Kathy Henley, MS CandidateEnvironmental Studies
Her Dream: To Save Imperiled African Painted Dogs
Many of us have never heard of African painted dogs. But Kathy Henley, a master’s degree student in the Environmental Education concentration in the Environmental Studies Department, is working to save them from extinction.
Kathy, who is also the outreach coordinator for AUNE’s Center for Tropical Ecology and Conservation (CTEC), spent last summer in Zimbabwe, one of the painted dog’s last strongholds. She was an intern with the African Wildlife Conservation Fund through the Chishakwe Ranch in the Savé Valley Conservancy, Zimbabwe, and Painted Dog Conservation in Hwange, Zimbabwe. She also worked with Aggressive Tracking Specialists (ATS) and the Sango Ranch research team – both located in Savé Valley. These are all African organizations working to conserve wildlife species.
Painted dogs are only found in Africa, but their numbers are being rapidly diminished by habitat loss, disease, and competition from other carnivores. Kathy said there are only between 3,000 and 5,000 left in existence. Although her main focus was painted dogs, during her internship she attached radio collars to wild dogs, lions, and sable antelope and monitored their movements. She helped with rabies vaccination campaigns for domesticated dogs, and removed snares from the bush that could have trapped wildlife. She also worked with the anti-poaching team through ATS by tracking and observing black-and-white rhinos, making sure they stayed within their protected boundaries and monitoring any poaching activity.
The Power of Sharing Knowledge
But it’s education that is the key to saving the African painted dog or any wildlife, Kathy said. “…Statistics and facts only go so far when they remain in the scientific and research community,” she said. “This information needs to be shared and taught in order for it to take full effect and give it the most potential possible.”
So, in addition to her work in the bush, she designed a curriculum for middle-school-aged children on the adaptions and conservation of the painted dog. She also participated in exhibit design, creating new interpretation signs for Chishakwe’s small natural-history museum.
For her AUNE master’s thesis, Kathy plans to do research on wolves, which will incorporate the human element. Her interests include evaluating wolf education centers to see which program increases knowledge and improves public attitudes toward wolves the most, understanding how attitudes toward wolves can change, and how to educate those on the front lines of wolf habitats to live harmoniously with wolves and other predators.
Kathy grew up near Boulder, Colorado. She earned a BA in psychology with a minor in English writing from Metropolitan State College of Denver, where she was drawn to neuroscience. But opposed to animal testing, she switched to physical therapy and sport science, and took a research internship at the Children's Hospital of Denver’s Center for Gait and Movement Analysis.
She also began volunteering at the Denver Zoo—and that led to a revelation. “My mom and I went to the zoo all the time as I was growing up, so it became one of my favorite places and I have always loved wildlife,” Kathy said. “By the time my internship was over I realized that, after my days at that gait lab, I was exhausted, worn out, and grumpy. But after my shifts at the zoo I was energetic, excited and happy.”
With her newly discovered affinity for informal education, she began looking into careers in the field of conservation and environmental education and interpretation. A Google search for “conservation psychology” and next stop: Antioch University New England.
Kathy wants to use the skills as an educator, interpreter, and researcher she has been learning through AUNE to help conserve imperiled populations of predators – especially canines. In October she’ll attend the International Wolf Symposium in Minnesota, which she hopes will give her a more concrete research plan. Whatever it is, she’s sure to bring her passion and love for wild animals.