But much of the relevant knowledge we have about Bornean and Sumatran Orangutans today is because of her hard work.
Dr. Galdikas created Camp Leakey– named after Louis Leakey, who funded her mission– and it remains the site of the longest continuous study of any primate.
She later wrote scientific articles and lectured extensively about her work, and advocated to protect the Orangutans’ diminishing natural habitat.
She also established the Orangutan Foundation International (OFI) in 1986 in Los Angeles to support these great red apes, which remain on the verge of extinction.
MARGARET “MARDY” MURIE
Mardy Murie is fondly referred to as the “grandmother of conservation.”
Her decades of hard work helped bring about the 1964 Wilderness Act, which banned development on millions of acres of national forests.
She also persuaded President Dwight D. Eisenhower to set aside 8 million acres for the creation of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
In 1924 she married Olaus Murie, who worked for the the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Fairbanks. Their honeymoon was a 550-mile, eight-month expedition to study Caribou in Alaska’s Brooks Range.
After her husband’s death, Murie continued on as an influential speaker addressing Congress, state and federal agencies, and environmental groups.
In 1998 President Bill Clinton presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, calling her “a pioneer of the environmental movement.” She lived to be 101– a true testament to a fulfilling life spent largely outdoors.
READ MORE: The Economics of Conservation Funding
The first female director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (appointed by President Clinton in 1993), Mollie Beattie accomplished quite a bit in the three years she served.
She oversaw the reintroduction of the gray wolf into Yellowstone National Park for the first time since the 1920s, and was responsible for the addition of 15 National Wildlife Refuges.
She also played an integral role in defending landmark environmental laws, such as the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act.
After she passed away from brain cancer at the age of 49, an 8-million acre wilderness area was named in her honor in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Despite being taken from us at a young age, her work continues to protect our wild lands for generations to come.
DR. LAURIE MARKER
Dr. Laurie Marker has worked with Cheetahs since 1974, and is the Founder and Executive Director of the Cheetah Conservation Fund in Africa.
Determined to study the world’s fastest land animals and establish a permanent conservation research center, Dr. Marker set out to Namibia, the Cheetah’s last stronghold.
Cheetahs are increasingly endangered because of habitat loss and coming into conflict with livestock farmers.
CCF’s mission is to release captive-born Cheetahs into the wild, develop a conservancy for them on Namibia’s livestock farmlands (in cooperation with the farmers), and improve their habitats by clearing invasive bush.
In 2000, Dr. Marker was recognized as one of Time magazine’s Heroes for the Planet. She received the Zoological Society of San Diego’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008, and was awarded the 2010 Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement.
DR. SANDEUN “LEK” CHAILERT
Lek Chailert grew up in a small hill tribe village two hours north of Chiang Mai in Thailand.
While working with trekking companies after college, Chailert discovered the horrific abuse and neglect that many domestic Asian Elephants endure.
Elephants retired from logging were forced to perform on the streets, or sent to “Elephant ride” tourist camps where they lived in horrible conditions.
Chailert decided to take matters into her own hands and began fighting for better treatment of the Elephants. In 1995, she created the Elephant Nature Foundation, which advocates for the rights of Asian Elephants.
Within the foundation, the Elephant Nature Park (ENP) operates as a sanctuary and rehabilitation center. The park provides a natural environment, allowing formerly abused and retired Elephants to live out their lives freely.
The foundation’s Jumbo Express also provides emergency healthcare to Elephants in remote villages throughout Thailand.
DR. KRITHI KARANTH
At the tender age of eight, Krithi Karanth was tracking Tigers beside her father, Dr. Ullas Karanth, one of India’s pioneering conservation biologists.
She eventually realized that the threats to wildlife often stemmed from farmers fighting to protect their livestock and crops.
After completing her Master’s Degree at Yale and her Doctorate in Conservation Biology at Duke University, she returned home to continue mapping and modeling conflict zones all across India.
She has since published 16 scientific articles in conservation journals around the world, and her work has been covered by major newspapers in India.
As an associate conservation scientist with the Wildlife Conservation Society and Executive Director at the Centre for Wildlife Studies in Bengaluru, India, Dr. Karanth has dedicated her life to improving the plight of the endangered Tiger.
She was named one of National Geographic’s Emerging Explorers in 2012, and was also selected as one of India’s Power Women by Femina.
DR. PAULA KAHUMBU
The high-profile campaign began with help from the country’s First Lady, Margaret Kenyatta, in 2013.
It aims to restore the nation’s leadership in Elephant conservation through behavioral shifts, from rural communities to decision-makers.
One of the key ways the program functions is by engaging the community to become animal rights activists via media coverage, and setting up an anonymous hotline for reporting wildlife crime.
Dr. Kahumbu is also an accomplished writer: She co-authored a best-selling non-fiction book about a Hippopotamus and a Tortoise, titled Owen and Mzee: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship.
READ MORE: 27 Fascinating Facts About Elephants
British-born Jill Robinson arrived in Hong Kong from the UK in 1985, and spent the next 12 years as a consultant for the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
It was in that role that she witnessed scenes of widespread animal cruelty. She founded Dr. Dog– the first animal therapy program of its kind– in 1991 to help change Asian people’s views about dogs.
But it was when she had an encounter with a caged bear at a bear bile farm in China that her life ultimately changed forever.
She was shocked and horrified to see first-hand the immense pain that these Asiatic and Sun Bears suffer. After realizing that their bile could be replaced by herbs, Robinson made it her mission to put an end to bear bile farming once and for all.
She started Animals Asia in 1998, and has since helped rescue over 400 bears in China and Vietnam. She and her team of animal rights activists also fight for cat and dog welfare, working with 100+ groups across China to provide a convincing argument as to why companion animals should be friends, not food.
Awarded an MBE by Queen Elizabeth in 1998, and the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries award for world’s best sanctuary in 2011, Robinson regularly travels around the globe to speak about her organization’s work.
She continues to visit hospitals and homes for the elderly with her therapy dog, Eddie, who was rescued from a meat market in China. –Lavanya Sunkara
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