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World Wildlife Fund Honors UW Student

September 24, 2014
Man working with lion
University of Wyoming graduate student Caroline Ng’weno secures a GPS collar onto a lion for her research involving predator-prey interactions in Kenya. (Kevin Wabungo Photo)

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has awarded its Russell E. Train Fellowship to University of Wyoming student Caroline Ng’weno for her commitment to the environment and to empower her to become a community conservation champion.

Originally from Kenya, Ng’weno is completing her Ph.D. in zoology at UW. Her work focuses on the ecology of African savannas.

“She has already proven herself to be a strong leader, having created an exchange program between her university and a university in her native country,” according to the WWF citation. “She also has a strong focus on community and engagement at a local level.”

Now in its 20th year, the Russell E. Train award provides fellowships to rising environmental leaders to pursue graduate degree studies in conservation-related fields anywhere in the world and conduct research in their home countries or regions. Ng’weno is among 26 recipients from around the world selected this year.

Born and raised in a small village in Keiyo District, Kenya, Ng’weno fostered a strong interest in the environment. For the past five years, she has explored her passion as a wildlife conservationist at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Laikipia District, Kenya. While her research spans a broad range of topics, she is particularly interested in predator-prey interactions, human-wildlife coexistence and the advancement of human livelihoods and quality of life through education.

The long-term viability of wildlife populations hinges on compatibility of wildlife with humans and their livestock, Ng’weno says. As ranchers become more tolerant of predators -- especially lions -- the abundance of cattle and livestock declines. As a result, ranchers are considering re-implementing lethal control.

“With about 70 percent of wildlife said to be living outside the protected areas alongside the community, it is vital to meaningfully engage the people who provide the first line of protection for the wildlife,” she says. “In addition, involving the local community in conservation enhances the feeling of ‘ownership’ for wildlife.”

Such involvement, she says, allows communities to see the tangible benefits of conservation efforts.

“Thus, they would support such efforts and form a first line of security against poaching and be at the forefront to promote behavior changes and astute management of their resources,” Ng’weno adds.

Through her dissertation work, Ng’weno says she seeks to elucidate how cattle affect the balance between predators and prey in the region. Her results then will be critical in developing strategies toward the long-term conservation of wildlife alongside livestock production. She says her work at UW will help her contribute to conservation in East Africa.

“Through the multidisciplinary approach to training at the University of Wyoming, the work will enable me to integrate ecological, social and economic disciplines,” she says. “That is key to solving the myriad of complex conservation problems faced by the developing world. Chief among these is the need for integrating communities and their activities into conservation.”

Additionally, she says the range of transferable skills in ecology, remote sensing, geographic information systems and statistics acquired at UW will help her to enhance conservation in Kenya and sub-Saharan Africa in general.

“Further, the training at the university will enable me to establish collaborative work among peers and mentors, thus helping build my capacity as a scientist,” Ng’weno says. “Inevitably, this will have positive effects into my career progression.”

Fellowships are named after the late Russell E. Train, founder and chairman emeritus of WWF-US, who played a fundamental role in nearly all original action for international conservation and U.S. environmental policy. Early on, he recognized the enormous need for conservation capacity on a global scale. He felt that, without education and training, the full potential of promising leaders would never be achieved, and Earth would suffer as a consequence.

To date, more than 1,950 conservation leaders have been supported through the Russell E. Train Fellowships.

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