The Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo is making conservation a core part of its executive team, with the addition of Dr. Gráinne Michelle McCabe as the institution’s first Chief Conservation Officer (CCO).
The CCO position was added by the Wilder Institute in recognition of the wider global scope that the organization is taking, following successful partnerships with conservation organizations abroad, including in Ghana, Kenya, and Nigeria.
“This is showcasing the fact that the Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo is really trying to elevate their conservation agenda and their portfolio, and make sure that it’s embedded not just for those conservation decisions, but also in the wider organization, which is really great to see,” said Dr. McCabe.
Dr. Clément Lanthier, CEO of the Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo said that Dr. McCabe in the CCO role, would be assisting the organization through an ambitious plan to expand conservation programs by 2030.
“With her 15 years of international experience in leading transformations, translocation and community conservation, we’re confident Dr. McCabe will help to build the Wilder Institute’s national and global reputation as a leader in wildlife conservation,” he said.
Dr. McCabe said that as an organization, the zoo was looking at evaluating potential partnerships that meet the criteria of providing impact for wildlife species, and for the communities that live alongside that wildlife.
“We haven’t settled on any new regions just yet. But we’re going to be using quite a standardized approach to try to evaluate different projects,” she said.
“One of the biggest things is we have to be able to show that we can have an impact for that species or for those local communities, and so that means do we have the right skills to be able to address the threats that are facing those species?”
She used the example of the zoo’s partnership in Ghana with the Wechiau Community Hippo Sanctuary as a model for the success they’d like to build elsewhere.
“One of the threats was the loss of habitat for the hippo population that was there, we partnered with a local community… we helped them to really build the sanctuary up, provide funding for patrolling to be able to protect the hippos, but then also being able to go in and help on the community side,” Dr. McCabe said.
“We helped them set up small businesses to collect and process Shea nuts and then produce Shea butter to be able to sell on the market for products like Shea lotions, etc. So, we’re looking for projects like that, where our skills, our expertise, and our resources can lead to both the protection of wildlife, but also getting local communities can benefit.”
A return to Calgary
Coming to the Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo in the CCO role is a return to the city for Dr. McCabe.
“There’s just so much wildlife here, such an incredible lifestyle here, and I’ve always admired the work of the Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo,” she said.
She grew up in the city, and received her Master’s degree in biological anthropology from the University of Calgary, before getting a PhD in ecological anthropology from the University of Texas at San Antonio.
More recently she has served as the Head of Field Conservation and Science at the Bristol Zoological Society and was part of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Task Force on Biodiversity and Family Planning.
“It’s kind of a roller coaster of emotion, obviously. Very excited to be coming back, as my husband and I have always talked about coming back to Calgary. Coming back to Canada,” Dr. McCabe said.
“I’ve worked all over the world, and I’m certainly very passionate about global conservation. I’m glad that this is a position where I have the ability to do both Canadian wildlife but also still have a focus in Africa, which is where I spent most of my career working.”