Class 2: When They Joined EWCL

Adrian Benedetti was born in Panama City, Panama and graduated from the University of Colorado in 2002 with a degree in Humanities. In 2003 he moved to Panama and obtained a job with the Peregrine Fund (PF) after volunteering to monitor released captive bread Harpy Eagles in the jungle. Shortly after that he was hired to join PF’s environmental education team which concentrated on working in rural communities where the harpies live. While getting ready to go for his Masters he received an offer to be the director at Summit Municipal Park, Panama’s National Zoo and Botanical Garden, and spearhead a project that looked to transform the under funded and basically under everythinged park into a jewel for Panama and the region. With just over a year and half on the job he has helped design and put into action an ambitious master plan, secure funding for a new Jaguar Exhibit and a new entrance, and establish training programs for both the zoo and botanical garden staff with US parks. His main goal: transform Summit into a one of a kind environmental education and conservation tool.


Coffy Bennis’ interest in primates began while working towards a Bachelor’s degree in Anthropology at the University of South Florida. Prior to graduating, she spent 7 months in Africa enjoying some solo travel, volunteering for the Jane Goodall Institute in Uganda, and assisting author and wildlife photographer, Karl Ammann in Kenya. While in school, she also volunteered for Lowry Park Zoo, working with their primate collection. Since 2000, Coffy have been working at Busch Gardens Tampa in the Primate Department, focusing on animal husbandry and conservation education. In 2005, she developed an international education program entitled “Conservation aCross Cultures,” which links US students with African students participating in primate sanctuary education programs. Initially partnering with the Limbe Wildlife Centre in Cameroon, “Conservation aCross Cultures” focuses on environmental issues affecting Africa, and allows both groups of students the opportunity to participate in a cross-cultural exchange of information. The program has expanded to include several other PASA sanctuaries and continues to grow each year. Coffy’s passion for Africa extends beyond its flora and fauna and includes its people as well. In the future, she hopes to participate in various programs which mirror her interest in African conservation and the empowerment of its people.


Shivani Bhalla was born in Nairobi, Kenya in 1978. She attended primary and secondary school in Nairobi. Secondary school camping trips and safaris organised by her parents confirmed Shivani’s passion in wildlife. In 1996, Shivani left for Lancaster University, England to undertake a Bachelor of Science Honours degree in Environmental Science, that included a year’s exchange to the State University of New York at Stony Brook.Upon successful completion of her studies, Shivani returned to Kenya where she worked with the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), which included her strong involvement in the CITES conference in Nairobi in 2000, where she campaigned for the continued ban on the ivory trade. Shivani’s work within KWS subsequently enabled her to gain employment as a wildlife biologist with Save the Elephants (STE) in 2000. In December 2002, Shivani moved to Samburu in Northern Kenya, where she still resides. Shivani soon developed a greater interest in lions when a lioness named Kamunyak adopted a baby oryx antelope. As a result, Shivani completed a Master of Science degree in Wildlife Biology and Conservation by distance learning with Napier University, Scotland. This focused on the population size, structure and movements of lions within the reserves in the region. Shivani will commence her PhD studies with the University of Oxford in 2007 that will continue the lion study she initiated in 2003. Shivani is currently STE’s Education Officer, where she works with students from the local communities and also liaises with schools on the establishment and maintenance of environmental and wildlife conservation programmes. Shivani is a Bronze level guide with the Kenya Professional Safari Guides Association, and her articles and photographs have been published in such forums as Applied Animal Science Behavior journal and National Geographic.


