Can you name nine famous conservationists? Don’t worry! The AZ Animal team is here to help you out. Let the countdown begin!
#9 Famous Conservationists: Li Quan
London-dwelling, Beijing-born Li Quan is a well-known conservationist who developed the process of rewilding. Quan believes animals thrive when left alone in ideal habitats. To that end, she works to create set-it-and-forget-it sanctuaries where predators and keystone species are introduced into protected wildlife regions. The process allows animals born into captivity to develop the skills they need to survive in the wild and pass on those skills to the next generation, which can then be “rewilded.”
Scientists initially scoffed at Quan’s ideas. But she persevered and successfully rewilded South China tigers into a South African reserve. Today, conservation groups embrace Quan’s techniques, and her rewilding strategy is used around the world.
Today, Li Quan works with several animal protection groups, including China Tiger Revival, and has done much to improve the conservation status of big cats. She’s also authored two books: “Rewilded, Saving the South China Tiger” and “Diary of a South China Tiger.”
Interestingly, Quan wasn’t always a conservationist. The Wharton Business School alum started her career at Gucci before changing her life trajectory.
#8 Famous Conservationists: Myawira Gitaka
An up-and-coming African youth leader, Myawira Gitaka works with kids across the continent on myriad sustainability and conservation projects. Typical of her generation, she is very active online — especially on Twitter.
Gitaka recently established Mushroom Blue, a business that recycles coffee waste into inexpensive but potent fertilizer. She’s also passionate about the conservation status of African wild dogs, an IUCN Endangered species.
#7 Famous Conservationists: Dian Fossey
In 1963, a young occupational therapist from the United States named Dian Fossey took out a loan, cashed in her life savings, and journeyed to Africa for an expedition. While there, she met famous anthropologists Mary and Louis Leakey and fell in love with Rwanda’s gorillas.
Ultimately, Fossey relocated to the continent and, with the help of the Leakeys, established a camp and embarked on a long-term observation of mountain gorillas, a species that was in danger of going extinct in the wild.
Fossey spent nearly 20 years in rural Rwanda studying the animals and became the area’s most aggressive anti-poaching activist after her favorite gorilla, Digit, was killed by illegal hunters. In 1983, Fossey published “Gorillas in the Mist,” an account of her work, which became a Hollywood blockbuster starring Sigourney Weaver. Tragically, Fossey was murdered at her camp in 1985 — and the culprit remains a mystery.
We should note that Fossey had vocal critics, especially in Rwanda, where many people saw her as a hypocritical colonizer. In most western conservation circles, however, she is widely credited for saving mountain gorillas from extinction.
#6 Famous Conservationists: Gaylord Nelson
Earth Day founder and inspiration for the US Environmental Protection Act, Clean Water Act, and Clean Air Act, Gaylord A. Nelson is a famous American conservationist. A lifetime nature lover, Nelson served as Wisconsin’s governor and spent 18 years as a US senator.
During his tenure in Washington, DC, Nelson wrote legislation that created a network of national hiking trails and helped preserve the Appalachian Trail. He also sponsored the Wilderness Act, Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, and National Environmental Lakeshore Act.
Over his career, Nelson won the Ansel Adams Conservation Award, UN Environment Programme’s Only One World Award, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Born in 1916, he passed away in 2005, but his name is memorialized through the Gaylord Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin.
#5 Famous Conservationists: Greta Thunberg
Born Greta Tintin Eleonora Ernman Thunberg, the Swedish teenager has proven to the world that effective activism doesn’t have an age requirement. At 15, Thunberg started protesting outside Sweden’s government buildings with a sign that read “School Strike for Climate.” Her one-student protest sparked an international movement, which today goes by Fridays for Future.
In 2019, 16-year-old Greta sailed across the Atlantic Ocean with her father and two experienced skippers on the Malizia II, an eco-friendly 60-foot boat, to speak at the United Nations Climate Action Summit. She opted for the 15-day water journey instead of a 5-hour flying to reduce her carbon impact.
Known for her blunt pleas challenging political and corporate leaders to do more, Thunberg has amassed a worldwide following, been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, and was named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year in 2019. Not bad for someone who’s still in high school!
#4 Famous Conservationists: HRH Prince Charles
His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales — aka Prince Charles — is heir to the British throne and one of the world’s preeminent conservationists.
He first began talking about conservation in the late 1980s, and, in 2011, the future monarch became president of the World Wildlife Fund’s UK division. In this capacity, Prince Charles has addressed the IUCN’s World Conservation Congress and received several environmental awards, including the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds Medal and Harvard’s Global Environmental Citizen Award.
In addition to organic farming activities at his country estate, Highgrove, the prince works with the Stop Wildlife Crime initiative, Mutton Renaissance Campaign, and the Prince’s May Day Network. He’s also editor-in-chief of RE:TV, an online platform that streams short films focusing on sustainability, climate change, and conservation.
#3 Famous Conservationists: Wangari Maathai
Maathai is best known for her work with the National Council of Women in Kenya, where she introduced community-based tree planting as a means to both reduce poverty and conserve wildlife. Her efforts blossomed into the Green Belt Movement, which has enjoyed great success over three decades.
Sadly, Maathai passed away in 2011 of cancer, but her legacy lives on through the Wangari Maathai Institute for Peace and Environmental Studies out of Nairobi University.
#2 Famous Conservationists: Jane Goodall
Dame Jane Morris Goodall embarked on her primatology study at 26 years old and stayed embedded with jungle chimps for the next 50 years. Today, she is revered as the world’s preeminent expert on chimpanzees.
Winner of the Kyoto Prize, Hubbard Medal, and Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement, Goodall is a highly decorated conservationist. She’s also a member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, a chivalric ordinance honoring artistic, scientific, and charitable achievements.
In addition to establishing her eponymous institute, which focuses on animal conservation and “worldwide care for our planet,” Goodall has published dozens of books and is the subject of over 40 films.
#1 Famous Conservationists: David Suzuki
The longtime host of the Canadian Broadcasting Company’s “The Nature of Things,” David Suzuki is arguably the world’s most committed conservationist. He became fascinated by nature as a young boy and collected specimens from a swamp near his house.
Suzuki went on to earn his Ph.D. in zoology from the University of Chicago and spent nearly four decades teaching at the University of British Columbia. During his professorship, he also hosted several television and radio shows on animals and the environment.
Universally lauded and celebrated, Suzuki has won several prestigious awards, including the UN Environment Programme Medal and the UNESCO Kalinga Prize for the Popularization of Science. Plus, the beloved eco-warrior is an Order of Canada inductee that has two schools named after him.
These days, mindful of his carbon footprint, Suzuki sticks to his Canadian stomping grounds. But you can often catch him on radio programs — his preferred medium — waxing poetic about sustainability, climate change, and animal conservation.