Friend of Nsefu: Judy Wheatley Q&A

1.  Judy, we are so grateful for yours and Chuck's friendship and we would
like to share your story with our readers. What got you involved with
wildlife and issues pertaining to wildlife?

I think my involvement evolved as I grew up.  I’ve always been an animal lover …. To the point that when I was a child, my stuffed animals took up most of the bed and I huddled my fat little body in a corner because I wanted them to be comfortable.  I became more involved when I started teaching elementary school and wanted to help my students understand the importance of protecting the environment and wildlife.  Over the years, Chuck and I have become involved (mostly with financial support) with several conservation organizations, with yours being the most recent.

2.  Along with your personal work in conservation, you are also on the
Board of the San Diego Zoo.  How did that all come about?

After moving to San Diego in the early 80’s, we became members of the San Diego Zoo and eventually donated to the “Hippo Beach” exhibit.  Development folks invited us to join them on a photo caravan at what is now their Safari Park.  When we fed giraffes and rhino, we were hooked.  During the caravan, I mentioned that when I cut back on work, I’d like to volunteer at the Zoo.  The development person must have had selective deafness because two days later, I got a call from the chair of their Celebration for the Critters who asked if I’d like to help them.  I attended a meeting, didn’t feel worthy, and tried to weasel out … and eventually worked on that committee for about eight years, chairing the event for two years.  At a donor event, we were seated with Berit and Tom Durler and she eventually asked if I’d be interested in serving on the board. This is my 10th year as a trustee and I feel I can make a bigger difference with my involvement than we can with our limited ability to donate.

3. Right now, do you think we as conservation organizations are "finally"
getting the message out to the public about how critical the poaching
crisis has become and do you think these groups are actually making a
difference in the future of endangered species?

That’s a tough one.  People post heartbreaking photos and information about poaching and I never see anything in defense of the activity.  Everyone is sad, mad, disgusted, etc. and says something must be done.  It’s taking the step to be part of the solution that’s toughest.  We didn’t realize how far our money can go with international conservation until I spent a week at White Oak Conservation Center in Florida and talked to John Lukas, who runs Okapi Conservation project in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  I discovered that the money we donated toward an exhibit at the Zoo could have built two schools and paid their rangers for a year.  Having said that, Zoos play a critical role in connecting people with wildlife and have many conservation projects, so it’s important to support both zoos and field conservationists.

4. You are a true "conservation hostess with the mostest" in the sense
that you bring people together to share ideas and create strategies. Are
we correct in the assumption that you really love that part of
conservation?

It’s like I mentioned earlier, I can make a bigger difference with my involvement than donations.  Over the past 10 or so years, I’ve established good connections with many conservationists and do my best to facilitate collaboration.  We’re going to go on our 8th African safari in June and each time, we arrange a visit to a conservation project in an effort to inspire fellow travelers to get involved.  A representative of Gorilla Doctors will speak with us in Rwanda and Dr. Michael Chase of Elephants Without Borders will speak with us in Botswana.

5. If you had the ability to do ONE thing right now to save endangered
species...what would it be?

End worldwide corruption. 

6. You have had vast experiences with other terrific non-profits in the
world and you work with the World Famous San Diego Zoo. So... we have to
ask, what made you and Chuck "believe" in our foundation Nsefu Wildlife?

Our involvement was entirely by serendipity.  Nsefu wanted drones, Coe went for the gusto and emailed the CEO of QUALCOMM when she read they were working with drones.  Knowing Chuck’s involvement with conservation, he delegated response to Chuck.  The co-founders came to our ranch to talk and we could feel your passion and commitment.  We liked the “all encompassing” approach.  Rather than SAY they need to protect their wildlife, you’re working to help with their quality of life (income, education, etc) and show them the connection between wildlife and tourist income.  A co-founder is the “boots on the ground” person who runs the Zikomo Safari Lodge that employs locals and brings the message to the tourists.  Nsefu/Zikomo have made impressive progress in the two short years since we first met.  I think it can serve as a model for other projects and am hanging on for the wild ride.