The World’s Top 9 Famous Conservationists

Written by AZ Animals Staff
Updated: June 19, 2022
Image Credit sarayut_sy/
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Key Points

  • David Suzuki is famous as the host of Canadian Broadcasting Company’s “The Nature of Things.” Also, he has won the UN Environment Programme Medal and the UNESCO Kalinga Prize for the Popularization of Science.
  • The legendary Jane Goodall has dedicated her life to studying chimpanzees for over 50 years. She has also established an institute for conservation and “worldwide care for our planet.”
  • 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Wangari Maathai was the first woman in eastern Africa to earn a doctorate degree. Additionally, she has worked alongside the National Council of Women in Kenya on community-based tree planting to reduce poverty and conserve wildlife.

Can you name nine famous conservationists? Don’t worry! The AZ Animal team is here to help you out. Let the countdown begin!

In the past century or so, human society has advanced and proliferated so much that it has begun to interfere with natural habitats. Humans don’t just take up a lot of space. We also tend to disrupt the environment for resources that keep society up and running.

As a result, some animal species have become extinct or endangered. There are even entire habitats on the brink of collapse. Therefore, the planet’s well-being depends on brace humans making a change. So fortunately a number of admirable conservationists have stepped up to advocate for habitats and animals at risk. Now, let’s take a moment to acknowledge their hard work.

#9 Famous Conservationists: Li Quan

Famous Conservationists: Founder of Save China's Tiger, Li Quan
Li Quan is a conservationist who is well-known for her rewilding technique.

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 introducing predators and keystone species to protected wildlife regions. The process allows animals born into captivity to develop the skills they need to survive in the wild. That way, they can 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. She has done much to improve the conservation status of big cats. She has also authored two books: “Rewilded, Saving the South China Tiger” and “Diary of a South China Tiger.”

Interestingly, Quan wasn’t always a conservationist. Initially, the Wharton Business School alum started her career at Gucci before changing her life trajectory.

#8 Famous Conservationists: Myawira Gitaka

Famous Conservationists: Myawira Gitaka
Myawira Gitaka is one of Kenya’s famous conservationists and agribusiness entrepreneurs.

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

Famous Conservationists: Dian Fossey
Dian Fossey was a conservationist famous for her work with the mountain gorillas of Rwanda.

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. With the help of the Leakeys, she established a camp and embarked on a long-term observation of mountain gorillas. The species was in danger of going extinct in the wild.

From then on, Fossey spent nearly 20 years in rural Rwanda studying the animals. Eventually, she became the area’s most aggressive anti-poaching activist after illegal hunters killed her favorite gorilla, Digit. In 1983, Fossey published “Gorillas in the Mist.” The account of her work 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

Famous Conservationists: Gaylord Nelson
Gaylord Nelson was a conservationist who worked tirelessly to get the best legislation enacted.

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 the Gaylord Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin memorializes him.

#5 Famous Conservationists: Greta Thunberg

Famous Conservationists: Greta Thunberg
Greta Thunberg is a high-school conservationist who, at her young age, got nominated for the Nobel Prize.

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.” Finally, 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 flight to reduce her carbon impact.

With her blunt pleas challenging political and corporate leaders to do more, Thunberg has amassed a worldwide following. Since then she has received a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize, and was 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

Famous Conservationists: HRH Prince Charles
Prince Charles is a life-time conservationist who also applies his principles at his own country estate.

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. Then, by 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

Famous Conservationists: Wangari Maathai
Wangari Maathai was a conservationist who, through her efforts, caused millions of trees to be planted in Kenya.

Born in rural Kenya, Wangari Maathai was the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and the first woman in eastern Africa to earn her doctorate.

Firstly, 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. Eventually, 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

Famous Conservationists: Jane Goodall
Jane Goodall is one of the world’s most famous conservationists and scientists. 

Dame Jane Morris Goodall embarked on her primatology study at 26 years old and stayed embedded with jungle chimps for the next 50 years. Now, 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

Famous Conservationists: David Suzuki
David Suzuki is a Canadian conservationist, science broadcaster, and environmental activist.

Stephen Michael Barnett / CC BY 2.0 – License

The longtime host of the Canadian Broadcasting Company’s “The Nature of Things,” David Suzuki is arguably the world’s most committed conservationist. First, he became fascinated by nature as a young boy and collected specimens from a swamp near his house.

Then, 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 also the UNESCO Kalinga Prize for the Popularization of Science. Additionally, 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.

World’s Top 9 Famous Conservationists

#1David Suzuki
#2Jane Goodall
#3Wangari Maathai
#4Prince of Wales
#5Greta Thunberg
#6Gaylord Nelson
#7Dian Fossey
#8Myawira Gitaka
#9Li Quan

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AZ Animals is a growing team of animals experts, researchers, farmers, conservationists, writers, editors, and -- of course -- pet owners who have come together to help you better understand the animal kingdom and how we interact.