One life, one chance to create positive change

Denver-area residents make conservation waves

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Nancy Kiyota grew up on a farm. She developed a respect and care for wildlife, and this sensitivity instilled in her as a child has had lasting effects.

“We have to protect animals and conserve the environment to have healthy lives ourselves,” Kiyota said.

Today, Kiyota, who lives in Washington Park, uses her passion to volunteer with a Littleton-based wildlife conservation organization called the Katie Adamson Conservation Fund.

Established in memory of an inspiring teen who lost a battle with cancer, the nongovernmental organization, or NGO, was founded by Littleton resident Dave Johnson in 2014 with an overarching mission to make the world a better place.

“People here need to realize the greatness of what surrounds us and take part in what is going on,” Johnson said.

Johnson has noticed a widespread and growing public interest in participating in conservation and preservation of the planet but realizes many people are unsure of how to channel their well-meaning enthusiasm.

Under the KACF umbrella, Johnson is able to aid in global conservation efforts by bridging the gap between people who care and who want to help but don’t know where to start.

With 31 years of professional animal care experience as a zookeeper, Johnson was inspired to connect people with wildlife to make a positive impact specifically focused on mediating human-wildlife conflict. During the last eight years, KACF has amassed a cadre of more than 200 volunteers who are actively participating in conservation efforts both locally and globally. The organization is active in the U.S. and 18 other countries and has established 23 ongoing partnerships worldwide.

One of Johnson’s initial inspirations occurred four years before founding KACF while visiting the Chepang people of Nepal, who were in need of support after being removed from the Chitwan National Park protected area. He has since visited annually to help build fencing — which thwarts unwanted cattle grazing — strengthen community and change attitudes about wildlife.

This work has served to build a strong, beneficial partnership. For example, prior to partnering with KACF, the greater one-horned rhino in Nepal was a threatened species, being poached at an average of 12 per year. According to Johnson, since the partnership with KACF, that number has decreased by 92%, reducing the poaching to only one occurrence every other year.

Congress Park resident Heather Schwartz was one of the participants on an annual KACF trip to Nepal in 2017. She now serves as the organization’s social media manager and has the opportunity to go on many KACF trips.

Schwartz, who has always loved animals, said the opportunity to take these trips to help wildlife gives her the chance to see the profound impact of intervention first hand.

“One of my favorite memories was meeting a spicy 8-month old rhino in Nepal who was rescued by one of our KACF partners, The National Trust for Nature Conservation,” Schwartz said.

The NTNC found him malnourished after he had nearly drowned in a monsoon, Schwartz said.

“With the help of NTNC’s rehabilitation efforts and his joint tenacity, this orphaned rhino was eventually released back into the wild,” Schwartz added.

KACF has had a positive impact in other regions as well. The organization has implemented beehive fencing in Nepal and Tanzania, right outside the Mkomazi National Park. Constructing these fences as a natural elephant repellant has helped with elephant-human conflict.

Like Schwartz, one of Kiyota’s favorite memories is also connected with wildlife in rehabilitation.

“We got to see an orphaned baby elephant that had been rescued,” Kiyota said. “It’s inspiring to see the work people are doing to help animals.”

For people wishing to contribute but stalled on how to get involved, Kiyota, Schwartz and Johnson all offer ideas.

Aiding in field work with KACF abroad is one way to contribute to wildlife conservation. But there are many opportunities locally to help wildlife that do not require such a hefty time and financial commitment, Kiyota added.

“Don’t litter or pollute the water. Pick up trash, even if it is not yours. Carpool, combine errands when driving. Be mindful and conserve water, reduce plastic use, and recycle and compost when possible,” Kiyota said. “Even small actions in the community can add up and help wildlife.”

She also recommends spending more time outdoors.

“When we experience the benefits nature has on our well-being, it helps us be more inclined to protect it,” Schwartz said.

Johnson suggests those who have the space can establish a pollinator garden to support local biodiversity.

For those seeking local fieldwork experience, Colorado Parks and Wildlife is recruiting volunteers to help with conservation of the black footed ferret. Likewise, the Denver Zoo will soon be seeking volunteers to help monitor the survival of boreal toads.

Other wildlife conservation organizations seeking volunteers in Denver and the surrounding areas that KACF has relationships with include the Butterfly Pavilion, the Downtown Aquarium, Wildlife Protection Solutions, Idea Wild and Nature’s Educators.

Eventually, Johnson hopes to get involved with area mountain towns to ease human-bear conflict.

“We only have one life and one chance to create some positive change,” Johnson said.

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