Nicole Benjamin-Fink, PhD
In the past 94 days, the world has lost 74 rhinos. That statistic is currently fueling urgency for Nicole Benjamin-Fink, PhD, founder of Conservation Beyond Borders. Without intervention, our children’s generation will not see the majestic rhino in the wild — or at all. “Iconic species are teeter-tottering on the brink of extinction,” she says.
Conservation Beyond Borders comprises a group of researchers who are developing science that helps inform decision makers from the local to the international level as they address the most challenging conservation concerns of our time. Everything starts locally, Benjamin-Fink explains, by gathering expert knowledge in individual communities from all stakeholders involved. Then, regionally, decision makers benefit from understanding and quantifying tradeoffs in actionable conservation strategies.
“That’s where we come in,” she notes. “Conservation Beyond Borders provides decision makers with road maps and procedural guidelines to adopt and enforce conservation-based behaviors that are predictable in terms of success and impact.” That is to say: The organization helps identify guaranteed strategies to save wildlife — alongside human populations — that will actually work.
But real life is more complex than estimates and numbers, which is why she uses machine learning and mathematical algorithms to help quantify the cultural, social and economic tradeoffs. “For decision makers, it serves as infrastructure for making choices about their conservation strategy that are science-based, informed and effective,” she affirms.
“Two defining insights from the past three decades of scholarship are that actionable strategies are needed to reverse extinction triquetrous in locations where humans and wildlife coexist, and that conservation-based solutions fall short when failing to employ cohesive guidelines that address peoples’ livelihoods,” she continues. “The poaching crisis has left the shores of Africa and Asia. The illegal wildlife trade not only has a devastating impact on our planet, but there’s also a revolving door between rhino poaching, human trafficking, the sex trade and political instability. In a time of social environmental responsibility, our wildlife seems to have been left behind.”
The hopeful news, Benjamin-Fink says, is that there are actionable strategies that can reverse the extinction trajectory and bring species back from the brink. “Our impact is measured by the number of wildlife we save, the number of qualified wildlife veterinarians we train and the number of wildlife-based jobs that really do change lives,” she declares. “The thing to think about is how we can best employ machine learning to quantify the data that’s captured by expert knowledge in order to produce effective conservation strategies that consider wildlife, the environment, economic frameworks and the human population that lives within those areas.”
Those looking to support Conservation Beyond Borders can purchase tickets for the organization’s gala, taking place in June. Attendees will be immersed in an interactive experience with African wildlife at a private Minnesota estate, all to benefit wildlife.