Helle Research

Samantha received her B.S. in Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology from the University of Minnesota in 2014 and is currently working on her M.S. in NRSM Wildlife Ecology and Management. Sam has gained research experience working closely with the UMN’s Dr. J.L. David Smith and the National Trust for Nature Conservation (NTNC) in Nepal researching human/wildlife conflict in rural communities around Chitwan National Park. Specifically, she explored how these communities managed and perceived tigers in areas of high conflict by conducting interviews and holding focus groups with villagers. This experienced opened her eyes to the critical, yet overlooked human component to tiger conservation.

Today, Chitwan National Park (CNP), Nepal is one of the only places in the world where more tigers exist today than 30 years ago. However, an unforeseen consequence of tiger expansion is an exponential increase in the number of humans killed by tigers in community forests around CNP. Human-tiger conflict is one of the most urgent issues related to tiger conservation. The key to sustaining the conservation success in Nepal is to address this crisis. As the primary collectors of forest products, women are the most at risk for attacks by tigers. A recent study revealed that women around CNP have more negative views towards tigers and tend to be less knowledgeable about tiger ecology than men, and therefore perceive few benefits from protecting tigers.5 Furthermore, at both local and global scales, women are underrepresented in natural resource management. Therefore, addressing gender issues is a “high priority” in the development and implementation of sustainable conservation projects.

Samantha’s M.S. research will explore coping mechanisms of rural women who live in human-tiger conflict “hotspots” around CNP. In 2018 Samantha will be conducting interviews and focus groups with women in bufferzone community forests around CNP. As part of an initiative by NTNC to mitigate human-tiger conflict, this data will be used to generate a database of coping strategies in conflict hotspots and inform an education program that incorporates a gender-sensitive approach to ecological education and invests in local women as an underrepresented group natural resource management.

In addition to her M.S. research, Samantha co-founded 501C3 non-profit Project Conservation with UMN alumna Emily Erhart. Project Conservation’s mission is to conserve the world’s ecosystems and wildlife by supporting ongoing conservation research. Through the production of scientific media publications, Project Conservation seeks to spread public awareness and promote environmental education worldwide. In its first major campaign, Project Conservation raised over $10,000 to rebuild an ecologically important village in rural Nepal that was decimated in the devastating 2015 earthquake. Project Conservation is currently in production of its first documentary film The Last Tiger that documents the current challenges of tiger conservation in Nepal’s growing human-dominated landscape. You can check out the official trailer and learn more about Project Conservation by visiting the website. https://www.projectconservationfund.org

Sam next to elephant