Aquatic Biologist Karen Veverica Joins our Group of Advisors

Aquatic Biologist Karen Veverica Joins our Group of Advisors


Karen has helped many locals  from around the world to create fisheries, like this one in Sub-Sahara Africa.

Teaching Them To Fish

by Katie Jackson Auburn University College of Agriculture

Karen Veverica personifies that Chinese proverb about teaching a man to fish versus just giving him a fish. For roughly half of her 36-year career in aquaculture, the Auburn University Department of Fisheries and Allied Aquacultures employee and mother of two has lived and worked in Africa, training men and women in economically developing countries there not simply to fish but to fish farm, and thus, as the ancient adage concludes, feeding them for a lifetime.

For Veverica, who joined the fisheries department at Auburn in 1981 and in January was named interim director of Auburn’s E.W. Shell Fisheries Center, aquaculture in general and international aquaculture development in particular appears to have been written in the stars. A native of the “Great Lakes State” of Michigan, Veverica says it was obvious from an early age that water was most definitely her element.

“I’ve always been drawn to water,” she says. “One birthday, my brother gave me some diving equipment, and I would sit for hours at the bottom of the lake, fascinated.” In her younger years, she dreamed of becoming a marine biologist, but then she discovered aquaculture.

“Aquaculture started getting a lot of attention in the 1970s, and I realized that here was a field that would allow me to work around water and use my knowledge to produce food and make a difference in the world, and I said, ‘Oh yeah; there you go; that’s what I’ll do,’” Veverica says.

In 1976, fresh out of Michigan State University with a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences—“MSU’s fisheries degree was mostly fisheries management, and since I couldn’t afford to go out of state, biological sciences made the most sense,” she says—Veverica joined the Peace Corps, where a strong background in water chemistry and years of high-school and college French classes landed her the assignment she had hoped for, as a fish farming volunteer in Cameroon. With that placement, Veverica and two fellow female volunteers made Peace Corps history as the first women ever to have been placed in fish farming positions.

“For some reason, the Peace Corps had always considered fish farming a man’s job,” Veverica says. “They just happened to decide with us to experiment, to test us to see if women could handle the conditions and the labor involved.

“Before we had finished our two years, they had brought in another group of women.”
It was in Cameroon that she became aware of Auburn University’s fisheries program and, in particular, of faculty member Claude Boyd.

“My Peace Corps trainer was an Auburn fisheries grad, and he let me use his old college class notes to learn all I could about water quality for aquaculture,” she says. “They were his notes from Dr. Boyd’s class. So even though I’ve never officially taken one of Dr. Boyd’s courses, a lot of what I know I learned from him.”

When her overseas stint ended, Veverica returned to the States and worked with the Peace Corps for a short time as a trainer of new fish-farming volunteers, then in 1980 enrolled at Oregon State University to pursue a master’s in aquaculture. She was completing that degree and working at OSU’s marine science center when Auburn advertised an opening for an aquaculture technician at the fisheries research station.

“The day that announcement came out, three people put it in my mailbox, saying I fit the job description perfectly,” Veverica says. “All my professors were urging me to apply, too. Auburn was ‘The Place’ for warm-water aquaculture, and for them, to have a student of theirs get a job at Auburn was wonderful.”

At Auburn, she was responsible for helping manage the fisheries research ponds and facilities, but she had been in that role less than two years when Auburn was awarded a five-year U.S. Agency for International Development fish culture project in Rwanda, and she was tapped to be chief of party and training specialist of that mission for two years.

Two years turned into 10, and when she returned to Auburn and her job at the research ponds in 1993, she was accompanied by Roelof Sikkens, a Netherlands native whom she had met and, in 1988, married in Rwanda, where he was working for Cornell University as a drainage systems engineer. The couple’s son, Andrew, was born in ’93 and, a year later, daughter Diane.

From the get-go, Sikkens handled most of the child-rearing responsibilities—“he knew how much I loved my work,” Veverica says—and also took the lead in managing a commercial fishing operation in north Alabama that the couple had purchased as a side venture in 1995.

