For the past decade, Forbes magazine has annually recognized the best and brightest rising stars under the age of 30 in 20 industries. It’s an honor for 600 individuals worldwide, and it’s embedded with the prediction of greater things to come for the chosen few.
Among this year’s winners is Warrenton’s own Gabriela Fleury, 29, known to all as Gabi. She was cited for her conservation work and is one of just three conservationists chosen globally to make the science list. The annual 30 under 30 Class of 2021 was announced on Dec. 1.
Fleury works as the conservation partnerships officer for the Rainforest Trust, also based in Warrenton. With a resume sparkling with achievement, her work in Namibia, where she led a research team to test ways to reduce cheetah/livestock conflict, was one of the projects that caught Forbes attention.
She will soon be testing scent deterrents to keep African wild dogs away from commercial farms safely. Her life goal is to make the world a better place to live, especially among those most in need.
“It’s very rare for a wildlife conservationist to be on the list,” said Fleury. “It’s usually geared toward physics, engineering and health care. It’s a recognition by Forbes on the importance of wildlife conservation.”
Fleury is a Brazilian-American born in the states and has traveled the world in pursuit of her passion. “I knew what I wanted to do since I was 3. There was no defining moment when I realized it. It happened before I can consciously remember,” said Fleury.
One of the prosaic but essential projects was her work centered on predators killing livestock in Africa. In such situations, farmers respond by killing the predators. After habitat destruction, brute force wildlife control has the most significant negative impact on threatened species.
Another interesting phenomenon is her work on jackal control and livestock depredation. “Community education is important. For example, when you kill predators like jackals, they will reproduce faster and end up eating more sheep. We talk to the herdsmen about the ecology behind a bad idea for them economically,” said Fleury.
She spent almost five years in four different African countries, studying ways to solve these and similar problems. She found the work fascinating because it involved animal behavioral ecology, plus working with rural communities and their cultural perceptions of risk.
At the Rainforest Trust, Fleury manages the organization’s Fellows and Guardians programs. Her efforts center on supporting rangers and park guards by providing them the resources to achieve their conservation work while offering recognition for what is often a difficult job.
After graduating from James Madison University, where she majored in geographic science, she earned a master’s degree in conservation biology from the University of Cape Town in South Africa.
She plans to pursue a Ph.D. in conservation biology because “I can’t get enough of it!”
She is currently in a holding pattern for a Fulbright scholarship because of COVID-19. She received the grant earlier this year to work with African wild dogs. During the study, a Fulbrighter works and lives with the host country's people, sharing daily experiences. The program allows the grantee to appreciate others' viewpoints and beliefs, the way they do things and the way they think.
Fleury envisions the next 10 years as working in a large nonprofit that functions independently of the government, as a team leader working on conservation issues.
Since she has worked in southern Africa, she would like to return to that part of the world while being based stateside. “It’s a difficult lifestyle to live in-country full time. I think you can achieve a better work-lifestyle balance living in the U.S.”
“My abiding interest is to be able to apply academic research, so it's practicable with on the ground conservation.”
Fleury attributes to her drive to a difficult childhood; she is a pediatric cancer survivor. From the ages of 7 to 9, she underwent chemotherapy. “Today, I don't take anything for granted. I have a sense I’m here for a reason. I want to be able to contribute my skills in the best way possible.”
Fleury hopes that being on the Forbes list brings more attention to wildlife conservation. As a black scientist, she thinks it's good to be on the list and show people that scientists come in different ages, colors and genders. “I hope it gets other people excited about wildlife conservation and wanting to learn more."
So, is our honored scientist all work and no play? Not at all. She is co-founder of the indie video game studio Bright Frog Games Studios. “And I like cats, caffeine and Marvel comics, and write fiction novels in my spare time.”