March 17, 2022

Celebrating Women in Conservation

Meet Our Tap Into Change Scholarship Recipient, Rethabile Setlalekgomo


In celebration of Women’s History Month, and International Women’s Day (March 8), we wanted to share a unique experience Denver Zoo offers to female conservationists around the globe.

Women are an untapped resource for conservation. As the primary users of natural resources around the world, they are full of vital knowledge about wildlife and the environment and capable of driving change within their own communities. However, on a global scale and in the field of conservation, women’s roles are marginalized and underrepresented.

Untapped is a project that looks to give women the tools they need to gain knowledge, have a voice and feel empowered to become active leaders in wildlife conservation.

In 2020, Denver Zoo received a generous donation from the Del Mar Global Trust to support our Untapped program. That year, we were honored to award the Tap Into Change Scholarship to Rethabile Setlalekgomo, a Motswana Master student (note: Motswana is the adjective used to describe a person from Botswana). Retahbile is training to become a field ecologist- one of the first females in Botswana to do so.

In the planning stages of her study, Rethabile discovered an abundance of data on spotted hyena which lead her to her project focus: estimating habitat-specific densities of spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta) in Northern Botswana using camera traps and acoustic recorders.

The study centers on testing and developing novel methods of surveying spotted hyenas through passive acoustic monitoring devices. This research provides density estimates throughout the reserve, which can be extrapolated across the Okavango Delta. Previous studies have relied heavily on camera trapping for population monitoring, but the use of passive acoustic recorders is growing. These techniques are mostly used in isolation and are rarely combined.

In addition to her study, and with the support of an assistant, Rethabile was also able to start a “Women in Conservation” club in Khwai village. Khwai village is dominated by the bushmen community. Rethabile held workshops with the community members (mostly women and young girls) to discuss careers in conservation and sustainable utilization of natural resources found in and around Khwai village. On days where Rethabile was not the main speaker, community members allowed her a glimpse into their cultural activities such as grass cutting for thatching houses, harvesting wild fruits and vegetables, how to hunt using a spear (no animal was killed) and weaving beautiful baskets and jewelry using dried reeds.

Rethabile used the funds she was awarded for her field supplies, to support her community engagement work and was able to leverage additional funding to hire her female field assistant! Additionally, Rethabile purchased 5-liters of much-deserved ice cream to indulge herself after long hot field days.

When asked about her Untapped opportunity, Rethabile exclaimed, “the funds provided by Denver Zoo and the Del Mar Global Trust REALLY made fieldwork more fun, easy and quick. Much appreciated and wishing you many more years of supporting women. KE A LEBOGA”! *

The 2021 Tap into Change scholarship was awarded in December to two highly deserving women:  Jhusely Navarro and Onon Baatarkhuu. Jhusely is an early career conservationist and environmental educator working to conserve endangered species in Peru. She will apply the scholarship funds to pursue an advanced degree focusing on women and development. Onon is a former wildlife researcher and currently a school teacher in Mongolia, who will use the funds for an Eco-club for her students.  Congratulations to these very deserving recipients from 2021!

Thank you, Del Mar Global Trust, and to all of our donors who support the Denver Zoo’s conservation efforts. Your investment is empowering female conservationists around the world.  If you’d like to learn more about the Untapped program, or apply for our scholarship, visit our field conservation page.

*Ke a leboga means "thank you" in the Setswana language.


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