But neither motherhood nor entrepreneurship diminished Veverica’s passion for sharing her knowledge of sustainable fish culture with the developing world. In 1997, when the fisheries department offered Veverica a role in a collaborative international sustainable aquaculture project administered by Oregon State in Kenya, she and Sikkens packed up the little ones, ages 3 and 2, and went. In addition to conducting fish farming research and training, Veverica supervised construction of more than 70 ponds, water-quality labs and hatchery facilities. Andrew and Diane, meanwhile, started preschool and then school in Kenyan classrooms.

“We didn’t shelter them; we totally immersed them in the culture there,” Veverica says. “They didn’t know you get gifts at Christmas till we came back to Auburn” in 2000.

Five years later, another out-of-country opportunity came her—and her family’s—way, this time to serve as chief of party for a three-and-a-half-year, Auburn-led, private-sector-driven initiative to jump-start commercial aquaculture in Uganda through the development of model fish farms.

“The kids were in fifth and sixth grade, and my husband was working in the agronomy department’s cotton breeding program, so there was a lot more to consider this time, but they were all OK with the idea of going,” Veverica says, noting that Sikkens did travel back and forth to Auburn during that time to maintain his job with agronomy. And the children attended an international school instead of one in the Ugandan system.

Since completing the Uganda venture and returning to the Department of Fisheries and Allied Aquaculture, Veverica has traveled to several African nations for short-term projects and consulting work, but the family as a whole has stayed put. Andrew’s now a sophomore aerospace engineering major at Auburn; Diane just graduated from Auburn High School and will enroll in Vermont’s Bennington College this fall to study psychology and, interestingly, international development.

Veverica admits that balancing motherhood with an intense professional commitment brought its share of guilt trips through the years, but she says the international experiences have been a “huge advantage” to the family.

“My husband’s from the Netherlands, and we’ve all lived in Africa and traveled in Africa, Europe and Asia,” she says. “We both agreed our children should feel as if they are citizens of the world.”

HRH, Prince William honors our board member, John Kahekwa

<> at The Royal Society on September 12, 2013 in London, England.

HRH, the Duke of Cambridge addresses attendees at the Tusk Conservation Awards before honoring John Kahekwa for his work in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

HRH, the Duke of Cambridge handed the prestigious Prince William Award for Conservation in Africa 2016 to John Kahekwa at the Tusk Conservation Awards in London, at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

We at congratulate John and are doubly proud, and fortunate, to have him as a member of our board.

The Tusk Conservation Awards press release stated that, “this event gives us a chance to celebrate extraordinary people, whose work and lives might otherwise go unnoticed outside their fields. Their work with wildlife and communities in Africa safeguards the future for us all.

“HRH the Duke of Cambridge presented the Prince William Award, and Sir David Attenborough presented the Tusk Conservation and Wildlife Ranger awards. Sir David also received a special award from the Duke, for a lifetime of service to conservation.

“A huge thank you to everyone who played a part in making these wonderful awards a reality, especially our team and our sponsors. And heartfelt congratulations to all our finalists and winners.”

Earlier last year, Mr. Kahekwa was also presented the Whitley Award from HRH, the Princess Royal. Sir David Attenborough narrates a beautiful film about the Whitley Award, which we highly recommend. Watch it by clicking here.

In addition to the Whitley Award and the Prince William Award for Conservation in Africa, John has received several other prestigious awards for his work including the Marsh Award and is a three time recipient of the Medal of Merit for Ecology and Gorilla Protection.


HRH with our board member, John Kahekwa, at his far left.

The big picture strategy of

Hathaway enters a meeting at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC to discuss water infrastructure which will effect the world’s largest elephant herds.

It’s certainly exhilarating to travel to Africa. This is why we do all we can to encourage tourism and, in fact, will plan group trips in the near future to several African countries for our donors.

However, such trips for business are time consuming, expensive and often less is accomplished to help elephants during these trips than in meetings in the United States.

This is why we are focusing on a big picture strategy: policy making, water infrastructure problems, reforestation and herd management, all of which effect the world’s largest elephant herds.

These crucial issues can sometimes be resolved by phone calls, writing influential articles, developing relationships with key decision maker and meetings with ambassadors of African countries in Washington, DC, thereby greatly reducing time and travel expenses. This is what we describe as the macro vision – our big picture strategy.

