Kate Vannelli, GCC’s Program Director, talks about her journey in conservation and how an event called RiNo ended up leading her to a real rhino cause.

How did you get involved with conservation?

I met Matt while working for the Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia and we became friends. My job there was to care for cheetahs orphaned from human-wildlife conflict, and some of those cheetahs could be released back into the wild, where they belonged. It was an amazing thing to be a part of, but I started to feel like there was a bigger problem that I needed to focus on; the human dimensions of conservation. Wild animals will be okay, as long as we work with people towards a future for wildlife.

How did you refocus on the human side?

I applied to the University of Kent to study conservation and rural development and then went to the Indian Himalayas to research the snow leopard. I conducted a social science study looking at factors that influence attitudes and behaviours towards conservation, and loved it. This type of work fascinates me and I feel it is so useful for the field of conservation.

From there I moved to Denver and started looking for work. There was a part of the city there called River North Art District, (RiNo), so my friend and I contacted them to see if they were doing anything for actual rhinos. They said they weren’t but they would like to, so I called Matt.

What brought you to GCC?

Matt came out to Denver for our event with RiNo and the event was very well-received by the community, so, in addition to my coffee shop job and dog walking, I started working with Matt part-time. I have now been working full time at GCC for almost two years, working mostly from the United States, but I go to South Africa roughly twice a year.

What changes have you seen in the last two years?

The launch of the Future Rangers program has been great to bridge the gap between communities and wildlife. This is a really sustainable and scalable program that started with primary school children but now includes students up to the age of 18. Another positive is that funding has increased, meaning we can employ staff and move really quickly. Our partnerships have also grown which reinforces the organization.

What are you working on right now?

I am currently working on a National Geographic grant which focuses on the scalability and the monitoring and evaluation plan for the Future Rangers Program. As part of the monitoring and evaluation plan, we created a data collection app which can be used by our staff on the ground to track program progress and can provide a portfolio of evidence for students’ work, which they can take into the workforce.

What is your favorite animal?

It would have to be the cheetah. It is funny, I didn’t see one until I was 20 years old, but as a child, I loved watching nature programs and was just fascinated by the big cats. When I was five years old, I drew pictures of cheetahs, and made collages of wild animals from my Nat Geo magazines. There’s a home video of me where my mom asked me about the art projects, and I told her if only people could see how beautiful these creatures are, they wouldn’t kill them. I think this is when it all started for me!

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