Kate Eschelbach is originally from Lancaster, Ohio and is a 2001 graduate of Denison University with a double major in Biology and Environmental Studies. Kate is also a 2004 graduate of the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill with a masters in City and Regional Planning. While at UNC, she focused on environmental and coastal planning and developed a natural hazards assessment for the North Carolina state hazard mitigation plan. After graduation, she worked at Duke University in partnership with The Nature Conservancy and completed a John A. Knauss Sea Grant Marine Policy Fellowship with the NOAA Biogeography Team. While at NOAA, she primarily worked on a marine protected area boundary decision support system for Grays Reef National Marine Sanctuary. She also recently co-authored a text book on natural hazards mitigation with her colleagues at UNC. Kate currently works for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a wildlife biologist for the Mojave Desert. She lives in Camarillo, CA, with her husband, John, and cat, Cobie, where she volunteers as a whale watching boat naturalist for Channel Islands National Park and National Marine Sanctuary, loves to go sailing and running, and is still a huge fan of UNC men’s basketball.


Nilanga Jayasinghe currently serves as the Field Conservation Coordinator at Defenders of Wildlife. In this position, she works on program issues at Defenders and coordinates Defenders’ field offices and staff in many locations across the United States. Program work is something new for Nilanga, whose background is in journalism and communications. Prior to this position, she worked as the Communications Specialist for the international ocean conservation organization, Oceana. The transition came about because she realized that her passion for wildlife conservation would be better served by becoming more involved in the process. While growing up in Sri Lanka, Nilanga developed a love for wildlife, especially elephants, at a young age. Since then, her love for all wild critters has grown exponentially. She moved to the U.S. almost ten years ago to pursue her higher education and obtained a self-designed undergraduate degree titled, “Literature in a Global Context” from Whittier College in southern California. She then went on to get her Masters in journalism from UC Berkeley, where she focused on environmental reporting. As she found out with time, just reporting on wildlife issues wasn’t enough, so she joined the conservation world with the hope that she can make a difference.


Noah Kahn’s first real interest in nature developed as he explored, for hours, the fascinating Pacific Coast tidal pools during a family trip in early high school. Since then, most of his personal and professional interests have revolved around conservation of land and wildlife. Noah earned a Master’s degree in Entomology from North Carolina State University, where he studied the transmission ecology of a devastating plant virus that is vectored by insects called thrips. After this, he spent the next three years studying birds in many great places. He studied the effects of habitat fragmentation on birds in San Diego, CA, the drivers of altitudinal migration in White-ruffed Manakins in Costa Rica, and the potential impact of wind turbines on migrating birds and bats throughout Vermont and New York. Noah has been in Washington, D.C. for almost 1.5 years now, where he works on federal land issues for Defenders of Wildlife. About 80% of his time is spent working on national wildlife refuge issues and a lesser amount on national forests and BLM lands. For fun, Noah enjoys planning (and going on) regular trips, birding, gardening, reading about natural history, spirituality, and politics, and spending time with his soul mate, Aimee.


Born in Hong Kong and an Indian national, Payal Kapoor moved to the U.S. to attend the University of Virginia. At UVA Payal majored in economics and following graduation joined the management consulting firm of William M. Mercer as an analyst. After two years at Mercer Payal decided to follow her heart and started her search for a position in a conservation organization. She joined The Conservation Fund’s corporate development team for a short while and then moved on to Conservation International where she has been since. At CI Payal started as the coordinator for the Indonesia program and then transitioned into her current role of senior manager in the Public Funding department. In her position Payal is responsible for reviewing all reports and work plans and for reviewing and advising programs on proposals to U.S. government agencies. Outside of work, Payal enjoys traveling to new places, photography, and eating out in DC.


Melissa Krenke earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Conservation Biology from the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where she spent two years working on research projects with emeritus faculty members. After graduation, she worked as an Internet marketing strategist with for two years, during which time she consulted for the Rainforest Alliance to develop a marketing strategy for the Eco-Index project. Melissa joined the Rainforest Alliance’s Neotropics Communications program in 2002. As program coordinator, she manages and edits the Eco-Index, a bilingual database of more than 900 conservation projects in Latin America and the Caribbean; conducts interviews and writes articles about conservation projects for Rainforest Alliance publications; and responsible for all marketing, fundraising, and promotion of the Eco-Index. Melissa is a member of the Western Hemisphere Migratory Species Initiative and is happy to be a part of the 2007-2008 Emerging Wildlife Conservation Leaders class.


