International Women’s Day 2023

“Women in conservation” can mean different things to different people. A field researcher or nature reserve warden, or a finance coordinator, project manager or communicator. The diversity of roles in conservation often doesn’t get highlighted enough, so our spin on International Women’s Day this year is to look at what diverse roles the fantastic women across the Altyn Dala partnership occupy, and the impact they have for the Altyn Dala Conservation Initiative (ADCI). From field work to finance, they’ve got it covered. 

Stephanie Ward is the International Coordinator of the Altyn Dala partnership and manages questions of strategy, fundraising, partnership operations and alignment between partners and goals. Her work is varied and challenging. “I am active in the Kulan translocation project as well as communications for the partnership. I have always loved nature and been a passionate advocate for wild things since an early age. I discovered the Russian language at school and that took me on an amazing journey into Siberia where I worked for an environmental NGO.” bringing a key language skill spoken in Kazakhstan and by the in-country partner, and experience working with NGOs internationally is a huge asset to the Altyn Dala partnership. “My route to the conservation world was not the usual one, but I am a firm believer that the biodiversity crisis needs a diverse team of warriors!” says Stephanie.

As we’re finding out, working in conservation isn’t all about science and field work. “I worked for the first 4 years of my career in a completely different field.” Says Ksenia Zyukova, Finance Specialist for the Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity of Kazakhstan (ACBK). “This job gave me a wealth of experience in project management at various levels, but it distanced me from the sphere in which my thoughts and my sincere interest and concern have always been. I was a member of the ACBK before I was hired and currently I have been part of the Altyn Dala Conservation Initiative for one and half years.” As well as coordinating project financing, writing contracts and budget planning, Ksenia leads the ranger training development programme, supporting rangers in the field to deliver conservation management on the ground. “I also participate in seasonal field trips to support the team and gain practical skills in wildlife conservation.” 

The only way to deliver conservation work as a partnership effectively, is to ensure there is equity at every operating level in each organisation. Without bringing a wide array of ideas and skills to the table, the best solutions and approaches to the challenges facing the planet today can’t be found.

Anne Dohrmann works for Frankfurt Zoological Society as a Kulan Reintroduction Intern. “Having been blessed to grow up in the tiniest village, surrounded by forest, and with plenty of domestic and wild animals always close by, my fascination for wilderness came very naturally.” Anne began studying to become a vet, but paused her studies to apply for a job with FZS, focusing on returning the Kulan to the steppes of central Kazakhstan. “The project and my role combined two of my passions: equids and Central Asia – a perfect match!” As well as bringing skills to the partnership, Anne knows she’ll benefit from the first-hand experience gained, “I am proud of all the little ways that I can contribute to nudging the project towards success – be it networking, reporting or on-site monitoring. It feels great to be part of an ambitious team pursuing an amazing goal.” 

 As well as working in diverse ways, many of the staff come from varying professional backgrounds. However, sometimes it’s something close to home that first sparked the passion to work in conservation. “When I was a student I joined the ACBK student’s birdwatching club.” Says Alyona Koshkina, Research Fellow for ACBK. “I was amazed by the dedicated people working in the Altyn Dala Conservation Initiative. From this moment on I dreamt to become a part of the team. And I did, a few years later! After 12 years it is still my dream job.” I’m sure there’s a few of us reading this blog who can relate! And how has Alyona spent her 12 years in a conservation career so far? “I’m proud to have participated in the most successful conservation initiatives in Kazakhstan over the last decades.” Nailing it, of course.

 Like Stephanie, but this time based in Kazakhstan, Alyona Krivosheyeva coordinates project activity for the Altyn Dala Conservation Initiative as ACBK’s National Coordinator. “I have loved animals and nature since childhood. During my studies at the faculty of geography (Moscow State University), having begun to study and understand that everything in nature is interconnected, I wanted to work specifically in the field of nature and biodiversity conservation.” After graduating with a master’s degree, Alyona was so inspired by ACBK’s work she realized that working for the benefit of biodiversity conservation was her calling. “I am glad that my involvement in the ADCI at the level of manager allows me to be directly involved in identifying key priority issues, responding quickly to emerging threats and building projects around current needs and key species and ecosystem conservation issues.”

