Today we’d like to introduce you to Alicia Kuehn.
Alicia, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I’ve always been passionate about animals and conservation. For most of my adult life that meant working as a zookeeper at several different zoos, most recently the Houston Zoo. In the last couple of years, however, my focus shifted and I became more interested in the education side of wildlife conservation. In order to facilitate that transition I enrolled in the Project Dragonfly masters program through Miami University with the intention of earning my MAT in conservation biology.
Part of the Project Dragonfly program involves taking trips to conservation hotspots around the world. Two years ago, I was preparing to travel to Guyana for one of my master’s program trips. I had been chatting online with the founder of Save the Giants, a conservation organization based in Atlanta and working in Guyana that focuses on conservation of giant river otters and community development in interior Guyanese villages. The stars aligned and the founder, Christina Ward, and I ended up in Guyana at the same time and were able to meet up before my school trip started. We talked at length about giant otters and the challenges facing Guyana as it continues to expand it’s oil exports and development. After speaking with her I spend the next ten days in the interior of Guyana and fell in love with the country, it’s wildlife, and the Guyanese people and culture. I even got to see giant river otters in the wild! After I returned from my trip, I continued to reach out to Christina and offer my help and eventually earned myself a place on the Save the Giants board (as a volunteer, none of us are paid staff).
In the last six months, I also started a new “real” (paid) job in the conservation education field working for Texas Wildlife Association as a classroom educator in the greater Harris county area. I go to classrooms in schools all over the place and talk to kids about conservation science and why it’s important for all Texans to be good stewards of our land, water, and animals.
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
I don’t think I’ve ever spoken with anyone working in conservation that would say they’ve had a smooth road. It’s a complicated field with lots of people who are very passionate about what they’re doing. It’s very easy to step on toes or get frustrated when egos get in the way. And unfortunately it can be very hard to get a paying job in the field. My advice for anyone looking to get into this field would be to make sure you have a supportive base of friends and loved ones to lean on when things get overwhelming. And my advice for women in general would be to not be afraid to make big changes and take big leaps to get to where you want to be.
We’d love to hear more about Save the Giants, Texas Wildlife Association.
Save the Giants focuses on giant otter conservation through research, education, and community building. My focus within the organization is on education: educating people worldwide about giant otters and their conservation needs and working within the communities in Guyana to provide support for their schools and increase environmental literacy. We’ve been working with our in-country partners to start wildlife clubs in the villages and we’ve been collecting school supplies to take down to the village teachers. The contribution that I’m most proud of personally is writing and publishing a children’s book, Kara Grotter the Giant Otter (available on Amazon). It was important for me to write a story that the kids in Guyana could identify with and see themselves in. But I also think people all over the world will enjoy the story!
Texas Wildlife Association (TWA) focuses on protecting private land owner rights and encouraging good stewardship of Texas by Texans. I work in the education branch of TWA and spend my days traveling around the greater Harris county area speaking to k-8 students about science and conservation topics. It’s especially important in an urban area like Houston to find ways to connect kids with their environment and help them to understand how they can have a positive impact on the world around them.
Do you feel like there was something about the experiences you had growing up that played an outsized role in setting you up for success later in life?
My parents are both teachers so I definitely think they had a huge influence on my passion for education. They also always encouraged my love for animals, even when I brought my first snake home at age seven.
- Website: https://savethegiants.org; www.texas-wildlife.org
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/savethegiantotters/; https://www.facebook.com/TWACONSERVATIONLEGACY/
Myself and Christina Ward