Yet, at the same time, on the micro level, we will always answer the call to rescue only one elephant no matter where he or she may be in the world.

Indeed, we are presently working very hard to rescue one beautiful little forest elephant from the Abidjan Zoo in the Ivory Coast and, although it will require much time and hard work, we are confident we will succeed.


Important meeting with the Ambassador of Botswana in Washington, DC


Hathaway shaking hands with the Ambassador of Botswana at the Botswana Embassy in Washington, DC.

The founder of, Phillip Hathaway, was received by the Ambassador of the Republic of Botswana at the Washington, DC embassy last week. As a symbol of his esteem for His Excellency, the President, Ambassador Newman and the people of Botswana, Hathaway presented the ambassador with a replica of George Washington’s pistol tastefully encased in an attractive wooden box.

During the hour-long meeting, they discussed many issues effecting the estimated 160,000 elephants who live in the desert region of Botswana, especially water availability, reforestation and herd management.

Hathaway said, “It was an honor to meet the ambassador who represents His Excellency, the President and the wonderful people of Botswana. Hardly a day goes by in which I don’t say, thank God for Botswana. For if not for Botswana, I would have no hope for the survival of the African elephant. The Botswana Defense Force protects them and no hunting is allowed.

“So, I revere these wonderful people and their government. Without them, I would have never founded because our work in Sub-Sahara would be utterly impossible. Therefore, meeting with the ambassador was an important step in our mission of, ‘Ensuring a safe, natural environment for all elephants.’ And so, we envision maintaining a high level of rapport with the Government of the Republic of Botswana over the coming decades.”


Are Zoos Misleading Us? Ten Points To Ponder


This free, fully illustrated online magazine is an expose of the multi-billion dollar zoo industry, which confirms shocking facts about “surplus” animals – some of whom are babies – who are perfectly healthy yet are killed for convenience by zoos. Supported by thirty-eight references, this twenty-four page magazine is essential for those who care about animals.

New division of is launched has launched a new division. Its mission is – We advocate transforming zoos into wild bird sanctuaries. is both a figurative and literal expression of our desire to keep animals from being imprisoned in zoos and, at the same time, providing much needed habitat for wild birds.

We invite everyone to visit our beautiful website and to read Phillip Hathaway’s free and fully illustrated publication, Are Zoos Misleading Us?, which is available on this exciting new site.

Over 210,000 people sign our petition to save Can!


Three other forest elephants died at the Abidjan Zoo where some animals are starving.

“First we noticed that some of the animals are starving and in bad shape. We saw a lonely elephant and its was sad.” These are the words of an eye-witness who visited the Abidjan Zoo in the war-torn Ivory Coast on January 29, 2016. Also, a German citizen and zoologist has visited CAN several times and describes her situation at the zoo as “unsustainable”.

This is why we are delighted that our petition has been so well received. Over 210,000 people from around the world have signed it.

Yet, there remains much long, hard work. Going through the bureaucratic red tape in Africa is uniquely time-consuming and it will take months and months to complete. And, we must care for the animals as we work, as well. Then, we must assemble a qualified expert team to ensure CAN’s safety as we transport her. Finally, we must be absolutely certain she is taken to a place of safety, which will fulfill our mission, “A safe, natural environment for all elephants.”

But we will never leave the others behind without fighting for them, too. Along with CAN, we hope to rescue each and every one of the animals from that zoo.

So, please go to our petition by clicking here and sign it today.

CAN and all the animals at Abidjan thank you!

Estimated Administrative Costs to Rescue Can


July 21, 2016

Dear Friends,

Before reading the Estimated Administrative Costs to Rescue Can, I want to thank you most kindly for your generous gifts.

Like you, I have made sacrifices, too, working without a salary or an expense account for 22 months, since November 2014 when I began devoting all my time to the elephant crisis. I have worked 7 days a week and take no breaks or vacations. I have no volunteers or fellow workers so I am stretched rather thin. Yet, I am thinking in long range goals, building an organization that will thrive 20 years, 30 years and further into the future thus, “Ensuring a safe, natural environment for all elephants,” which, of course, is our mission statement.