Her achievements include developing a network of protected areas in Kazakhstan and supporting the professional development of staff working in those areas, and creating the handbook for the implementation of the CITES Convention in Kazakhstan. “I am particularly pleased with my direct involvement in the process of developing a network of protected areas in Kazakhstan and professional development of protected area staff, as well as the development of the handbook about implementation of the CITES Convention in Kazakhstan.” 

ACBK has no shortage of passionate staff delivering impact at every level. Madina Tauyekelova works as a Project Coordinator focusing on the illegal wildlife trade. “I have always been close to conservation. At school I decided that I would go to university and study an environmental subject, but after I started working at the ACBK, I fully realized that I had always wanted to do conservation work.” Madina supported several field work trips last year, surveying Saiga antelope to keep track of their recovery and movements across Kazakhstan. Saiga horn is poached and illegally transported across borders for sale into various markets. ACBK works closely with the Government of Kazakhstan to deliver training and guidance to border control staff and put an end to this conservation issue. “I am proud that I work at ACBK. I am proud that I can work and implement projects related to combating the illegal wildlife trade.” 

Michele Bowe works for the RSPB partner as a Senior Ecologist. “My conservation career began when I was around 13 – helping at my local nature reserve with practical tasks like clearing scrub and removing rubbish from an old pond. I had always enjoyed bird watching and watching wildlife in general. I joined a local field club and some members gave me advice on buying my first pair of binoculars. I went on all the field visits I could, gradually learning from other members. The help and encouragement I received made me determined that my career would involve conservation.” Michele went on to study ecology and has worked in conservation ever since. Michele worked for many years with a local community within a National Park in New Guinea, learning about their cultural use of land and traditions. “Their traditional way of life had, for generations, helped to conserve wild species and places. I’m extremely proud of the way I managed to include the traditional practices of the local people as an integral and accepted component of the management plan. This helped to ensure that their traditional way of life could continue and contribute to the conservation of the National Park.”

Michele is now the RSPB’s Protected Areas Specialist for the Kazakh Steppe and is helping to establish and manage a newly protected area in west Kazakhstan. “I am working with the local team in Kazakhstan to develop the site Management Plan and this includes designing and carrying out projects and surveys to understand the importance of the area from a biodiversity perspective, identification issues and threats that need addressing, and developing the capacity of local teams to conserve the area in the long term.” 

From the field and back into the office, Gulmira Bekenova (ACBK) manages critical finance processes and monitoring reports, and is of course, a nature lover too. “It is impossible not to love nature. The nature of Kazakhstan is very diverse and beautiful in its own way” explains Gulmira. “Semi-deserts, deserts, and steppes occupy most of the territory of Kazakhstan, while a small part is occupied by forests. The flora and fauna are represented by various unique and rare species. So, when, back in 2015, I was offered the opportunity to work for an organisation dedicated to the study and conservation of our nature, I couldn’t refuse.”

Gulmira joined ACBK as an administrative assistant, switching to project implementation, and now back to finance as ACBK’s Finance Manager. “I love my job and I am proud to contribute to nature conservation in my own way. I am proud that thanks to the Altyn Dala Conservation Initiative, I have met interesting people, and together we are working on a variety of conservation projects.” So many different skills need to come together cohesively to deliver wide-reaching and impactful conservation, especially across the huge area the Altyn Dala Conservation Initiative operates.

The Altyn Dala Conservation Initiative partnership is a superb example of the diverse range of roles women in conservation work in and the impact they’re having every day. Vera Voronova leads the Kazakhstan partner ACBK. As CEO she knows the critical role that having a diverse range of skills and perspectives in the workforce contributes to delivery. I interviewed Vera, and you can watch the full video here.

Every day of the year, women in conservation strive for a better planet, but are still underrepresented at a senior level and in specific roles. The Altyn Dala Conservation Initiative hopes this blog and our celebration of women in conservation this year contributes to the progress needed to make saving the planet fair, equitable and successful.

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