Over the past few years, animal conservationist and falconer Maya Higa has become a popular member of Twitch.tv, a website for video game streamers. While others use Twitch mainly to satisfy their online gaming needs, 23-year-old Ms. Higa utilizes the platform to promote wildlife conservation work.
Not only does she educate her online community about animal rehabilitation but she has also raised more than $83,000 for wildlife conservation organizations. Her streaming efforts made it even possible for Ms. Higa to launch her very own animal sanctuary based in Texas.
Maya Higa serves as a shining example for a new generation of non-profit entrepreneurs who have successfully combined social media outlets with altruism. Ms. Higa was so kind to answer my questions about animal conservation work, her podcast and her sanctuary.
ReadingSavesLives: How did your career in the field of wildlife conservation begin? Can you tell us about some important steps of your professional life?
Maya Higa: I grew up on a farm and began zookeeping in college. I did a few internships with zoos (both private and AZA) before I got my falconry license and moved deeper into birds.
RsL: What aspects of animal conservation motivate you the most?
Higa: I am motivated by my fascination and love for our natural world. It deeply saddens me to see species at risk because they are all so unique and fascinating to me.
RsL: Your love for birds has earned you the nickname “Birdgirl”. Why are birds so special to you?
Higa: Falconry was a huge key to my growth and independence in college. After a really hard break up, it became “my thing” and I found fulfillment in learning as much as I could about birds.
RsL: What advices would you give newcomers who enter the field of animal conservation? What are some general mistakes or false expectations that they should avoid?
Higa: Get your foot in the door! Engage in as many volunteer opportunities, internships, and experiences that you have the bandwidth and ability to do. People often think it’s not useful experience if it’s not the species you ultimately want to work with, but all experience is good experience in the exotic animal industry.
RsL: When and why did you decide to use Twitch for your non-profit work? Twitch is a streaming platform mainly used for video gaming and not necessarily known for non-profit endeavors. Have you also considered other websites?
Higa: I started streaming in the music section for fun in college. When I showed my stream my red-tailed hawk on a whim, I realized that I could do conservation education virtually the same way I was doing birthday parties and events in real life at the time. It has become a home to me and a great place to teach a younger demographic who aren’t necessarily into conservation already.
RsL: I was looking for other streamers who do non-profit work on Twitch, but I couldn’t really find anyone as popular as you are. What do you think is the reason behind your success? What advice would you give someone who joins Twitch and has similar intentions as you?
Higa: I am very lucky to be surrounded by other creators who help me grow and maintain my existing growth. Networking has been crucial in my career as a streamer. My advice would be to network and be as consistent as possible.
RsL: How has the management of Twitch reacted to your non-profit focused content?
Higa: I have had no contact with Twitch regarding my non-profit work.
RsL: You also manage your own podcasting website – Maya Higa’s Conservation Cast. Every week you talk with scientists and conservationists about their work. How did this come about?
Higa: I wanted to give scientists, conservationists, and ecologists a platform to share their research with a younger demographic that they typically aren’t able to reach.
RsL: What are the criteria someone has to meet to get an interview with you? How does your selection process work?
Higa: I pick my guests by doing my own research. Many are PhD students and many represent organizations that are doing important work in conservation.
RsL: During the conversation your Twitch subscribers can donate money to the interviewed organization. How is it going so far?
Higa: The Conservation Cast has been a very effective fundraising tool, raising around $1-2k per episode. We’ve raised over $83k for conservation causes across the boards.
RsL: But you are not only doing charity for animal conservation. Recently, you and your partner participated in a “Make a Wish” campaign and streamed it on Twitch. Can you talk a little bit about it?
Higa: I was recently brought onto the governing board of Make A Wish Central and South Texas. The Over the Edge event was an annual fundraiser ran by Make A Wish.
RsL: You were able to raise more than $500.000 on Twitch to fund your very own animal sanctuary. How did you pull that off?
Higa: We had a successful donor tree program where to get your name on a leaf at the sanctuary which raised over $250k. The live auction held on stream raised the rest of the funds. We did this by auctioning off items donated by popular streamers/content creators.
RsL: What made you decide to start your own sanctuary?
Higa: My goal is to be the greatest force in conservation that I can be. Alveus Sanctuary can provide sanctuary to a number of non-releasable animals while educating millions on their wild counterparts and how we can help them as humans.
RsL: You’ve bought your own property in Texas and expanded/improved the existent infrastructure. How far along is the Alveus project?
Higa: What was supposed to be a 3 year plan ended up being a 3 month plan. We’ve made a lot of progress at the facility but have a ways to go before we host collaborations with other creators.
RsL: The responsibility and planning for such an endeavor at a young age must be enormous. How do you deal with the workload and pressure?
Higa: I love my non-profit and the animals at the facility so working doesn’t feel like work. I also love teaching people about animals. I am living my dream and when I feel overdone it usually passes because I am constantly overcome with gratitude.
RsL: What animals do you keep at the sanctuary and how did you acquire them? How do you decide which animals should be part of it?
Higa: I have a list of ambassadors on my website. I acquired most of them from a zoo in California that I used to work at. Some were transferred to me by another conservation organization in California. I decide ambassadors based on their value as an educational ambassador and how we can utilize them in programs to teach people about the threats that their wild counterparts face.
RsL: Where do you see yourself and all your endeavors in the next 5-10 years? What are your hopes, dreams or even fears?
Higa: We will start hosting content collaborations at the facility with other streamers/YouTubers. This will allow us to combine audiences to maximize our impact for conservation. I want to teach and inspire as many people as possible in my time on Twitch.
Thank you for the interview!
All videos ©Maya Higa
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