This March, to celebrate International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, SCB North America is highlighting women in conservation who inspire us.

Today we’re speaking with Dr. Aby Sène-Harper. We asked her to share a little about what she does and about her experience as a woman in conservation.

I am an assistant professor in conservation area management at Clemson University. As an environmental social scientist, my research has evolved in relation to the social, ecological and political contexts of our time. My focus has predominantly been on community-based conservation, protected area management and rural livelihoods. The past 2 years, however, have made it abundantly clear that we are living in an era of heightened awareness of racial injustices and a deepening ecological crisis that disproportionately impacts Black and Indigenous people around the world. The urgency of the moment has forced me to redirect my scholarship towards a more radical transformation of the social and global order. To quote Native American environmental activist, Dina Gilio-Whitaker, “Colonization is inherently an environmental justice issue,” and I believe this to be true for colonized people around the world who are still living in the grips of settler and neo-colonialism. In fact, many Black revolutionaries understood that the only way to address the ecological crisis is through full decolonization, as in the repatriation of Indigenous land and life. Conservationists often treat colonization as a thing of the past, when conservation programs continue to reproduce colonial power relations that exacerbate environmental destruction. Therefore, my work today engages more anti-colonial and Black radical thought to examine the imbrication of colonization, environmental destruction and injustices, and Black peoples’ political struggle.

I am a Black woman in the conservation field and the intersectionality of my race and gender poses some challenges and opportunities at the same time. Although I am dedicated to conservation issues, I also feel a strong responsibility to respond to the political and social needs of Black people. So, I am always in a constant internal struggle to balance these priorities. On top of that, as a Black woman working in a white male dominated field and even department, it can feel very isolating at times. Even if women are more represented today than they were before, it’s predominantly white women who are represented. But there are far more Black women across the globe engaged in conservation than we are aware of, and unfortunately several factors inhibit their visibility. That includes the lack of resources to access public platforms. There is also a tendency of the conservation movement to sideline Black and Indigenous women to instead amplify white women’s voices. This is exemplified in the amount of publicity Greta Thunberg and Jane Goodall have received in comparison to Vanessa Nakate and Wangari Maathai, and the countless Indigenous women activists who are in the front line of these issues. We must move beyond the colonial images of white women and men doing conservation work in Africa and highlight the extensive and everyday work that Black and Indigenous women are doing in conservation. We must be open to the ways Black and Indigenous women understand and choose to address conservation issues, because the aspirations and values systems of Black and Indigenous women are rooted in their social and political realities and often differ from those of white women. 


Thank you so much to Dr. Sène-Harper for sharing her experiences with us. To keep up with her work, follow her on Twitter at @AbySene9.

Check out stories from other women we’ve highlighted this month:

This March, to celebrate International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, SCB North America is highlighting women in conservation who inspire us.

Kelly Zenkewich is the Communications and Digital Engagement Manager at the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative. We asked her to share about her experience as a woman in conservation and who inspires her.

Looking back, my earliest memories of being interested in conservation were tied to writing or communicating in some way. From my early years of eagerly waiting for deliveries of Ranger Rick magazine to later making my own “newspapers” about mountain gorilla conservation, I always cared about nature. Later on I created my own field guide to the lizards and insects I saw in my backyard in southern Thailand and I definitely read every informational placard while visiting the Singapore Zoo, irritating my family to no end. From where I am now, it seems so obvious this was a route I’d take.

Yet for many years I was unsure of how I could combine my personal passions, academic knowledge, and professional interests. During my undergrad in biological sciences, lab or field work never really appealed to me so I worked at a newspaper for a while, but everything came together when I joined Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative. We’re an international environmental non-profit with a big mission: to connect and protect habitat so that people and nature thrive. This work doesn’t get done alone, so we collaborate with hundreds of partners on conservation projects in the region stretching from the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem to Canada’s Yukon Territory.

There, as communications and digital engagement manager, I get to do the things I love most: help translate science so it’s accessible and actionable, inspire folks who are passionate about the people, places and wildlife in the Yellowstone to Yukon region to get involved, and share incredible photos and stories. I consider myself science-adjacent, but my work is completely fulfilling and in a role I did not even knew existed when I was in university.

Being a woman in conservation shapes my world view and approach. For one, I try to be aware of representation and inclusion in the ways I communicate, make decisions, and how I spotlight others. This applies to the stories and content we share at Y2Y, and in the groups I work in, too. While my work doesn’t take me into the field much, being a female hunter conservationist has been an incredible experience — I cherish this way of connecting with nature and culture.

Working in conservation can be challenging, so it pays to find a good crew of tough people and mentors who challenge and support you. For me, some of those people happen to be amazing women. Y2Y has an incredible array of scientists, advocates, communicators, and conservationists on our board and staff who drive me to be better everyday — the things they accomplish astound me. Their passion is contagious.

My friends also inspire me: many are women in science working on research and issues related to climate change, raptors, remediation, and marine conservation regionally and globally, so I am incredibly lucky to be a part of their world. These women are making a difference — I’m happy to be there to assist.


Thank you so much to Kelly for sharing her experiences with us. Keep up with Y2Y and see Kelly’s work in action at:

About Y2Y: http://y2y.net/about

Instagram @y2y_initiative/ 

Twitter @Y2Y_Initiative

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/Yellowstone2Yukon/


Check out stories from other women we’ve highlighted this month:

This March, to celebrate International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, SCB North America is highlighting women in conservation who inspire us.

Today we’re talking with Dr. Alysha Cypher. We asked her to share a little about what she does, about her experience as a woman in conservation, and to name a woman who inspires her.

I am a postdoctoral researcher at the Prince William Sound Science Center in Cordova Alaska. I’m a conservation scientist at heart but have worked in toxicology, physiology, and now I am working on migration patterns of Pacific herring using acoustic telemetry.  Science is a labor of love and my connection with nature has driven my career. I owe that in part to Rachel Carson. I’ve read all her books and am from a similar area in western Pennsylvania. We both grew up daydreaming about the ocean and her words seemed to always describe exactly how I felt about nature. The woman could make seaweed sound like the best thing since sliced bread.

I think it’s an exciting time to be a woman in conservation science.  Over the next couple decades we will see a shift in empowerment at the higher levels of academia and government that will better represent the diversity of people who actually work in this field. It’s already happening and other areas of STEM need to catch up.


Thank you so much to Dr. Cypher for sharing her experiences with us. Check out stories from other women we’ve highlighted this month: