Converse, collab, conserve

November 1, 2023


By Amy Ogle, ’26
Melanie Lippert, ’19
We need to be collaborators.

Melanie Lippert, ’19, met wildlife poachers in Somaliland whose stories cemented the trajectory of her career in journalism.

“I’m interested in why [the illegal wildlife trade] originated and how we can all solve it together rather than making the poachers or traffickers a huge villain,” she says. “We need to go a little deeper.”

Lippert traveled to Namibia and Somaliland to work with the Cheetah Conservation Fund, caring for injured cheetahs and raising orphaned cubs confiscated from traffickers. During that time, she met a poacher whose story was not one of a criminal but of a person trying to feed a family.

“The public and general people resonate a lot more with a positive story or a story they can relate to on a human level,” she says. “Instead of making it a criminal case or an investigative report, what if we show [the poachers’] side as a human?”

Now an associate producer with National Geographic’s Pristine Seas program, she helps create films about marine ecosystems to build support with local governments and communities to establish protected marine areas.

In Namibia, Somaliland, and Kenya, she witnessed locals coexisting with wildlife, often through innovative methods. For example, in Kenya she saw people using beehive fencing to prevent elephants from going into farms. Even poachers have important knowledge about cheetahs, but many lack awareness of methods to coexist with them and make a living without poaching, such as ecotourism. By swapping knowledge with locals, Lippert hopes to explore solutions and rewrite negative narratives that permeate conservation stories.

“When we go into these foreign spaces, we need to be collaborators,” she says. “When we collaborate and share knowledge rather than just preaching ideas, it can lead to super effective change that can find solutions to help both the people and the animals.”