Christa Kugler is from the Hudson Valley region. This means countless moves across the Hudson River from Jersey to New York and back again. She is 33 years old, and is into her second semester of graduate school at Columbia University working on a Master’s in Conservation Biology. She has a deep interest in cat conservation and managing for the large landscape species like jaguar helps conserve smaller, less resource-demanding taxa that are sympatric with them. She is, however, a broad-minded conservationist who believes in the interdisciplinary nature conservation biology is growing to accommodate. We have entered the era of global problems, and can only problem-solve accordingly. She has close to 10 years of zookeeping work under her belt at Trevor Zoo in NY when she attended boarding school, and most recently the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Bronx Zoo. She has worked various seasonal field positions since college where she earned her B.S. at Virginia Tech in Forestry and Wildlife: Wildlife Management. Field positions include reintroducing the black-footed ferret in South Dakota, and waterfowl surveys in NJ. She has traveled to Belize and South Africa to hop into jaguar and leopard projects, and her Master’s thesis will likely entail genotyping a jaguar population.


Matti Nghikembua is employed as a senior research Assistant with the Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia. He worked for CCF for 8 years in the capacity as environmental education officer and research assistant. His primary responsibilities involved conducting school outreach environmental education programs, and center based education programs. CCF’s education programs targets the general public, schools, local farmers, Colleges, University and the Polytechnic of Namibia. He is also responsible for supervising activities and projects of student interns from the Polytechnic and University of Namibia. Research responsibilities consist of conducting game counts, vegetation surveys, and the cheetah census project.


Keri Parker’s professional adventures include working as a Permits Biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s International Affairs Program in the Division of Management Authority (the office that issues permits under CITES and the Endangered Species Act), managing a seabird nesting island as an Island Supervisor for the National Audubon Society’s Project Puffin, banding birds for the Powdermill Avian Research Center in southwestern Pennsylvania, and working as an environmental educator for World Wildlife Fund and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Asheville Field Office. Her training in conservation began at Warren Wilson College in the mountains of North Carolina, and she continued her education with the University of Maryland’s Graduate Program in Sustainable Development and Conservation Biology, where she received her Masters of Science degree in 2005. Her graduate research involved completing a pilot assessment of conservation projects taking place in China’s panda reserve system that are funded by U.S. zoos through the United States Policy on Giant Panda Import Permits. Her research continues to aid stakeholders as they track and assess the conservation needs of the giant panda and its habitat. Keri’s goals change from day to day–one day she wants to pursue a Ph.D. in Conservation Science, the next she wants to become a world traveling writer/field biologist/photographer, and above all she loves being at home with her husband, dog, and cat, where she can play in the backyard and grow vegetables. With a little luck she’ll figure out a way to do all three.


Carol Rizkalla went to the University of Richmond where she pursued a B.S. in Biology and a B.A. in Political Science. At that time, she was most interested in international environmental issues and sustainable development. After graduating, she went to Duke University for a Master of Environmental Management. This is a professional program, rather than a research program, stressing multidisciplinary coursework over a thesis. Typically, students do an internship between the first and second year, which results in the masters project. She took a 6 month internship at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Her supervisor there studies Cotton-top tamarins in Colombia. Carol analyzed some of her supervisor’s data for her masters’ project, relating the diet of cotton-tops to reproductive patterns. Upon graduating from Duke, her boss at Disney offered her a position on an ongoing study of captive elephant behavior and vocalizations. She remained in this position for 2 years before returning to the world of field conservation. Carol then entered a doctoral program at Purdue in ecology. Her dissertation focuses on the dispersal ability of forest rodents in fragmented landscapes, and the implications of future land-use change. She hsan’t finished yet, but has returned to Disney a third time. This time she is there as the wildlife biologist. About one third of Disney property is in conservation easement. They are monitoring the wildlife there, as well as monitoring sea turtles that nest at Disney’s Vero Beach Resort. So far, birds and butterflies have been the focus, but Carol hope to expand the program to herps and mammals.


