U.S. Headquarters Staff

Ashleigh Lutz-Nelson

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.

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Kayley Bateman

Kayley Bateman joined the Snow Leopard Conservancy team as Programs Manager in July of 2023. She coordinates SLC’s conservation, education, and applied research programs and serves as the primary liaison between SLC and its partners. Kayley has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois in animal science and a Master of Arts in biology from Miami University’s Project Dragonfly. Her involvement in Project Dragonfly’s Global Field Program focused on working effectively across diverse ecological and social settings to foster change through community-engaged education, scientific inquiry, environmental stewardship, and global understanding. In addition to these core tenets, Kayley explored ecosystem biodiversity through the conservation of local species and focused on the importance of collaboration in conservation, a passion that she brings to SLC.

Beyond her studies with Miami University, Kayley serves as a Project Dragonfly “Alumni Leader,” providing project guidance and support to current Miami University graduate students.

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She also devotes time to the American Association of Zoo Keepers’ (AAZK) “Trees for You and Me” grant program and participates in a collaborative restoration project she initiated between San Francisco’s AAZK and the Golden Gate Audubon Society. Kayley brings nearly 15 years of experience as a zoologist working with snow leopards, tigers, bears, and other wildlife at the San Francisco Zoological Society and Brookfield Zoo.

As an outdoor lover and nature enthusiast, Kayley enjoys hiking, SCUBA diving, snorkeling, wildlife viewing, and exploring all of California’s diverse landscapes. She is thrilled to join the SLC team and is eager to help support and facilitate the work of the Conservancy’s partners.

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Maria Azhunova

Amar mende! My name is Maria Azhunova. I come from Buryat-Mongol people, Ekhirit tribe on my father’s side, and Sagaan/Khongoodor on my mother’s; both tribes connect their origin to Lake Baikal, just north of the Russian-Mongolian border. Raised in a family of Indigenous and environmental activists, I understood early on that Indigenous Peoples’ traditional knowledge, values, spiritual and cultural practices are crucial for decelerating today’s unprecedented loss of biodiversity. I have long been helping Indigenous elders, shamans, Buddhist clergy, and community leaders in efforts to address the root causes of the current environmental crisis. I am devoted to our Indigenous ethics and determined to incorporate these ethical, cultural, and spiritual dimensions into conservation efforts. With this commitment and empowerment from my Elders, I was privileged to obtain education at Harvard and Cambridge Universities.

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Being the Director of the Land of Snow Leopard Network (LOSL) has helped me appreciate the Snow Leopard both as a keystone species and as a totem animal with profound religious, cultural, and ecological significance. We view the threat to Snow Leopards as both a biological loss and a loss of ancient moral reference points. Therefore, we provide a unique approach to community-based snow leopard conservation blending Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Western conservation science. Our network is an inspiring example of a multinational collaboration working together in majestic mountain regions such as the Pamirs in Tajikistan, the Tien Shan in Kyrgyzstan, and the Altai and Sayan Ranges in Mongolia and the Russian Federation.

The work of LOSL is rooted in indigenous understanding of the sacredness, cultural and environmental significance of the snow leopard across Central and Inner Asia. Since we began our work with the communities of these mountain regions, there have been multiple success stories of human-wildlife coexistence and rural communities championing wildlife. Our hard work and devotion to the sacred Snow Leopards are recognized on the international level with the Disney Conservation Hero Award (2020) and Stanford Bright Award (2020).

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Charleen Gavette

Charleen Gavette

Charleen Gavette serves in a consultatory capacity 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!”

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Shavaun Kidd

Shavaun Kidd

Shavaun Kidd consults for the Conservancy, serving as Outreach Manager. She maintains their presence on a variety of social media platforms and is the administrator of the Conservancy’s website and editor of the Conservancy’s online newsletter publication, “Snow Leopard Tracks.” 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 in 2014 as an education intern while completing her Master 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.

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Brian Peniston

Brian Peniston

Brian Peniston serves in a consultatory role as 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).

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