Wild Felid Legacy Scholarship


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The 2019


Read about our 2018 recipients here>

Read about our 2017 recipients here>

Read about our 2016 recipients here>


We will start accepting applications for the 2019 scholarship in January, 2019. All application materials must be received by the Scholarship Chairperson by MARCH 30, 2019. Incomplete applications will not be considered. Click on the "Scholarship Application Criteria" link below for details and instructions on applying.

Scholarship Application Criteria



WFA began awarding The Wild Felid Legacy Scholarship in 2009 to encourage and support graduate level university students involved in wild felid research. To date, 26 scholarships have been awarded. The scholarship honors distinguished and dedicated biologists who lost their lives while seeking to understand and contribute to the conservation of wildlife: Dave Maehr, Ian Ross, Rocky Spencer, Eric York, Deanna Dawn, and Donna Krucki. Scholarships are made possible through grants and donations to WFA from The Summerlee Foundation, Dee Dawn, WFA members, Altria Group and other contributors.

Image bullet: Puma track Deanna Dawn (1961 – 2012) — Wildlife Biologist & Consultant; M.S. from San Jose State University, CA; WFA founding member and member of WFA Scholarship and Election Committees.

Click here to make a donation to the Wild Felid Legacy Scholarship in Deanna's honor.

Image bullet: Puma trackDonna Krucki (1956 – 2014) - naturalist, Park Ranger for Orange County, California, and educator who contributed significantly to the understanding of mountain lion ecology and behavior. After retirement, Donna worked full time with the UC Davis southern California mountain lion project.

Click here to make a donation to the Wild Felid Legacy Scholarship in Donna's honor.

Image bullet: Puma track Dave Maehr (1956 – 2008) — University of Kentucky Professor and former Florida Panther Team Leader for the Florida Game and Freshwater Fish Commission. Read a testimonial…

Dave Maehr (1956–2008)

Image: Dave Maehr in his office(memorial written by Darrell Land, Florida Panther Team Leader, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, 18 November 2008)

On 20 June 2008, the wildlife profession lost one of its own. Dave Maehr, 52, and his pilot Mason Smoak were killed in a small plane crash near Lake Placid, Florida while monitoring radio-collared black bears. Dave was a professor at the University of Kentucky; he leaves behind his wife Diane and his two adult children Clif and Erin.

I first met Dave in the spring of 1984 in Gainesville, Florida; Dave was a bear biologist for the Florida Game and Freshwater Fish Commission and I was just starting graduate school at the University of Florida. My graduate work was completed a year-and-half later and at the same time Dave became the new leader of the state's Florida panther team. One of Dave's first actions was to hire a temporary biologist to serve as a "toter and chopper" for this team. So, in December 1985, Dave and I headed to Naples, Florida and embarked upon a decade's worth of panther research and management together.

Dave was a strong-willed person with a tremendous inner drive to keep moving forward. He had a low tolerance and little patience for what he considered mediocrity. With each passing year and with each new panther publication, Dave became more convinced that a certain amount of wave-making was necessary to achieve long-term panther conservation goals.

Image: Dave Maehr & FL pantherDave's tenure with the Commission began to unravel over a captive breeding program. In the early 1990s, the panther population consisted of 50 or fewer animals. The managing agencies decided to implement a captive-breeding program as a last-ditch effort to save the panther. Dave and his fellow panther biologists were unhappy with this decision because it moved our focus away from addressing the root of the problem – habitat loss throughout the panther's former and current range. Dave was adamant that the real solution was to provide opportunities for natural panther population expansion through large-scale conservation initiatives rather than micro-managing a relict population composed of wild and captive panthers. Unhappily in 1991, Dave and his panther team began the process of removing panther kittens from the wild and placing them in various captive breeding facilities. We completed these removals in August 1992.

Fast-forward 3 years to Monday, 24 January 1994. I was standing beside Dave in our office's small library as he inserted his resignation letter into the fax machine. One month earlier, we had received a letter from the Chief of the Bureau of Research within the Division of Wildlife that informed us that the panther capture season was on hold until a new plan could be developed. Dave and the agency had both decided it was time to change direction. Dave had already secured a job with a local consulting firm where he was going to try to put his panther expertise to work in the private sector. He had witnessed the confrontational relationships between private landowners, developers, and regulatory agencies and felt there had to be a better way. Dave hoped to introduce his knowledge of panther biology and its habitat needs much earlier in the planning process so that fewer battles would be necessary down the road. In his spare time, Dave also enrolled in a PhD program at the University of Florida, wrote a book about the Florida panther and continued his history of publishing scientific articles.

Image: Dave Maehr bear captureDave earned his PhD and accepted a position at the University of Kentucky (UK) in 1997. I had the great pleasure of making a couple of trips to Lexington to visit with Dave and his family. I had never seen Dave more content; he and academia fit each other like a hand in the proverbial glove. During his brief decade at UK, Dave became a full Professor, was involved in the largest elk restoration in the eastern U.S., initiated 3 research projects on bears (1 in Kentucky and 2 in Florida), and worked on many other research projects on various vertebrates. He was also a leader of the federal Ocelot Recovery Team and an active member of The Wildlife Society.

