Diversity and Inclusion in Wildlife Conservation

When you think of a wildlife biologist, what kind of person do you think of?

Going a step further, if I asked you to name a wildlife biologist, who would come to mind?

Many people would answer with one of the following three:

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Steve Irwin, aka the Crocodile Hunter, a well-known zookeeper and nature documentary star.


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Jack Hanna, former zoo director and a frequent guest on morning talk show animal features.


Goodall and baby chimp, Flint.

Or Jane Goodall, a famous primatologist and anthropologist who revolutionized our understanding of chimpanzees.

With their encyclopedic knowledge of wildlife, fashionable khaki-on-khaki attire, and an animal in hand or close at hand, these three people embody everything that comes to mind when most people think of a wildlife biologist. They also fit the traditional demographics of wildlife scientists and managers in our country. The field of wildlife conservation in the United States has  traditionally been dominated by older white men. But as our country has become more diverse, so has our field. While the khaki-on-khaki dress code remains a staple among wildlife biologists (photographic evidence below, featuring yours truly), the faces of wildlife conservation are changing.

A few weeks ago, I was up at Mountain Lake Biological Station helping to teach small mammal trapping for a field course. It was a huge class, with well over 50 students from a wide variety of backgrounds.  I was amazed at how much more diverse the students of this class were compared to when I took the same course back in 2011. During one of the evening lectures, which was focused on how to be successful in field jobs, I mentioned the importance of being able to get along with people from a variety of backgrounds and identities. Later on, one of the students approached me while I was sitting at the bonfire, a little bit away from the rest of the group. He said that he was really glad that I had mentioned varying identities within the wildlife field, and that he felt like was having a hard time fitting in with the rest of the students.  I listened and reassured him that he belongs, and that he wasn’t the only one there who doesn’t fit the traditional mold. I also shared a little bit about my experiences feeling like I don’t belong in our field. We talked about how even though the field of wildlife conservation is becoming more diverse, change takes time, and it’s hard to feel like you belong when you’re the only person like you in a group.

As a teacher, I want my students to know that they belong, and that they are  all valuable members of our field. I can’t change their past experiences or their identities, but I can change and adapt my teaching to help make sure that they all feel welcome and included. I’m looking forward to learning strategies for more inclusive teaching, and hope that I can continue working towards a more inclusive field.



Image credits:

Steve Irwin:


Jack Hanna:


Jane Goodall:


Kat the Khaki Queen: Cropped from a photo taken by Lindsay Hermanns

4 Replies to “Diversity and Inclusion in Wildlife Conservation”

  1. Thanks so much for this post, Kat. Not only is this an incredibly fashion-forward post (long live the khaki outfits) but is also one that showcases how much you care about students, which is, unfortunately, not a guarantee in academia, as we know. I particularly appreciated this sentence: “I can’t change their past experiences or their identities, but I can change and adapt my teaching to help make sure that they all feel welcome and included.” I think looking toward the future is vital. Of course, we must always remember the past — including all of the atrocities that have made it harder for people to feel welcome in our respective disciplines — but with educators like you, the future looks bright. Thank you for sharing your story from Mountain Lake Biological Station.

  2. Thank you for your post! The way we think about scientists (and in this case, wildlife biologists!) tends to be a very narrow, and representation matters. Your story from Mountain Lake shows how much you care about your students, and I’m sure that student appreciated that conversation so much. Wishing you good luck with your future students and many khaki outfits!

  3. Thanks for the post! This is also true in the entomology society, especially in the labs were field-work is crucial. When I first came to the entomology department here it was predominated by male graduate students but today I am seeing more female integration which makes me proud and hope best for the future.

  4. It is heart-warming to read your personal experience of teaching students of diversity. I believe there were, are, and will be lots of students feel not-belonging to a certain field. Instructors and mentors are such important roles to ease students’ concern and anxiety and encourage them to step forward. I believe when the student becomes a senior member in the wild life conservation field, he could also spread out the thoughts and ideas of inclusion to his mentees or students. Thanks for sharing your story!

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