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Arizona's 'Lizard Lassoer' pushing to bring wildlife conservation to all

The UArizona scientist is studying how human-caused drought affects lizards while opening access to the field for other Black women.

TUCSON, Ariz. — The Grand Canyon State's lassoer of lizards is working to break down barriers keeping other Black women and girls from entering the field themselves.

“I was always interested in animals," Dr. Earyn McGee said. "My family thought I was a little weird, but they were like, ‘you know, what, whatever, do what you love, as long as when you turn 18 you leave this house and don't come back.’”

She just earned her doctorate from the University of Arizona in natural resources with an emphasis on wildlife conservation and management.  Her focus is on how human-caused drought and climate change affect lizards.

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McGee's research also opened her eyes to the lack of diversity in the field of conservation, particularly for Black women.

“From my research and lab, I found that one of the major barriers is lack of access to resources, especially at the middle school age," she said. "So, I worked with my sorority to create a program to introduce middle school aged black girls to careers and natural resources.”

McGee found she could reach an even wider audience on social media as she personally mentored others. 

Her Twitter account sees posts where a picture of a camouflaged lizard in its natural environment becomes a game that invites viewers to try to #findthatlizard. It became wildly popular with thousands joining in on the search.

“It really does feel like a community where you have people helping each other to find the lizard and care for them," McGee said.

In 2020, McGee was named one of Forbes's “30 Under 30” in the Science category.  She has now her sights set on hosting a national TV show. 

Having grown up watching Steve Irwin, McGee hopes more young people of color can be inspired by seeing someone who looks like them shining a spotlight on conservation.

“I think it would just be truly amazing to see something like that, even if wasn’t me," she said. "There are so many other great black women, especially out here doing ecology and research and working with animals in an environment. Even if I could see one of them to have that representation, it's just so important.” 

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