Laly Lichtenfeld


Big Cats Initiative Grantee

Photo: Laly Lichtenfeld and Living Wall recipient Kissau Majuka

Photograph courtesy African People & Wildlife Fund

Birthplace: Munich, Germany

Current City: Noloholo Environmental Center, Maasai Steppe, Tanzania

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

My earliest memories involve animals and the outdoors. Growing up, African wildlife held a particular fascination. As a young teenager, my interests ranged from veterinary sciences to environmental law. And then I found my calling: wildlife conservation.

How did you get started in your field of work?

My passion for wildlife is a part of who I am. Once I arrived at college and selected coursework in ecology and conservation, I began to realize my passion could also be my occupation. I dreamed of going to Africa and participated in a National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) course in Kenya during the summer semester of my freshman year. After that I never looked back, gearing all my studies to African ecology, conservation, politics, and economics. After graduating from college, I was fortunate to receive a Fulbright Scholarship to research the pros and cons of community-based conservation in southern Kenya. This is where I acquired my on-the-ground field skills and developed my interest in working with rural community members to help build local abilities to engage in wildlife and environmental conservation.

What inspires you to dedicate your life to African wildlife conservation?

Looking a lion in the eyes and seeing that wildness which is disappearing from the world and wanting to prevent that irreversible, unfathomable loss. The nighttime sounds of the bush, the local people I work with, the great vistas of the Maasai Steppe, the excitement of success, and the desire to overcome tomorrow's challenges. All these things are under my skin and in my blood.

What's a normal day like for you?

Sunrise on the Maasai Steppe. The sound of ground hornbills calling. After that, who knows? My responsibilities range from analyzing our lion monitoring and Living Wall data to responding to local incidents of human-wildlife conflicts. Together with our Tanzanian team, I help develop and deliver coursework on natural resource management for local villagers at our rural environmental center, Noloholo. I also spend time writing reports, publications, and grant applications to keep our work funded. But you never know, I may be stuck in the mud for hours or out looking for cheetahs or helping with a local school project. And then, as the sun goes down and throughout the evening, life becomes "normal" again. I am always listening for lions!

Do you have a hero?

I appreciate many heroes; it is hard to choose one. Nelson Mandela, leadership and perseverance; Aldo Leopold, ecological foresight; Barbara Kingsolver, storytelling; my mom, unconditional support.

All the people out there that are doing wonderful things for the planet and its wildlife. People who have time, despite busy lives, to give a little to make things better for each other and who respect the natural world.

What has been your favorite experience in the field? The most challenging?

It's hard to narrow down all the amazing moments. Lion time is always high on my list! In terms of our work, seeing the rural environmental center that my husband and I envisioned and built come to life is a particular joy. It was also an incredible challenge.

Regarding day-to-day events, our longest record for being stuck in the mud is about 18 hours. We've blown vehicle engines trying to get through in the rain. And, we nearly drowned when our truck was washed off a drift. So, the rainy season is a serious contender for providing the most challenging experiences! And yet, it is so beautiful, it's also my favorite time of year.

What are your other passions?

Wildlife photography, my Great Dane, horseback riding, writing, traveling, and exploring new places.

What do you do in your free time?

Reading, bird watching, walking, game driving.

If you could have people do one thing to help save Africa's wild species, what would it be?

The future of so many of Africa's wild species depends on the tolerance and support of the rural people who live among them. We need more people to recognize these individuals' potential as conservation actors—Warriors for Wildlife—who for example can help prevent conflicts with wildlife or who can stop poachers from coming into their communities and killing animals. Many of these people are heroes for wildlife on the African continent. Help us to celebrate and support them and get engaged with local, place-based actions on the ground!




  • Photo: Close-up of tiger

    Big Cats Education

    Use videos, photo galleries, and maps to give students a clear view of big cat biology and the threats they face.

In Their Words

The future of so many of Africa's wild species depends on the tolerance and support of the rural people who live among them.

—Laly Lichtenfeld

Our Explorers in Action

See Photos »

Meet All Our Explorers

  • NationalGeographic_1289095-flag.jpg

    Explorers A-Z

    At the heart of our explorers program is the quest for knowledge through exploration and the people who make it possible.

  • Photo: Michael Lombardi diving

    Explorers by Category

    Browse our different areas of exploration and discover the fascinating people behind the projects.