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If she had her druthers, Laly Lichtenfeld would spend her days photographing wildlife and engrossed in research, surrounded by the big herds of the East African plains.

“In terms of impact, I really need to be outside protected areas for now,” Lichtenfeld said. “I need to be working with communities to develop sustainable strategies for managing their environment and wildlife populations. We’re doing the hard work now so someday maybe I’ll find myself in a national park somewhere studying the lion population.”

Her passion for community conservation was inspired during the summer after her first year at Richmond when she joined the National Outdoor Leadership School in Kenya. She continued studying ecology and biology at Richmond and, after graduating, went to the bush as a 21-year-old to complete Fulbright research evaluating a community-based conservation program in southern Kenya.

“My interest not just in the wildlife, but also the human dimension has really excited me to look for that sweet spot — the win-win situations where people and wildlife can coexist and thrive together.”

Lichtenfeld, a National Geographic Explorer, came back to the States, where she expanded her research into master’s and doctoral degrees from Yale University. Degrees in hand, she and her husband, Charles Trout, relocated to Tanzania and co-founded the African People and Wildlife Fund. APW helps rural communities living near northern Tanzania’s protected areas find ways to cohabitate with animals that can be destructive and dangerous, but also have potential for benefits.

“One of the important things about our work is how holistic and strategic it is,” Lichtenfeld said. “Our model starts with preventing conflict and then moves to building capacity for communities to manage resources and eventually benefit from the land.”

APW is also working on sustainable enterprise development, including a women’s beekeeping initiative and a community-owned campsite that allows communities to benefit from the wildlife tourism industry.

Lichtenfeld said her work would not be successful without the partnerships forged with the communities APW supports.

“My husband and I quickly realized it’s never about just coming in from the outside and developing solutions in isolation,” Lichtenfeld said. “There’s such a wealth of knowledge in these communities. When you work alongside the people and you get an idea of what’s important to them — that’s when the really exciting innovations happen.”