Mary Wykstra is the founder and director of Action for Cheetahs in Kenya (ACK). Mary started the program in 2001 in affiliation with the Cheetah Conservation Fund and the Kenya Wildlife Service. In 2009, she founded Carnivores, Livelihoods and Landscapes, a Kenya-based charity under which ACK and other carnivore projects operate. ACK was the first project and has grown from having only two employees to over 20 in 10 years. Together with a fellow colleague, Cosmas Wambua, they launched research studies on the ecology and status of cheetahs in Kenya. They expanded the study to evaluate the range-wide status of cheetahs, and in 2007, they completed the first National Cheetah Survey. The study involved the mapping of prey, factors that influence cheetah persistence and human impact on cheetah survival. It was also used in setting objectives for the regional and national strategies for cheetahs (and wild dogs).
Mary holds a Bachelor of Science from Michigan State University and a Master’s of Environmental Management from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. In February 2020, she completed Women in Conservation Leadership training through Colorado State University's Pathways to Human Dimensions in Conservation Program. Mary has experience in both Kenya and in Namibia with data collection, cheetah research techniques, capture and immobilization, community development, and education.
Mary is proud to lead a team of over 20 staff who share her passion for cheetahs as they continue to have an impact on saving the cheetah, reducing conflicts, and encouraging environmental caretaking. Young people are the future of cheetah conservation, and Mary enjoys watching staff and students grow their skills in research and conservation leadership. In 2010, ACK launched a second study site in Samburu at the Meibae Community Conservancy about 90 km northwest of the Samburu National Reserve to compare cheetah survival in pastoral communities. The field base was officially opened in 2017.
Mary has co-authored peer-reviewed papers and several chapters in a cheetah book using data from the past several years.
Cosmas is a co-founder of Action for Cheetahs in Kenya. He began working with the project as a Senior Research Assistant in 2002. His work included staff supervision, programme development, research and analysis and compiling reports among other administrative duties.
Cosmas was the Nationwide Cheetah Survey Logistics Consultant at Action for Cheetahs in Kenya since January 2019 until his appointment as Assistant Director in January 2020.
Cosmas has a Bachelor of Science from Dr. B. R Ambedkar University in India and a Master of Science degree in Ecology and Systematic Zoology from Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia. Prior to working with ACK, Cosmas volunteered with the Kenya Wildlife Service (2001 - 2002) gaining valuable experience in conducting aerial wildlife counts, mapping, and vegetation surveys. From 2015 - 2018 Cosmas was a lecturer at Northeastern University in Kitui before returning to work full time with ACK as the National Cheetah Survey Logistics Consultant. In January 2019 Cosmas took his current role as Assistant Director. He plans to pursue a Ph.D. in a climate change-related topic involving wildlife and rural communities.