Updated on March 13, 2024

Wildlife conservation is a space for everyone — including female conservationists.

“Women have historically been left out of the narratives of wildlife conservation for decades,” Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant, co-host of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom Protecting the Wild said.

There are many hidden figures who haven’t received recognition for their achievements in wildlife conservation, Dr. Rae said. Give these women recognition by learning about historic and present-day female leaders in wildlife conservation.


Prominent female conservationists

Jane Goodall

Perhaps one of the most well-known female scientists and conservationists is Jane Goodall, Ph.D. In 1960, she traveled to Tanzania to immerse herself in a chimpanzee habitat, where she made the groundbreaking discovery that chimpanzees make and use their own tools.

“She normalized women being in the space of wildlife conservation,” Dr. Rae said.

Goodall is a trailblazer for females in science and today, primatology (the study of primates) has one of science’s most equal representations of male and female scientists.

“I looked up to her when I was young and I really hope I get to meet her someday,” Dr. Rae said.

Did you know Goodall was on the original Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom? Watch the episode, “Chimpanzees of Gombe Stream.”

Jane Goodall sitting in the forest, observing some chimpanzees interacting. This scene was featured on a classic episode of Wild Kingdom.


Harriet Tubman

You know Harriet Tubman for her role as a conductor on the Underground Railroad, but do you know about how she used nature to help dozens to freedom?

“In particular, she understood wildlife behavior and how that was essential to her success,” Dr. Rae said.

Dr. Rae, as well as other scientists and historians, champions Tubman as a wildlife ecologist for her knowledge of her natural surroundings. She led enslaved persons to freedom by running through the night and hiding during the day — something only possible because of her ability to understand wildlife.

“She was able to listen to and then master and perfectly recreate owl calls,” Dr. Rae said. “Her voice would sound like an owl, but it would communicate messages to the people she was working with.” The Confederate soldiers were none the wiser and Tubman was able to safely help people to freedom.

Tubman also monitored black bear movement to find safe hiding spots, hiding people in bear dens when they were empty.

“They were then cloaked with the scent of bears and that allowed them to continue on to freedom,” Dr. Rae said. This scent helped deter the dogs slave owners would use while searching.

The famous black and white portrait of Harriet Tubman, sitting in a chair and looking directly at the camera.


Laly Lichtenfeld

Laly Lichtenfeld, Ph.D., is a conservationist based in Tanzania, who gave Dr. Rae an internship that “undoubtedly changed my life.”

“I learned all about lions and how to research the ecology of lions,” Dr. Rae said. “I also learned how traditional groups of Musi people in Tanzania have lived with lions throughout history and what some of the challenges of that are today.”

Lichtenfeld co-founded African People & Wildlife, which helps African people and wildlife healthily coexist. Her work specializes in preventing human-wildlife conflict as well as engaging and educating rural communities.

“She’s one of a kind,” Dr. Rae said. “Dr. Lichtenfeld has broken glass ceilings. She’s done so many things for conservation. She’s been awarded some of the biggest grants out there. She’s one of my most impactful mentors and just a really, really wonderful person.”


Christine Wilkinson

Christine Wilkinson, Ph.D., is a wildlife ecologist dedicated to balancing the needs of humans, wildlife and surrounding habitat. She’s also one of the world’s leading voices on hyena conservation.

“I’ve spent so much time living and working in Africa among hyenas,” Dr. Rae said. “I never knew they were as interesting, fascinating and unique as they are until I became friends with Christine and learned so much about hyenas from her.”


Nyeema Harris

Nyeema Harris, Ph.D., is an associate professor at Yale School of the Environment. She’s studied large carnivores in Africa and is currently studying tigers. Though many wildlife researchers spend their time in the field, Harris teaches classes — a big win for those studying wildlife.

“If you can be a student in her class, I just think that must be so transformative,” Dr. Rae said. “She’s excellent!”


Krithi Karanth

Krithi Karanth, Ph.D., is a wildlife conservationist based in India. She grew up exploring the jungle with her father, K. Ullas Karanthan, Ph.D., a conservationist studying tigers. Today, she continues her work in the field as CEO of Centre for Wildlife Studies. Karanth and her team collect data to see how rural Indians coexist with wildlife.

“She and her father have basically changed the game when it comes to conservation and India,” Dr. Rae said. “They’re one of the reasons tigers are doing better now than they have in the last 20 years.”


Follow these female conservationists on Instagram

Want to be inspired by present-day female conservationists? Check out some of Dr. Rae’s favorite people to follow on Instagram. Plus, follow @wildkingdomtv and @raewynngrant to round out your wildlife Instagram list.


Corina Newsome

Newsome is an associate conservation scientist at the National Wildlife Federation. She’s passionate about avian conservation, as well as increasing representation of Black science professionals.

Earyn McGee


Earyn McGee, Ph.D., is a herpetologist (someone who studies reptiles and amphibians). She’s the coordinator of conservation development at the Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens. McGee is also the creator of #FindThatLizard, a weekly photo challenge where followers look for a lizard hidden in its natural environment.

Imogene Cancellare


Imogene Cancellare, Ph.D., is a conservation biologist and wild cat researcher. She’s the program coordinator of conservation genetics for PANTHERA, which conserves 40 species of wild cats and their ecosystems.

Asia Murphy


Asia Murphy, Ph.D., is an ecologist who uses trail cameras to study species and their interactions.

Elizabeth Hiroysau


Elizabeth Hiroysau, Ph.D., is the Jack and Laura Dangermond Preserve scientist for the California chapter of The Nature Conservancy. She’s studied human-wildlife conflict focusing on vertebrae invasive species management.


Looking for even more inspiration? Check out these four female conservationists and how Wild Kingdom shaped their careers.

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