A 2015 graduate of the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service, Tatiana Riddle Hendrix currently works in Washington, D.C., as a Program Officer focusing on combating wildlife trafficking for the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).
Hendrix’s position with USFWS, which she calls her “dream job,” is the latest stop in a life’s worth of interest in wildlife conservation. She grew up on her parents’ farm in Guy, Ark., an Elephant and Wildlife Sanctuary, which has offered a refuge for elephants for nearly 30 years.
The sanctuary exposed her to not only different types of animals, but also to people from across the world who traveled to the sanctuary to visit or learn from the elephants.
“We had lots of researchers who would come, both locally – i.e. a few from Hendrix College and University of Central Arkansas – as well as internationally for research studies or to learn how to better manage elephants,” she said. “It was a huge opportunity for me to meet so many people who were working in elephant management on the conservation side as well as the research side.”
She began working with USFWS in 2012 as an undergraduate at UA Little Rock. Hendrix, who started with USFWS as an intern, would travel to Washington D.C. in the summers while working remotely during the school year. She continued to work with USFWS when she enrolled as a student at the Clinton School in 2013.
“I continued working with USFWS while I was at the Clinton School knowing that I wanted to work there after I graduated,” Hendrix said. “The Clinton School offered me the flexibility to maintain my connection to wildlife conservation.”
Her time as a Clinton School student saw her spend three months in Indonesia working on the Aceh Sustainable Development Caucus for her International Public Service Project. She went on to complete her Capstone project with USFWS and the Division of International Conservation.
I connected with USFWS through a contact of my mother, who has worked in Asian elephant conservation for the last 30 years. Through that person I was introduced to the agency, and I joined a program that is now called “Pathways”, which allows students to work with the federal government while they are in high school or college.
What was it like growing up on your parents’ Elephant Sanctuary?
It was a dream. As kids we didn’t even pay that much attention to the elephants. It was mostly all of the other animals – dogs, cats, horses – and the ability to run around on a huge farm in rural Arkansas. We did have some interaction with the elephants but only when our parents were there.
The interesting part, in addition to the animals, is that I had the opportunity to meet people from all over the world, including North America, Europe, Africa, and Asia. We hosted two-week courses for elephant management, and week-long veterinary workshops. We also hosted Elephant Experience weekends where the general public could sign up to come experience and learn about elephants. Over the years there were a number of visitors to the sanctuary including conservationists, researchers, and elephant enthusiasts.
How did it impact your career interests?
I got to college and I knew that I wanted to work internationally because it was an interest of mine and I had already gained some experience traveling abroad. My mother grew up in Switzerland and her side of the family lives in Europe so we traveled there a lot as kids. I was also really interested in working on wildlife, given my upbringing and my family’s background in elephants. My mother traveled to Asia a lot when we were kids and I was able to learn from her about different conservation issues, giving me a perspective that I wasn’t going to be able to find at a university. It definitely had an impact on my selection of a career choice. I just felt like I couldn’t really go any other way.
I saw it as a place where I was going to be able to get an education on social change and community engagement, which are both key to conservation because so much of wildlife conservation is working with people and trying to develop community-based approaches to conserving wildlife and the natural environment.
I wanted to be around people who were working on women’s issues, education and international development, so I was really seeking that broader perspective on social change and public service.
I saw it as a way for me to get a broader perspective, but also tailor the different projects that I had more control over, like IPSP and Capstone, to be wildlife conservation oriented. The Clinton School definitely gave me the education and experiences that I was looking for, and that have directly supported me in my current career with USFWS.