Following on from ‘Women and Girls in Science day 2022’, we wanted to share the six inspiring women shared by our Good Natured podcast guests. At the end of every episode, our extraordinary guests are asked who their conservation heroes and role models are; read on to find out about the female conservationists who are inspiring fellow conservationists.

Wangarĩ Maathai

Wangarĩ Maathai pictured in Washington DC in 2001. Picture Credits: John Mathew Smith.

Wangarĩ Maathai was the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004, founding the Green Belt Movement in 1977, a non-governmental organisation focusing on tree planting, environmental conservation and women’s rights. In 1984, she was awarded the Right Livelihood Award for her work promoting the reforestation of Kenya. Between 2003 and 2005, she was an elected member of Parliament in Kenya, serving as the assistant minister for the environment and natural resources. She was the first woman in East and Central Africa to become a Doctor of Philosophy, an inspiring and dedicated academic and author who has made huge contributions to ecology as well as to African cultures and religions.

Paula Kahumbu

Paula Kahumbu pictured in Kenya. Picture credit: Johann Vorster.

As the CEO for WildlifeDirect, a trustee of the National Geographic Society, spearhead campaigner of the Hands Off Our Elephants Campaign, winner of the United Nations Person of the Year Award 2013 and a Whitley Award winner in 2014 and 2021,  Paula is a highly inspiring and commended woman at the forefront of wildlife conservation. WildlifeDirect is a charitable organisation in Kenya and the US, established to support conservationists in Africa through blogging, fundraising and education. She is also a lecturer at Princeton University, supporting and inspiring the next generation of community conservationists. She raises awareness through documentary series, editorials and museum talks as well as being an accomplished children’s author. See Conservation Optimism’s Whitley Award Winner’s poster for more information on Paula!

“It’s just been so inspiring to see how fearless she is. And I think for me, you know, that is one of the key things right now. There’s so much out there that is scary. That’s happening around the environment and Paula brings to the fight this incredible energy and passion and charm, but also the willingness not to back down and not to be beaten down.”- Dino J. Martins 

Sally Poncet

Sally Poncet is renowned for her conservation work in the Antarctic, studying species such as the Wandering Albatross. Picture credits: JJ Harrison.

Sally Poncet is a scientist and adventurer who has studied Antarctic regions since 1977. She has written guidebooks on preserving the wildlife of South Georgia and received numerous awards including the Fuchs Medal, Polar Medal and Blue Water medal for her polar expeditions and contributions to the British Antarctic Survey. She is a pioneer for the conservation of several species including elephant seals, macaroni penguins, the giant southern petrel and the wandering albatross.

“She pioneered a lot of the Southern ocean conservation and ecology before many people were thinking about it. She just drove a lot of Southern ocean projects forward, particularly on South Georgia. She’s a bit of an unsung hero.”- Tom Hart

‘Canopy Meg’ Lowman

Margaret ‘Canopy Meg’ Lowman pictured on a canopy walkway in Peru. Picture Credit: Mission Green.

Tropical Rainforest Canopy Biologist Margaret Lowman (or ‘Canopy Meg‘ as she is known), is a pioneer for canopy research across the globe, focussing on plant and tree conservation, insect pests and ecosystem health. Her mission: to explore, research and conserve forests as well as empower and educate future generations. As one of the first-ever ‘Arbornauts’, she is both a conservationist for what she has coined the Earth’s ‘eighth continent’, and an advocate for women and girls in the field. She has designed solutions to exploring the most challenging forests in the world, as well as authoring over 100 research articles, several books and founding key organisations for plant conservation such as the TREE Foundation and Mission Green.

“Probably one of my biggest heroes out there for conservation and she’s making a huge impact is Canopy Meg Lowman. She was a pioneer in the canopy research back in the seventies. She was doing a bunch of climbs down in Australia and then she’s moved to the Amazon and then to route parts of Southeast Asia. She’s written several books. I’ve also collaborated with her on a few projects in India, Mexico, and then here in the States too, where we’re getting physically challenged folks out of wheelchairs up into the treetops too.”- Tim Kovar

Yolarnie Amepou

Yolarnie Amepou is known for her work protecting the Papuan softshell turtle (Carettochelys insculpta). Picture credit: Derek Ramsey.

Yolarnie Amepou is a zoologist and conservation from Papua new Guinea, renowned for her work protecting the Papuan softshell turtle. In 2015 she received the Pride of PNG Women’s Award for the Environment, for her work on the Piku Project protecting the softshell turtle and establishing its endangered status with the IUCN, as well as describing a new species- the southern New Guinea stream turtle. As the director of the Piku Biodiversity Network, she encourages communities to self-impose ‘no-harvest’ zones and to monitor turtle populations. She also works as a herpetologist, co-authoring an important research article on the status of chytrid fungus in amphibians, and how New Guinea could offer a beacon of hope for restoring populations.

“And I liked the approach wherein she and the community work together helping identify nesting sites of turtles and ensuring that they are protected. But also, they integrate the learning of the turtles in their natural habitat and the awareness of conservation into the local school curriculum”- Miriam Supuma

Dr Raychelle Burks

Raychelle Burks speaks at the #InclusiveSciComm Symposium in 2018. Picture credits: Metcalf Institute.

Raychelle Burks may not be a conservationist, but she is renowned for her public engagement and science communication roles. She is an associate professor of analytical chemistry at American University in Washington but is also a regular contributor to publications such as The Washington Post and Chemistry World, as well as a regular on the Science Channel in the US. In 2021, BBC Science Focus named her as one of the most influential women changing chemistry through her phenomenal outreach work engaging the public in science. She is, above all, an advocate for women and underrepresented groups in STEM, contributing her voice to ensuring chemistry and science are inclusive.

“Unapologetically herself and a great role model and she’s really into science communication and equality and diversity inclusion work. So they’re in a different field but I guess I admire her sort of attitude and can-do and positivity!”- Sara Lil Middleton

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