During those trips to Kentucky, I was fortunate to get to know many of his 27 graduate students and found them to be a loyal bunch, filled with the same kind of drive and passion as was Dave. When we all gathered this past June to provide comfort to the Maehr family and to say our good-byes to Dave, I was struck by the realization that Dave's professional legacy would truly live on through his students.


Remember the controversial captive breeding program? Shortly after we removed the last of the 10 kittens into captivity, the US Fish and Wildlife Service approved the concept of "genetic restoration" whereby we could mix western puma genes into our panther population. This genetic management began in 1995 with the release of 8 female puma from Texas and appears to have been very successful at increasing panthers' genetic diversity. The 10 removed kittens matured in captivity but were never permitted to breed; only one of those panthers remains alive today.

Image bullet: Puma track Ian Ross (1958 – 2003) — Canadian biologist who studied a variety of large carnivores, including pumas. Read a testimonial…

Ian Ross (1958–2003)

Image: Ian Ross(from Martin Jalkotzy's tribute in International Bear News, November 2003)

After graduating from the University of Guelph (1982), Ian studied the impacts of industrial development on grizzly bears in northwestern Alberta. It was the beginning of an illustrious 20-year career conducting research on large mammals in western Canada. He worked on cougars in southwestern Alberta from the early 1980s until 1994. That project became one of the longest running research projects on Puma concolor in North America.

The cougar project received national recognition on radio and television and Ian used that attention to foster a thoughtful and effective wildlife conservation message. He participated in drafting a management plan for cougars in Alberta as well as a conservation strategy for large carnivores in Canada. He was the senior author on nine papers in peer-reviewed journals in addition to many other technical reports and popular articles.

After the cougar project wrapped up, Ian conducted environmental impact studies in western and northern Canada. He recently re-wrote the grizzly bear status report for COSEWIC (Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada). He also worked tirelessly with The Wildlife Society – Alberta Chapter dealing with wildlife conservation issues. He served as President of the Chapter in 1997. Ian also continued to capture wildlife, including grizzly bears, for research projects, and in doing so assisted many graduate students with their research. He conducted his capture work using an exacting professional approach while retaining an empathy for the wildlife he was pursuing. He cared for each individual and did his utmost to conduct captures humanely.

Image: Ian RossIan was a committed and emotional friend and family man. Having no children of his own he was a hero to his young nieces, nephews and children of friends. He always remembered everyone's birthdays. He hiked the foothills of the Rockies west of Calgary, as well as the U.S. desert southwest, the Canadian Arctic, Mexico and Africa. He loved to hunt and his dinner table was a testament to his hunting prowess. His conservation ethic permeated all of his life. He did not consume needlessly and he encouraged all of us to do the same.

In January 2003, Ian returned to field research when he joined Dr. Laurence Frank on the Liakipia Predator Project, a project designed to find ways to allow for the coexistence of hyenas, lions, leopards and people in the agricultural matrix that exists outside national parks in most of southern Africa. Two days before his death he was on top of the world having collared his first leopard. On the evening he died, Ian was tracking a radio-collared lion from a light aircraft. Its wreckage was located by searchers the next morning. Ian Ross died at the peak of his career, doing what he loved. As he wished, Ian was cremated and his ashes dispersed in Kananaskis Country, a place where he had spent a lot of time with his cougars.

Image bullet: Puma track Rocky Spencer (1952 – 2007) — Biologist with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, who was dedicated to studying pumas and educating the public on how to coexist with them. Read a testimonial…

Rocky Spencer (1952–2007)

Image: Rocky Spencer(by Gary M. Koehler, Wildlife Research Scientist, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife)

While capturing bighorn sheep in the Yakima Canyon of Washington State, Rocky Spencer, a passionate and dedicated manager, researcher, and advocate for wildlife, was killed in an accident during a helicopter flight. Rocky was employed by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife for almost three decades, and he and the pilot were considered the 'best of the best' helicopter capture team in the Pacific Northwest. The team was a precision capture machine, as I discovered while working with them during research of American black bears in Washington.

Rocky's passion and dedication was keenly focused on cougars. He began studies of cougars nearly two decades ago, investigating their movements and use of space on the west slope of the Cascades. Recently, Rocky led a study in his Cascade Mountain backyard to investigate how cougars use habitats that were rapidly being transformed from rural woodlots to residential havens.

Image: Rocky SpencerAs part of a research and community outreach program known as Project CAT (Cougars and Teaching), Rocky led middle and high school students into their backyards to capture and mark cougars with GPS collars. Community members and newspaper and television reporters trailed as well, to witness and document these excursions. Rocky was a master teacher of students and of television audiences. His message was simple: we can live and recreate in cougar country if we understand cougars and manage our own behavior as well as managing cougars.

Those of us who have worked with cougars in the Western U.S. knew Rocky and his contributions. Rocky's independent (ask those who supervised him) and innovative character helped tailor the Department's message to effectively manage people and cougars to promote coexistence. Rocky was an advisor and mentor to all of us who cared about wildlife, and in particular those of us who cared about cougars and their management. He will be sorely missed.

