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How This 9-year-old Girl Became a Wildlife Advocate

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Austinite Kate Gilman Williams and her South African safari guide, Michelle Campbell, wrote a book to get more kids involved in wildlife conservation.

By Sabrina LeBoeuf, Photos courtesy of PR by the Book

Kate Gilman Williams

Austinite Kate Gilman Williams has a busy schedule. In addition to keeping up with social media, playing volleyball and fostering a baby elephant in Kenya, she is the co-author of Let’s Go on Safari! On top of all this, Williams is attending the third grade.

 “Kids can save animals. Advocacy has no age limit,” Williams says. “It doesn’t matter how old you are. You can still take action.” 

When Williams was 8 years old, she traveled to South Africa with her family and made a special connection with her safari guide and future co-author, Michelle Campbell. On their daily game drives, Campbell would teach Williams about wildlife and conservation. It was during one of those drives that Campbell struck a chord within Williams. 

“I remember quite clearly,” Campbell says. “We were sitting with rhinos. I’m working in a place, luckily, where there are still rhinos. And we were watching them and she always asked the most interesting questions, and really intelligent questions for an 8-year-old. I said to her, ‘Do you know that rhinos are endangered?’ and she said no.”

Campbell proceeded to teach Williams about poaching and how humans contribute to the endangerment of wildlife. This sent Williams into a sort of shock, and she went home from her trip feeling the need to do something about it. 

“Kate woke up one morning and turned to me and said, ‘Mom, I need to stay home from school today and write a book to save the animals,’ and that is exactly what she did,” Williams’ mom, Lynn Gilman Williams says.

However, Kate Williams wanted to write the book alongside Campbell. This meant communicating across an ocean and a seven-hour time difference. To make things more complicated, Campbell was spending a year living out of her Land Rover and traveling across the continent to volunteer at different conservation projects.

Kate Gilman Williams and Michelle Campbell

“For the most part, we didn’t have much in the way of contact. Every now and again, if we passed through a main town, then we would get some internet signal and tell everybody we were still alive and everything’s OK. Kate’s emails would come streaming in; mine would go out,” Campbell says. “That was probably the most challenging part of writing the book, actually, just trying to get enough signal to share parts of the story.”

Once the writing portion was done, Kate Williams enlisted the help of her friends and classmates at Trinity Episcopal School. Her favorite art teacher, Meg Renwick, created elephant and bee illustrations for the book, and her classmates participated in an all-kid editing panel. Kate Williams even has a fellow 9-year-old marketing director.

“One time, we went to play [volleyball], and I’m like, ‘Hey, you need a logo. You need merchandise,’ ” Magdalene Ryan says. “I was kind of saying it like a joke, but then [she] was like, ‘Hey, you should do this.’ ”

Kate Williams partnered with Global Wildlife Conservation, the Jane Goodall Institute and the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust to help more kids participate in wildlife conservation. To set an example for other kids, Kate Williams and Campbell are donating all royalties from the book to these three conservation organizations. Additionally, the Williams family is donating a matching gift to The Ellen DeGeneres Wildlife Fund. 

“At the beginning, it felt like I was entertaining a fun little idea,” Campbell says. “I thought it would be kind of for her family and for kids at her school, and it’s changed from being a small conservation project and a book to this whole movement to get kids to advocate for wildlife. It’s been incredible watching it develop and see what it’s become today.”

The book’s official release date is May 6, with a prelaunch event scheduled at BookPeople May 5 at 2 p.m. Afterward, Kate Williams will embark on a coast-to-coast book tour, and she plans to show Campbell around and give her lots of snacks for her first trip to the U.S. 

You can preorder your copy of Let’s Go on Safari! at kidscansaveanimals.com.

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