Amy Clanin, Founder and Executive Director of Primate Education Network (PEN), talks to Mongabay.com about connecting and empowering primate conservation educators.
Drawing from her personal experience as a primate educator and the challenges she saw others facing, Amy Clanin envisioned a network that would advance the field of primate conservation education by addressing three needs of educators: connections, resources, and services. It was this vision that led her to create the Primate Education Network (PEN). PEN is at the forefront of primate conservation education, providing a community and collaboration platform for primate educators.
“I like to say that my mom had something to do with creating my destiny,” explains Amy Clanin. “When she went into labor with me, she refused to go to the hospital until she watched the end of the King Kong movie. A few years later, my mother, who was a musician, delivered singing telegrams in a gorilla suit and tutu.”
These childhood experiences were telling; Clanin has gone on to devote her entire career to primate conservation, and holds degrees in Primate Behavior and Ecology and Anthropology.
Amy Clanin demonstrating a chimpanzee vocalization in Senegal. The students roared with excitement, and then they repeated after her. Photo courtesy of Amy Clanin.
“I began my career by giving tram tours at the Knoxville Zoo and facilitating guided observations of world-renowned signing chimpanzees at the Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute in Ellensburg, WA,” she says. “I studied monkeys in Costa Rica and worked with great ape conservation organizations in Uganda, Borneo, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. I also designed and managed an education and outreach project on chimpanzees as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Senegal.”
Clanin serves as PEN’s Executive Director, applying her specializations in primatology, conservation education, and non-profit leadership. She leads a dedicated and dynamic team, who share a common conviction and passion for primate conservation education. Clanin says, “This has become the fuel for PEN’s growth and success.”
She adds, “PEN was a long time in the making. My ideas for the network evolved over a decade. I spent more than five years working on operations, program management, and fundraising at non-profit conservation organizations in Washington, D.C. I was ready to start my own initiative and take on something more challenging. I wanted to utilize my expertise, passion, and entrepreneurial spirit to have more impact and solve systemic problems in primate conservation education.”
Importantly, her experiences as a primate educator inspired her to create the network. Throughout her career, Clanin saw her colleagues in primate education consistently encounter similar challenges, such as a lack of expertise, resources, and collaboration – just to name a few.
“Without sufficient resources and training, it’s hard to get an education project off the ground in primate habitat countries,” she explains. “There is also a demand for existing primate education projects to design and improve their monitoring and evaluation components.”