Mindful of this, it is important to realize that this particular operation will take time. Long before the rescue takes place, we must make on site pre-rescue assessments, finalize arrangements in her new home and, lastly, satisfy the many legal and bureaucratic requirements, which will be our biggest and most time consuming challenge.

And, please take special note that these figures are estimates only and may vary greatly. Yet, at the same time, we have presented these figures in good faith with the hope that they are realistic.

1. Vet Fees – estimated at $4,500. This will cover a basic medical check up and part of the travel expenses of the physician. We are hoping that the eminently qualified Dr. Will Fowlds (click here to visit him on twitter) will be the physician in charge of this rescue.

2. Medicine – estimated at $4,500. Included in this expense are essential preventative medication and the costs of eye serum for Can’s chronic eye infection. Tranquilization is also included, however, I want to keep this to an absolute minimum to avoid any adverse effects. I feel this will be quite possible since she is well accustomed to interactions with humans and, therefore, will likely walk with us willingly to the zoo gates to ground transport and, from ground transport, to air transport. We will take no chances of her slightest injury during her travel.

3. Ground and Air Transportation to the Republic of Botswana – $40,000. This estimate was suggested by one of my board members, Grant Fowlds (click here to read his bio) who is Director of the Amakhala Game Reserve in South Africa (Grant, by the way, is Dr. Will Fowlds’ brother).

The spectacular, 19,000 acre Amakhala is a Big Five Game Reserve and home to rhino, lions, leopards, cheetah, impala, giraffes, buffalo and, of course, elephants.  A herd of 24 elephants presently live there and their numbers will soon increase to around 40. In keeping with our mission of “Ensuring a safe, natural environment for all elephants,” hunting is forbidden there.

As Director of the Amakhala, Grant has a unique depth of experience working with elephants and we are especially pleased that this includes transporting them on many occasions.

4. Basic Expenses for Rescue Team – $20,000. Pre-rescue evaluations include visits to the Abidjan Zoo, meetings with decision makers and logistical evaluations, particularly the best exit from the zoo and best route to the airport. The most critical objective of the pre-rescue visit, however, is a careful observation of Can’s health, her food and her living conditions.

The rescue team of about four people will travel from South Africa and remain in Abidjan about two days. I will probably arrive early to ensure that ground transportation for Can and all other arrangements are in place prior to the arrival of the team so that we all tightly coordinated for a smooth, efficient and costs effective transport.

5. Legal Fees for Bureaucratic Red Tape and many other essential Administrative Costs – $21,000. Obtaining Can’s release from the zoo will be our single biggest challenge. Nevertheless, we are prepared.

And, transporting an elephant from one country to another is closely scrutinized by the governments involved and by the Convention of International Treatise of Endangered Species (CITES). Lawfully complying with their many requirements can be time consuming and frustrating. One must remember “TIA” – this is Africa. Everything is difficult and takes a long time.

Total: $90,000

Any donations not used for this rescue will be used for other expenses and administrative costs.

We proudly welcome one of Botswana’s finest safari guides to our board


Born in the Magaliesburg mountains in 1974, Grant Reed was raised with a love for birds, snakes and all things African, a passion passed on from his paternal grandfather and father.

Grant’s run-in with snakes came earlier in life on his eighteenth birthday when he was bitten by a puff-adder and ended up spending six months in and out of hospital. Having survived hospital and the puff-adder bite Grant continues to be passionate about snakes and to this day he still lectures interested parties on snakes and snakebite.

A consummate naturalist, Grant’s interests include such diverse subjects as dragonflies, birds, butterflies and wildflowers. He is widely considered to be one of Botswana’s top guides.

Grant earned a Bachelor of Technology Degree from Pretoria Technikon, the FGASA (Field Guides Association of Southern Africa) Level III certificate and a several other specialist qualifications, which combined are similar to earning a Master’s Degree, or much more, in wildlife conservation. This, together with his practical, on-the-ground expertise, is truly invaluable to the mission of

Grant is also a founding director of Letaka Safaris and of Okavango Guiding School. A large portion of his passionate energy is directed to the training and development of guides in Botswana. He lives outside Maun on the banks of the Thamalakane River with his wife Trudi and his sons, Merrick and Ross.