Based out of Defenders of Wildlife’s Washington, D.C. office since 2001, Gina Schrader develops and manages Defenders’ Northeast and Great Lakes gray wolf and Southeast red wolf conservation programs. She represents Defenders by monitoring and commenting on federal and state wolf management initiatives, producing educational and outreach wildlife conservation materials, and serving as Defenders’ conservation representative on various stakeholder groups. Gina’s work involves all facets of a non-profit organization from coordinating events and auction fundraisers to conducting public outreach about Defenders’ many conservation initiatives.Gina holds a BA in Political Science, with minors in Environmental Studies and Spanish from Western Michigan University. She serves on the board of directors for the Red Wolf Coalition and is a member of the Women’s Information Network. Born and raised northeast of Detroit, Gina maintains her Michigan roots by cheering on her boys from the Pistons and Tigers and refusing to give up pop (both the word and the beverage). This summer, she plans to learn to fly the trapeze and take a proper vacation overseas.


Jennifer Sevin, originally from Miami, Florida, resides in Alexandria, Virginia, and works for the Smithsonian Institution. Science and education are Jennifer’s two main interests and her work and academic experiences attempt to bridge these two fields. Jennifer received a B.S. from Florida International University in Environmental Studies and later a M.S. in Zoology from North Carolina State University. Her master’s graduate research involved studying the use of black bears and salamanders as management indicator species for biodiversity monitoring in Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina. Since 1994, Jennifer has served as President of Youth Environmental Programs, Inc., a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that focuses on providing environmental education and volunteer opportunities primarily for youth. She created a water pollution education and action program called the Officer Snook Water Pollution Program. This program has been adopted by the U.S. Coast Guard and together with other organizations has provided educational presentations and materials to an estimated five million people across the United States. In her current position, Jennifer coordinates professional training courses in the U.S. and abroad for scientists and resource managers on a variety of subjects. She is currently pursuing her Ph.D. at George Mason University. Her current research interest is studying the distribution, abundance, and habitat use of the endangered Shenandoah salamander and producing a monitoring plan for this species for Shenandoah National Park. Jennifer also enjoys traveling, sports, photography and eating chocolate. Her dog, Raleigh, is the most precious dog in the world.


Scott Smith was born and grew up in Long Island, New York. He attended the University of Maryland at College Park (Go Terps!) and graduated with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Biology. Scott worked in the environmental consulting field for several years in New Jersey and Pennsylvania and then for five years in the Bureau of Waste Site Cleanup for the Department of Environmental Protection in Massachusetts. During this time, Scott attended graduate school at Antioch New England in Keene, New Hampshire where he graduated with a Master of Science in Environmental Communications in 2006. Since January of 2006, Scott has worked in the Public Affairs Department of the Wildlife Conservation Society at their offices located at the Bronx Zoo in New York City. Present job responsibilities include drafting of press releases, institutional policy, opinion-editorials, and letters to the editors of area newspapers, etc… Scott also coordinates much of the online web advocacy, city council outreach, and the Take Action program for WCS. Scott lives in the Riverdale section of the Bronx in New York.


Brendan Tate joined WWF in 2004 as senior administrative assistant for government relations. He was promoted to legislative associate in 2006, where he currently works with Congress to help shape legislation and appropriations issues. Brendan serves as liaison to congressional members and staff, administration officials and representatives from other groups on an array of issues such as increased funding for international biodiversity conservation, conservation programs in the Farm Bill, modernizing and strengthening the Endangered Species Act, and protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Prior to joining WWF, Brendan worked for Rep. David Obey (D-WI), the ranking member on the House Appropriations Committee. Brendan collaborated with the elections office to help promote and develop fundraising events and he represented Congressman Obey throughout the 7th district of Wisconsin. In 2002 Brendan worked for the DC based lobbying firm Jefferson Government Relations assisting on issues such as education, agriculture, appropriations, energy and water. Brendan is a 2003 graduate of the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point with a degree in Political Science.


