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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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"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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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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.
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."
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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."