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Alison Castillo, 2015

Always fascinated by wildlife, Alison’s passion for great apes was ignited during an extraordinary experience while visiting Africa.  Alison volunteered at the Aspinall Foundation’s Gorilla Sanctuary, Congo in 1993 and became responsible for ensuring orphaned Gorillas learnt the appropriate skills to survive in the forest.  Inspired by her experiences with adolescent apes, Alison not only learned to “speak gorilla”, but became fascinated with ape behavioral acquisition and the greater implications to ecosystem conservation.

With a husband in military service, Alison’s family relocated frequently.   The ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan meant a continuous schedule of deployments.  Such an unpredictable home life also made it difficult for Alison to chase her dream of working with primates.  In 2008, after her husband retired from the Marine Corps, Alison pursued a degree in Zoo Technology and sought out opportunities to learn all she could about great apes.  Afterwards, Alison completed internships at Knoxville and the North Carolina Zoos where she worked with blue monkeys, chimpanzees, gorillas, lemurs and even black bears and white rhinos. She finally gained her degree and worked at the North Carolina Zoo as a Chimpanzee and Lion keeper.  

In 2011 Alison was hired by Davidson County Community College to teach Introduction to Zookeeping classes at the Greensboro Science Center. Teaching allowed Alison to devote time to researching the conservation challenges that  great apes face and, which became the focus of her capstone work at UNCG. Alison defended her thesis on “The Split Listing of Chimpanzees and United States Conservation Legislative Mechanisms” in the Fall of 2013 and has continued to advocate for and work with chimps retiring from the biomedical industry.  Alison’s goal is for all the chimpanzees currently residing in laboratories to find sanctuary with appropriate social settings while engaging in natural behaviors.

Alison is currently pursuing a Master’s degree at Miami University, Ohio in their Global Field Program.  This curriculum includes three field schools at conservation hot-spots around the world.  During the summer of 2015, Alison studied desert ecology at the Rancho San Gregorio, and marine diversity at the Vermillion Sea Research Station on the Sea of Cortez, Baja, Mexico.  She swam with California seal lions, devil rays, fin whales, and common dolphins, and participated in an international effort to monitor whale shark global activity.

This summer (2016), Alison is headed to Malaysia to study the impacts of the palm oil industry and recent forest fires on primate populations in Borneo.  More specifically, Alison will be focusing on issues impacting orangutans and proboscis monkey, while collaborating with in situ community based conservation efforts.

When not teaching or pursuing her own academic goals, Alison serves as the Vice President for Possumwood Acres Wildlife Sanctuary, in Hubert, North Carolina.  Her volunteerism with the sanctuary is focused on the creation of an ecotherapy program that pairs non-releasable birds of prey with injured Marines out of Camp Lejeune Marine Corps Base.  Alison is also a volunteer with the North Carolina Zoo’s neonatal response team, assisting in hand-rearing infant primates that require human intervention.

Finally, Alison’s long term goal is to continue to teach and mentor the next generation of conservationists and animal care professionals.  She intends to combine a dynamic teaching environment for her students, with summers spent participating in citizen science projects and community based conservation around the world.  Alison plans to continue her advocacy work on behalf of great apes, and North Carolina’s native wildlife.

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