Executive Director Ashleigh Lutz-Nelson joined the Snow Leopard Conservancy team in 2020. She brought with her 18 years of wildlife conservation experience. A native Floridian, she received a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida in Zoology. After graduating, Ashleigh found her passion working with the wild cats at Busch Gardens and specializing with the Felid Taxon Advisory Group to advance the care, conservation, and management of wild cats in AZA-accredited Zoos. Knowing these cats as individuals inspired Ashleigh to take on a bigger role of their conservation in the wild. She then went on to earn a Master’s degree from the Royal Veterinary College and Zoological Society of London in Wild Animal Biology and has since helped to bridge the gap between ex situ and in situ conservation efforts for wild cats.
Ashleigh has worked with conservationists and organizations such as the Ruaha Carnivore Project and Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers to help protect endangered species, improve local indigenous livelihoods, and build capacity. Through the Pallas’s Cat International Conservation Alliance, she collaborated with snow leopard conservationists working in range countries to help develop conservation strategies and lead global conservation efforts for Pallas’s cats.
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Since moving to California in 2015, Ashleigh has been working closely with the Snow Leopard Conservancy while managing the care and conservation of the snow leopards at the San Francisco Zoo as the Assistant Curator of Carnivores. She developed the conservation partnership between the San Francisco Zoological Society, the Snow Leopard Conservancy, and International Veterinary Outreach. She is leading their collaborative One Health initiative in Nepal to improve livestock health and herder livelihoods and reduce retaliatory killings of snow leopards related to livestock depredation.
In her spare time, Ashleigh enjoys exploring nature on land and sea, music, dancing, yoga, and spending time with her family, friends, and darling house cats.
Darla Hillard serves as the Snow Leopard Conservancy’s facilitator for the Land of the Snow Leopard (LOSL) Network. Her role includes fundraising for LOSL, organizing annual gatherings, and overseeing monitoring and reporting on education initiatives developed by LOSL members.
Darla co-wrote the June 1986 National Geographic article, followed by the book, Vanishing Tracks: Four Years Among the Snow Leopards of Nepal. She has written for Travelers’ Tales: San Francisco, and Bay Nature magazine, and was the lead author for the chapter, “Environmental Education for Snow Leopard Conservation,” in the book, Snow Leopards, published in 2016, to launch the Elsevier Press series, Biodiversity of the World: Conservation from Genes to Landscapes.
Charleen Gavette serves as the Conservation and Education Program Manager, responsible for day-to-day oversight of the Conservancy’s field programs, capacity-building, and reporting. Charleen has been a long-time Conservancy volunteer, assisting with GIS modeling of potential snow leopard habitat and migratory corridors and creating maps for presentations. She has also been a key volunteer in our “Land of the Snow Leopard” project, attending workshops in Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan and leading the development of special computer apps. She will continue these activities as a Conservancy staffer.
Charleen was a Registered Nurse when she worked in the UCSF Medical Center’s Neurosurgical Intensive Care Unit. Her second career as a specialist in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) led her to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service. For the past 15 years, the focus of her work has been on endangered and threatened salmon and steelhead.
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During the Ebola epidemic, Charleen spent a month in Liberia, as a GIS volunteer contractor for the World Health Organization, helping to map and improve facilities for training of medical personnel.
Charleen has volunteered for many national and international wildlife organizations. She says, “I have dreamed of fulfilling my passion for animal welfare through my work; so joining the Conservancy is incredibly exciting!”
Joyce Robinson is the Conservancy’s Administrative Assistant. She retired in 2003 from a 30-year career with Bank of America. In 2004, she joined the Conservancy as a volunteer, scanning and entering data on our camera-trapped snow leopards. Today, as an integral member of the staff, Joyce provides office support including filing, processing donations, handling mailouts, and covering the headquarters office whenever Rodney, Darla, and Charleen are in the field.
Shavaun Kidd is the Conservancy’s Outreach Manager, maintaining their presence on a variety of social media platforms, and is the administrator of the Conservancy’s website, editor of the Conservancy’s online newsletter publication, “Snow Leopard Tracks,” and is the host of “Conservation Cat Chats,” an online program featuring guests who are involved in snow leopard conservation. In addition, she handles online fundraising sales and is the coordinator of the Conservancy’s annual Art & Poetry Contest.
Shavaun also serves as a conservation educator, speaking to a variety of audiences about snow leopard conservation and responding to student and teacher inquiries. She was the editor of the book Searching for the Snow Leopard, Guardian of the High Mountains, co-authored with photographer Bjorn Persson.
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Shavaun joined the Conservancy team as an education intern while completing her master’s of liberal arts and sciences degree which was centered around a post-baccalaureate certificate program in zoo & aquarium studies. Her focus was on conservation education and anthrozoology. As part of her graduate work at Western Illinois University, she conducted anthrozoological research examining the motivations for choosing animal companions from shelters and completed her studies by developing a multi-age snow leopard conservation education program. Shavaun previously received bachelor’s degrees in music and elementary education and biology from Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.
Shavaun has an enduring passion for wildlife, in particular, the big cats. She was a zoo docent for 17 years and was the program developer and coordinator/advisor of the Junior Zookeeper program at her local zoo for eight of those years. She also served as an instructor in the Nashville Zoo’s summer camp program. Shavaun owned and operated a pet supply and gift shop and for more than 20 years was a medical and radiation oncology transcriptionist and editor. She has served as a guest science teacher at the intermediate and high school grade levels and has been a guest lecturer at WIU.
Kathy Ah San
Kathy Ah San is the Accounts and Office Administrator. She has studied biology, business, and teaching. Over the course of a long work life, Kathy has worked in a wide range of occupations, including research, teaching, and accounting. She and her husband moved out to California back in 1986 and less than a year later their son was born. In 1990 their family was complete with the birth of a daughter. Hobbies include playing clarinet in two bands, travel, reading, and spending time with family and friends. She is happy to be a part of the staff of the Snow Leopard Conservancy where she can use her skills and education to further the goals of this wonderful organization.
Brian Peniston is the Program Manager overseeing the (United Kingdom) Darwin Initiative Grant awarded to SLC for snow leopard and biodiversity conservation in Nepal. Brian has extensive experience both nationally and internationally managing diverse programs especially in the Himalayan region. He served as the regional director for The Mountain Institute (TMI) for over 17 years, directing its Himalaya Program, and managed the Makalu Barun National Park Project, aimed at strengthening local participation in biodiversity conservation.
Brian is skilled in many disciplines, including community engagement, rural enterprises, conservation/natural resource management, community development, and cultural restoration. He spent 24 years in Nepal with TMI and is fluent in Nepali.
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Brian is responsible for managing the two year, nine-month Darwin Initiative Grant “Sustaining snow leopard conservation through strengthened local institutions and enterprises,” a joint collaboration between Mountain Spirit, TMI, Global Primate Network, ENNOVENT, National Trust for Nature Conservation/Annapurna Conservation Area Project and local communities in the Manang and Mt. Everest Regions.
Brian has a Masters degree in Forestry (Yale University) and Public Health (University of Hawaii) and an undergraduate degree in Philosophy (Connecticut College).