Careers Inspired by Exotic Animals

It was love at first sight for these women—and now they've made a career out of saving the animals they adore.

Images loading...

Her Inspiration

Kenya native Shivani Bhalla developed a passion for wildlife during school camping trips and weekend safaris. "I spotted my first cheetah in Samburu, Kenya when I was eight years old," she says. "It confirmed my fondness for cheetahs and big cats."

Photo Credit: Nina Fascione

What She Does

But when Bhalla moved to Samburu after completing her master's degree to study cheetahs, three months passed without her spotting one. 


Then a lioness adopted a baby Oryx antelope for 16 days. Bhalla joined filmmaker Saba Douglas-Hamilton, who was capturing the story, in the field. And became intrigued by how lions were faring in the Samburu ecosystem—especially due to the threats they faced.


She founded a non-profit organization, Ewaso Lions, to help save the lions from extinction. 




Photo courtesy of JacoBecker/

Photo courtesy of JacoBecker/

The Rewards

Often farmers hunt lions in retaliation for preying on their cattle. One of Ewaso Lions’ programs, Warrior Watch, lets local morans, the warrior class, report on wildlife sightings and human-lion conflict in exchange for a food stipend and educational lessons.


"Because of our efforts, the communities in Westgate Conservancy are now excited and interested in lions," says Bhalla.

Photo Credit: Paul Thomson

The Future

Bhalla believes changing people's negative attitudes towards lions will lead to their conservation. "Lions are in serious danger, and it is important for us to keep African, and especially Kenyan, lions from going the way of the Asiatic lion," she says.

Shivani Bhalla is featured in "Wildlife Heroes," by Julie Scardina and Jeff Flocken.






Photo courtesy of Piotr Gatlik/

Photo Credit: Piotr Gatlik/

Her Inspiration

Growing up, Julie Scardina played in streams, pocketed bugs and snakes, and read books like, "In the Shadow of Man," documenting Jane Goodall’s experiences with chimpanzees, as well as “Tarzan.” 

Photo Credit: SeaWorld San Diego

What She Does

Still fascinated by animal behavior and intelligence, Scardina trains animals from sloths to killer whales for SeaWorld now. 


Photo courtesy of Stephen Coburn/

The Rewards

As a board member for the SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund, Scardina helps rescue animals—and heal our planet. "We give at least a million dollars a year to projects worldwide that saves species and habitats," she says.




Photo courtesy of Steven Ringler/

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Steven Ringler/

The Future

"Animals on our planet are struggling to survive in the wild," Scardina says. "It's up to all of us to provide them with a better chance for survival." She hopes to educate and spur others to action through her book, “Wildlife Heroes,” which she co-authored with Jeff Flocken. 

Photo Credit: Running Press

Her Inspiration

While designing a plan to remodel the Barranquilla Zoo, Colombian architect Rosamira Guillen learned cotton-top tamarins were facing extinction in northern Colombia due to deforestation. "I made it my purpose to promote the long-term conservation of this critically endangered primate," she says.

Photo Credit: Federico Pardo

What She Does

Now Guillen's the Executive Director of Proyecto Tití, a non-profit organization fighting to preserve the cotton-top tamarins' last remaining forest home.

Photo Credit: Lisa Hoffner

The Rewards

"Saving a species from extinction is a very altruistic purpose in life, and just the satisfaction of accomplishing our goals, step by step, gives our team enough energy to keep going," she says.



Photo courtesy of INSAGO/

Photo Credit: Courtesy of INSAGO/

The Future

She hopes educating local residents, who rely on the forest for fuel, food and materials, will halt future deforestation, and protect the cotton-top tamarins' home.

Rosamira Guillen is featured in "Wildlife Heroes," by Julie Scardina and Jeff Flocken.








Photo courtesy of Toni Sanchez Poy/

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Toni Sanchez Poy/

Her Inspiration

Elaine Gruin first fell in love with wildlife as a child while helping her father with his pigeons. Her desire to work with animals led her to assist a veterinarian in high school and major in biology in college. 


Photo Credit: Hershey Entertainment & Resorts

What She Does

Now Gruin's the Curator of Education at ZooAmerica, using animals like birds of prey, alligators, skunks and snakes as ambassadors for their species. "We teach the public about their natural history as well as how they're faring in the wild," she says.

Photo Credit: Hershey Entertainment & Resorts

The Rewards

She adores the beauty of the animals: Staring an eagle in the eye or watching a mountain lion bound up a rock. "When I see a child's eyes light up when he or she is close to an animal, or I hear an elderly person recall a memory—that's a special moment for me," she says.





Photo courtesy of Viktor Czeh/

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Viktor Czeh/

The Future

She hopes sharing her knowledge about wildlife will encourage others to care for our environment. "I'd love to see a more compassionate society, especially in regards to nature," she says.




Photo courtesy of vetorlib-com/

Photo Credit: Courtesy of vetorlib-com/

Her Inspiration

Brooklyn native Kathleen LaMattina loved to search for frogs and salamanders on her childhood summer trips to the county. And she often visited the Bronx Zoo as a child. "It was a kind of spiritual experience, so beautiful and peaceful," she says.

Photo Credit: Julie Larsen Maher © Wildlife Conservation Society

What She Does

Now LaMattina works as Wildlife Conservation Society’s Bronx Zoo Collections Manager, overseeing more than 300 different species. "Each animal comes in with its own history, its own story," she says. "Their past dictates how we work together."





Photo courtesy of emin kuliyev/

Photo Credit: Courtesy of emin kuliyev/

The Rewards

LaMattina cherishes the tender bond she forms with the animals. "Sometimes I need to hand raise animals because they're orphans or rejected by their moms," she says. "And even with their rough start to life, they are so sweet and trusting."





Photo courtesy of Bork/
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Bork/

What She Hopes

LaMattina hopes zoos continue to inspire their patrons to care about animals and the natural world. "Zoos link what people see to wildlife around the globe," she says.





Photo courtesy of Caitlin Mirra/




Jennifer Jeanne Patterson is a freelance writer and author of 52 Fights. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband and three children. Find her blog at Unplanned Cooking.

Related: Careers Inspired by Hair

Don't miss out on MORE great articles like this one. Click here to sign up for our weekly newsletter!

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Caitlin Mirra/

First Published March 16, 2012

Share Your Thoughts!


Post new comment

Click to add a comment
Member Voices
Shoes & Accessories
Woman of Style and Substance
Swim & Lingerie