Celebrating women in conservation

Celebrating women in conservation: meet the women working to bolster big cat populations, save snow leopards, and restore red squirrels to the UK

PTES has given over £650,000 to women working in conservation around the globe.

Ahead of International Women’s Day [8th March 2020], wildlife charity People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) is celebrating the women across the world who are working to save all creatures great and small, from badgers, bats and wildcats in the UK, to lions, leopards and spider monkeys overseas.

PTES has awarded £656,831 in funding to 21 female conservationists and scientists currently working to save some of the world’s most endangered, and most iconic, animals. These include big cat conservationist and one of PTES’ Conservation Partners Amy Dickman, who is finding ways for local tribes and big cats to coexist peacefully in Tanzania and for conflict to be avoided, and Becky Priestley, who is creating red squirrel strongholds in areas of Scotland where greys don’t exist.

Jill Nelson, CEO of PTES says: “We live in a time where we’re seeing an increased range of environmental threats affecting communities and wildlife across the world, from the bush fires in Australia to the floods here in the UK. Environmental threats and the actions of humans are destroying much of our wildlife globally, which is why ground-breaking conservation is needed now more than ever. Many of the female conservationists we fund regularly face a myriad of challenges, all to help the species they’ve dedicated their lives and career to. I couldn’t be prouder to support their ongoing work, and I hope their stories inspire the next generation of young women to follow in their footsteps.”

Amy Dickman: bolstering big cat populations in Ruaha, Tanzania

On Amy Dickman’s first night in the field a large male lion slept right outside her one-man tent, almost crushing her. But, her love for lions and other big cats was not marred by this close encounter. Amy has worked with local tribes in Ruaha, Tanzania since she established the Ruaha Carnivore Project in 2009, showing how they can live harmoniously alongside lions and other carnivores, rather than killing them to protect their communities and livestock. As part of her work, Amy developed a storybook about a boy from the local Barabaig tribe (who were responsible for most of the lion killing in Ruaha) who works to protect lions and other carnivores. Now, the Barabaig are at the heart of Ruaha’s conservation story, which is a great step forward in helping big cat numbers to recover. Amy’s faced many challenges during her time in Ruaha, including dealing with charging elephants, snakes and spiders, and gaining the trust of local communities, particularly as a lone woman.

Amy Dickman says: “It hasn’t always been easy being a woman in charge of a conservation team. In the beginning, as a single white woman in a remote part of Tanzania living in a tent studying lions, I was considered very strange. Local tribes didn’t even really see me as a woman – I drove cars, I was the leader of a team of men, and I had no husband or children.Interestingly, it was only when I became pregnant that some of those barriers broke down, as finally there was irrefutable proof that I was in fact a ‘proper’ woman!”

She continues: “I think that women need to truly take their place as equal decision-makers at all levels and have the voice and the power needed to shape their own futures. We have come so far, but there is much more to be done – particularly in terms of empowering women in developing countries, and ensuring we all support one another to make the world a better place.”

Becky Priestley: creating red squirrel strongholds in the Scottish Highlands

After years of volunteering on various wildlife conservation projects around the world – including bears in North America and Poland, turtles in Costa Rica and cetaceans in Spain - Becky now leads a Red Squirrel Reintroduction Project in Scotland, which she’s done since 2015.

Red squirrels are the only native squirrel in the UK, whose populations have been devastated by the accidental release of non-native grey squirrels from America and the loss of their woodland habitat. Becky and her team from Trees for Life aim to reintroduce red squirrels to Morvern and Dornoch Firth in the north and west Scottish Highlands. These reintroductions will create four new populations of red squirrels, far away from where grey squirrels (and the threat of the squirrelpox virus) live. Local communities help Becky to monitor the newly released red squirrels and together they’ve created the first ever map of red squirrel distribution in the Highlands. This allows the team to measure how far the population is moving from the release sites, which in turn will help future release efforts.

Becky Priestley says: “Our annual monitoring has shown that all eight populations that we reintroduced are flourishing – breeding successfully and expanding throughout the available habitat, which is fantastic news and is incredibly satisfying. Thanks to our new map, we’re able to see where these red squirrels are now living and where we can reintroduce more in the future, building an even bigger red squirrel stronghold in Scotland.”

She continues: “Conservation is, sadly, one of those fields where there aren't many junior paid positions and so getting your foot on that ladder can be a long and frustrating struggle. Deciding which area or species you want to work with early on is important, as experience is key. Volunteer as much as you can, build your contacts and keep knocking on doors. Perseverance is imperative, but dreams can come true!”

Becky Priestley preparing red squirrel nest boxes. Credit Alan Watson (Trees for Life)

In addition to the work of Amy and Becky, PTES is also supporting the amazing efforts of the following women who are leading the way in ground-breaking conservation all over the world:

International projects

    • Bayara Agvaantseren: protecting snow leopards in Mongolia by working alongside local communities
    • Alma Hernández: studying one of the most endangered and least known primates in the world, Colombian black spider monkeys
    • Krithi Karanth: running an educational programme in India, encouraging people and leopards to live side-by-side in harmony
    • Rebecca Klein: breeding sheep dog puppies to protect livestock from cheetahs and other carnivores in Botswana
    • Anna Nekaris: working with local communities to ensure farmland is productive for farmers but provides a suitable habitat for rare slow lorises in Java, Indonesia
    • Jeanne Tarrant: removing traps used to catch Albany adders for the illegal pet trade in South Africa

    UK-based projects

    • Rachel Bates: researching the effects of woodland coppicing on bats
    • Lucy Bearman-Brown: hedgehogs in hibernation and sniffer dogs
    • Hannah Bond: creating a bespoke plan to reintroduce adders back to Nottinghamshire
    • Rachel Cates: giving London’s hedgehogs a helping hand, as the capital grows around key habitats
    • Rachel Findlay-Robinson: uncovering the cues hazel dormice use to time their entrances and exits from hibernation, to enable conservationists to plan for future dormouse conservation in the face of climate change
    • Abi Gazzard: understanding the ecology and behaviour of urban hedgehogs, to help save wider hedgehog populations
    • Jo Howard-McCombe: investigating the extent of interbreeding (hydridisation) between wildcats and domestic cats in Scotland, to stand a chance of saving wildcats
    • Eleanor Kean: measuring otter populations in order to understand their true conservation status
    • Danai Kontou: helping kelp, the forests of our oceans
    • Katie Lee: understanding the often complex relationship between hedgehogs and badgers
    • Lauren Moore: finding out what impact Nottinghamshire’s roads are having on hedgehogs
    • Jessica Schauss: using the Random Encounter Model to see if we can accurately count hedgehog numbers in a set area
    • Nicky Simpson: bringing urban communities in Gloucestershire together to connect spaces and benefit hedgehogs
    • Rosie Woodroffe: investigating how effective badger vaccination against bTB can be a sustainable, humane and cost-effective alternative to culling in Cornwall

    International Women’s Day will be celebrated on Sunday 8th March 2020. Join the conversation online with #EachforEqual and follow @PTES on Twitter and @ptes.org on Facebook, as they share stories, photos and videos from their female colleagues leading projects around the world.

    To find out more about each of these women and their projects, visit: www.ptes.org/international-womens-day-2020-eachforequal/

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