Paul Thomson is the Communications Officer at the African Wildlife Foundation and is charged with managing the website, production of publications, and maintaining the photo library. He began as an intern with AWF based in Kenya for a year, before moving to Washington DC where he currently lives. Besides AWF, Paul has worked at the Madrid Aquarium and at The Marine Mammal Center in the Marin Headlands outside San Francisco. He was born in New Zealand but grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. Paul received his B.S. in Wildlife Ecology and Management at the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment. He has spent much time in the northern woods of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, which undoubtedly played a strong role in his curiosity of the natural world. His parents, both of whom also work with conservation organizations, nurtured his interest in conservation. When not staring into a computer all day, Paul enjoys photography, travel, hikes in the woods, music, and sushi.


Rowena Watson is currently in her second year with the U.S. Department of State in the Bureau of Oceans, Environment and Science where she is a Diplomacy Fellow through the American Association for the Academy of Sciences (AAAS) serving a two-year position for scientists in policy-making. At the State Department she is engaged in a multitude of wildlife conservation issues. For example, she works on multilateral
international conventions such as The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES) and wildlife associated projects within the environmental chapters of free trade agreements. The fellowship has enabled Rowena to broaden her skills and vision for working in the conservation arena, serving as a bridge from her previous work as a scientist. Rowena completed her doctoral degree in 2003 at the University of Maryland College Park within the Department of Animal Sciences,Veterinary Pathology. Her dissertation work was on the immunopathogenesis of plague in cats, catering to her long-standing interest in comparative pathology and wildlife disease. Her undergraduate work was done at The University of Chicago with a concentration in biology.


Aimee Weldon was born and raised on a small hobby farm in rural Minnesota where she first fostered her interest in nature and conservation in the fields, forests, and ponds surrounding her home. After earning a Biology degree at a small Minnesota college, she spent two years exploring the field of conservation biology in various research positions throughout the United States. These positions ranged in focus from the effects of climate change in Midwestern forests and prairies to habitat fragmentation in coastal sage scrub and Southeastern pine forests to animal behavior. Although interested in the conservation of all wildlife, she quickly realized a special affinity for birds and went on to earn a Masters degree in Ecology at North Carolina State University where she studied the effects of habitat corridors on the nest success of Indigo Buntings and other birds. For the past 2.5 years, she has been working for the National Audubon Society in Richmond, Virginia where she coordinates the Virginia Important Bird Areas (IBA) program. This program is part of a global effort to identify, prioritize, and then work to conserve the most essential habitats for birds. In her spare time, Aimee enjoys traveling, art, reading, spending time outdoors, and playing with her two cats.


Heather Wieczorek Hudenko grew up in a small town outside Lansing, MI. For her undergraduate work, she attended the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment and majored in resource ecology and management with specializations in behavioral ecology of predators and environmental education. After college she worked in a variety of positions and locations, exploring her interests. Some of these included: the International Wolf Center in Ely, MN, the Adventure Science Center in Nashville, TN, and a research lab at Dartmouth College where she assisted with projects on salmon restoration and ecotoxicology. She has also made her living as an apprentice baker, informal artist (silversmithing, photography) and academic tutor. Presently, Heather is pursuing a graduate degree at Cornell University where she studies the interactions between humans and coyotes in suburban landscapes. Her general research interests include: human-wildlife interactions, predator species, and wildlife conservation and management. Heather would one day like to work with an NGO where she can be involved in both research and conservation initiatives aimed at fostering human-wildlife coexistence. When she finds free time, she enjoy hiking, backcountry canoe camping, cooking, cross-country skiing, reading, and playing in the dirt in her organic garden.