Image bullet: Puma track Eric York (1970 – 2007) — Researcher and field biologist expert in capturing and handling wild felids, including snow leopards and pumas. Read a testimonial…

Eric York (1970–2008)

Image: Eric York(Dedication by Tom McCarthy, Science and Conservation Director, Snow Leopard Trust)

It is very hard to write about Eric in the past tense, because I am so unwilling to admit he is not here. I know a lot of folks who feel the same. This is just not right. But we only get one chance to say our words about a departed friend, so I will do what others are doing and share why he meant what he did to so many.

I met Eric at U-Mass in the late 1990s. We studied under the same professor, he doing his masters and me a Ph.D. I was a lot older than Eric, so I should have been able to teach the kid something. But it was the other way around from the start. The first thing he helped me with was building trap cameras for my snow leopard and bear research in Mongolia, something he and others had perfected for fisher and other critters in Massachusetts. I could tell he wanted to go set the cameras himself in Mongolia, he had a serious itch to see places like that.

My time with him at Amherst was brief and I headed back overseas. We ran into each other here and there, or emailed now and then, but it wasn't until a mutual friend, Zara McDonald, suggested Eric as someone who could run our snow leopard collaring program in Pakistan for us. I didn't hesitate to jump on that idea, knowing we could find no one better.

Image: Eric YorkIn Pakistan it was a lot like at U-Mass, this old snow leopard biologist was ready to give Eric some pointers. But it took about an hour for Eric to again become the teacher and he changed a lot of our methods, much for the better. He caught the cats with skill and compassion, and trained several Pakistani biologists in the process. He was a natural teacher. I think it was partly because Eric didn't "do" wildlife biology, he lived it.

Eric, my carhart-clad friend and teacher, I wasn't done learning from you yet. We had some work (and hunting) to do. My trip to Grand Canyon got set back too long, for that I will always be sorry. The next cat is for you. Travel well my friend.

Information on applying for the Wild Felid Legacy Scholarship is provided below.
You can also download the instructions here.

Scholarship Focus in 2019

After focusing on the Andean cat (Leopardus jacobita) in 2018, WFA has reopened the scholarship to students involved in research on any Western Hemisphere felid in 2019. The Wild Felid Legacy Scholarship will be offered annually as funds allow. Those interested in contributing to an enduring scholarship fund can do so on the Membership page.

Scholarship and Administration

The WFA's Scholarship Committee administers the Wild Felid Legacy Scholarship and selects recipients, who are subject to approval by a majority of the WFA board of directors. The Scholarship Committee reserves the right not to award a scholarship or to award more than one scholarship during a calendar year, depending on the Committee's opinion of the applicants' qualifications and the availability of funds. All Committee decisions are final.

Image bullet: Puma track Application Criteria

Applicants for the 2018 Wild Felid Legacy Scholarship must meet the following criteria:

  1. You must be a member of the Wild Felid Research and Management Association. (You may submit a membership form with payment to WFA when submitting your scholarship application if you are not currently a member);
  2. Student applicants must have completed a Bachelor of Science (or Arts) Degree by July 1 and be enrolled in a graduate program in Wildlife Biology, Wildlife Management, or a related natural resource field;
  3. Recipients of the Wild Felid Legacy Scholarship agree to provide at least 1 update of their research in the Wild Felid Monitor.

Image bullet: Puma track Application

Student Application components:

  • Current résumé
  • Copy of your undergarduate diploma and your acceptance letter into a graduate program in Wildlife Biology, Wildlife Management, or a related natural resource field.
  • Two letters of reference (including email addresses). One reference shall be from a professor familiar with your academic capabilities and accomplishments. The second reference shall be from a supervisor whom you worked for in a natural resources–related position (volunteer or internship work is acceptable)
  • In a word document: Short essay (500-750 words) describing: (1) your interests in wild felid research; (2) your career goals; (3) how you would use the award to further your professional development; and (4) your demonstration of financial need.
    At the top of your essay, provide the following so we may included it in the summer issue of Wild Felid Monitor: Name and email address; degree applying for; department and university attending; major advisor and his email address; thesis/dissertation title; research objectives; completion date.

To see how committee members score applications, click here >

Image bullet: Puma track Submitting the application

We encourage applicants to send their applications electronically. Please clearly name files with your last name and subject (e.g., Smith WFLS Essay.doc). Emailed copies of scanned transcripts are also acceptable for consideration, though the Scholarship Committee may ask for certified transcripts prior to final selection. References can also send their letters electronically.

Application materials must be received by the
Scholarship Chairperson by MARCH 30.

Address email correspondence to the Scholarship Committee Chairperson: Dr. Marcella Kelly and write 2018 WFLS Application on the Subject Line.

Please try to submit all materials via email. If you must mail any components, Dr. Kelly's address is below.

Marcella Kelly – Associate Professor
Department of Fisheries and Wildlife
Virginia Tech
146 Cheatham Hall
Blacksburg, VA 24061-0321