The C. Boyden Gray Colloquium Series is designed to engage St. Mark's students in an exploration of one complex global issue annually. Students hear from outside speakers with varying viewpoints, participate in small group discussions, write about and debate the issue, and take part in all-community events. C. Boyden Gray '60, former Board President and current Trustee Emeritus, has committed $1.5 million to fund this annual yearlong learning exercise. St. Markers, Gray believes, "should think in big terms and be inquisitive about the outside world." Gray, a former U.S. Ambassador to the European Union, White House counsel to the first President Bush, and recipient of the Presidential Citizens Medal, hopes that tackling these topics in an intensive fashion will inspire students to serve their country and the world. The theme for this year's Gray Colloquium series is "Creating Challenge."
Dr. Bhalla is a fourth-generation Kenyan who earned her PhD in Zoology from Oxford University. She also has her MS in Wildlife Conservation from Edinburgh Napier University and her BS in Environmental Science from Lancaster University. She is working to safeguard the future of Kenya's rapidly declining lion populations through Ewaso Lions, a conservation organization she founded in 2007 that uses scientific research and community outreach to promote coexistence between people and lions who share habitats. It is the only organization that focuses on lions that live both inside and outside protected areas in northern Kenya. There are now fewer than 2,000 lions in Kenya, and they could vanish within two decades if habitat loss and conflict with humans continues. Ewaso Lions' innovative community outreach programs, which involve young tribal warriors as well as women and children, are helping foster local support for conservation. Bhalla's team has dramatically changed local attitudes, and the lion population she monitors has grown to its highest numbers in a dozen years.
As Executive Director of Ewaso Lions, Dr. Bhalla received a 2014 Whitley Award, the 2013 Rabinowitz-Kaplan Prize for the Next Generation in Wild Cat Conservation, the 'Africa's Young Women Conservation Biologist of 2009′ award by the Society of Conservation Biology, and the Virginia McKenna Award for Compassionate Conservation from the Born Free Foundation. She has also been named an Emerging Explorer by the National Geographic Society. Previously, she worked for the Kenya Wildlife Service and Save The Elephants.
At St. Mark's, Dr. Bhalla met with interested students and faculty during the day, including at a special luncheon in the faculty room. After lunch, she addressed the entire School community from the stage of the Putnam Family Arts Center's Class of 1945 Hall.
In Dr. Bhalla's presentation—"Lions are running out of time. Can we save them?"—she told her story narrating vivid images on the big screen, and it was well-received by the St. Mark's audience. She noted that .lions as symbols are all around (like at St. Mark's) but very few people actually know lions and the truth about their situation today. Encouraging her listeners to help make a difference, not just with lions but with all wildlife and impacting environmental issues worldwide, near the end she quoted author C.S. Lewis: "You can't go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending."