Sonya Kahlenberg, Ph.D.: Senior Director, Thriving Futures

Sonya is a great ape behavioral biologist by training and became a passionate advocate for conservation after studying wild chimpanzees and orangutans and seeing firsthand the threats they face and the human context in which these occur. For nearly two decades, she has helped advance wildlife conservation initiatives in Africa and Southeast Asia. Her work has ranged from organizational leadership to program management and implementation, including anti-poaching, conservation education, behavior change, and capacity building efforts. Prior to joining the Legado team in 2021, she worked with the Gunung Palung Orangutan Conservation Program in Borneo and the Kasiisi Project in Uganda, and served as Conservation Director for the Kibale Chimpanzee Project, also in Uganda. Most recently, Sonya was the first Executive Director for the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education (GRACE) Center, an award-winning gorilla sanctuary and international conservation organization focused on saving critically endangered Grauer’s gorillas in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. All of this work has given Sonya a deep appreciation for the complexity of conservation issues and has forged her commitment to using holistic approaches that prioritize both human well-being and conservation outcomes and put local people at the heart of decision making.

Sonya completed her undergraduate studies in zoology and psychology at Ohio Wesleyan University and received a master’s degree and Ph.D. in biological anthropology from Harvard University. She was previously a post-doctoral researcher at Harvard and a lecturer and visiting assistant professor of biology and anthropology at Bates College in Maine. In addition to her work with Legado, Sonya advises several wildlife conservation and animal welfare organizations and is on the Board of Directors for the Costa Rica Wildlife Foundation.