Michelle Gadd
Michelle with Ollie the rhino

Michelle Gadd

Large Scale Conservation Specialist

hanging on to pieces of the planet

meet michelle

Michelle Gadd is an ecologist trained in both social and natural sciences. Born and raised in the Rocky Mountains, she has spent her career studying African wildlife: surveying amphibians in Kenya and DRC; studying elephants in Kenya, South Africa, and Botswana; and learning natural history from local residents. Along the way, she completed her doctorate on elephant ecology, focused on ecological compatibility of elephants and cattle, conflict between wildlife and people, and how financial benefits affect attitudes towards conservation. Michelle served as the head of the African elephant and African rhino programs for the US Fish & Wildlife Service from 2005-2019, providing financial and technical support across sub-Saharan Africa. In 2019, Michelle left USFWS to act as the Head of Global Conservation at The Walter Family Conservation Fund. 

hanging on to pieces of the planet
Nominated by: Jaime Robinson, MN'14
Class of 2024 Location USA
Michelle with the Bucklands team
Michelle with the Bucklands team

In my lifetime, I saw humanity’s attention shift from protecting areas to protecting biodiversity. Conservation groups shifted away from quantity in terms of area, and instead championed quality in terms of the density of species in an area. Parks and other large lands fell out of fashion. Wilderness was forgotten. 

But hanging on to tiny pieces of the planet isn’t enough. If we let these places go now, we will never get them back. What we lose now, we lose forever. 

We have a chance to save wildlife now, and saving it will always be better than trying to put it back later. With the passion, commitment, and generosity of a few fabulous donors, we are investing in big, fabulous, wild places. We aim to secure the big magical wild spaces that are left, to reconnect areas that have been isolated, and to restock and restore indigenous species to surviving habitat. By investing big rather than small, we have a better chance of saving not only the plants and animals that occur in these places but also ecosystem function, evolutionary potential, genetic variation. 

In a twist on the concept of “if you build it they will come,” we believe that if you secure land, you will save wildlife. Setting aside areas big enough to maintain key species and ecosystem function, large enough to give plants and animals varied habitat, room to move and adapt to seasonal or climatic change, expansive enough to provide refuge and recovery.  


But hanging on to tiny pieces of the planet isn’t enough. If we let these places go now, we will never get them back. What we lose now, we lose forever.”

- Michelle Gadd
Michelle with rhino monitor Dennis in Serengeti
Michelle with rhino monitor Dennis in Serengeti

Seeing my colleagues happy to come to work and proud of what we do is incredibly satisfying. We are trying to create areas that are biologically healthy and loved by neighbors. We are creating places that are refuges for wildlife and valued by local people. 

With committed private investors, we identify priority places and secure the financial resources needed. We provide the capital to transition from scraping a living and operating at a loss to shifting to a wildlife-based economy. We recognize that we are just custodians, taking care of the place for a short period in ecological time. Watching our staff embrace these changes is immensely rewarding. 

We have taken land from being covered in snares and illegal charcoal kilns to having native antelope back within months, and white rhinos back within one year, black rhinos within two.

Simultaneously, we are investing in quality of life for all of our staff and their families (improved salaries, full nutrition on the job, new houses, on-site medical care, schools and scholarships).

It is very fulfilling knowing that, with or without me, my colleagues are passionate about carrying on our mission.

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