Marcella Kelly


Marcella Kelly


I am an Associate Professor at Virginia Tech in the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation. Born in Hollywood, California, my life and work are now probably the farthest away from a Hollywood lifestyle imaginable. I received my PhD from the University of California at Davis, where I originally thought I would become a veterinarian. But discovering wildlife science changed my life’s direction and I am now devoted to conservation of large wild cat species and other charismatic carnivores worldwide. The day-to-day can be unusual. I might begin the morning tranquilizing a black bear at our bear research center, return to the classroom to teach undergraduate students about wildlife population dynamics (a highly quantitative subject), meet the College Dean for a strategy session on a Department hire, then head back to my office to find an urgent message from one of my graduate students in Madagascar that riots are breaking out due to the recent elections, or from Belize that a hurricane is heading straight for our study site, and then trouble-shoot human safety while keeping conservation research afloat. I can honestly say – there is never a dull moment!!


United States

What draws you to the STIA conference?

The topics, content, and approach of the STIA conference look very different from anything I have done before. STIA looks like something that is very “outside the box” for me, and I feel I could benefit from unconventional approaches, advice, and ideas to increase my effectiveness in implementing international conservation.

What are you hoping to experience?

I have been engrossed in my world of wildlife research, advising, teaching, and grant writing for a while and it is sometimes hard to take a step back and “see” outside this lens, particularly how people unaffiliated with my field-based, international conservation work perceive that work. I wish to engage with people outside my field to gain an alternate perspective, one that allows me to think in systematically new ways to achieve my goals of conservation and education on an increasingly broad scale.

What are you most passionate about?

Even in Los Angeles there are natural places close enough to explore, which I visited as a child every year with my family. I fell in love with the natural world and especially with large cats, perhaps because of their innate mystery and beauty. Large cat conservation comes with the challenge of wildlife-human conflict. I am passionate about conserving the large cats of the world, educating people about the natural world, and finding creative solutions to reduce conflict between humans and wildlife.

How do you see transformation occurring from this conference?

I imagine this conference will provide new perspectives and illuminate different approaches in addressing complex issues, which I can then apply to natural resource management. I am excited by the idea of exposure to new ideas which could enable me to transform my approach to research, teaching, and outreach, and benefit my larger vision of becoming more effective in international conservation and management.

What’s your bigger vision?

Complexity in nature as the status quo. Add the human relationship with nature and you have complexity squared. The trained scientist in me strives to understand natural complexity by studying wild animals, but I realize that scientific work does not happen in a vacuum, and a more effective way to enact positive change will result from marrying certain human needs with that of the environment. My bigger vision is to facilitate this marriage and enable more effective conservation strategies.

What needs to happen for you to evaluate this STIA+ experience as a success?

I would like to engage in fruitful, dynamic discussions with a broad audience about the nature of international conservation. I am excited by the possibility of exposure to new ideas, thought processes, and potential systems for studying such complex issues and approaching conservation to the maximum benefit of both wildlife and people in multiple and varied ecosystems across the globe. If I come away with more tools to implement my vision, I will consider it a success.