An Artist’s Eye for Conservation Education – Che Frausto
When I embarked on my journey into conservation, Che’s bright, beautiful, and catchy posts on Instagram immediately caught my eye. His content spoke to me in a way that is fun, relatable and oh so powerful. His engaging content is exactly how people like to connect with nature; a light read, a funny quip to showcase all the weird and wonderful species out there, and lots of colour.
Che, better known as ‘Advance Wildlife Education’, has created a whole business to bridge the gap between NGO’s (non-governmental organisations) and education. He uses his artistic skills to educate through beautifully illustrated books, then invests some of the profits to fund NGOs in Hawaii. He has also recently developed his own educational colouring app which demonstrates the evolving way in which conservation engages with its audiences.
I caught up with Che to get the inside scoop on what he’s up to in Hawaii, and how he is encouraging local and global communities to get involved too.
“So, tell me Che, what was your motivation to work in conservation?”
“I’ve always been interested in wildlife from a young age. I grew up in Los Angeles, and I had two wolf hybrid dogs, snakes, guinea pigs, and a bearded dragon – just a whole bunch of pets really. I always loved working with animals which is what took me to the University Colorado at Boulder to study Biology/Ecology and Environmental Studies.”
“Everybody wants to hire people with a lot of experience, but how do you get experience if they won’t first hire somebody that just graduated and doesn’t have any field experience yet?!”
Che goes on to tell me that he then interned with the US Forest Service on the ecology team. As we all know, to get a job in conservation, you need experience (and then some), and Che’s ‘experience’ was no different; “Everybody wants to hire people with a lot of experience, but how do you get experience if they won’t first hire somebody that just graduated and doesn’t have any field experience yet?!”.
Che was then awarded a Americorps Kupu internship on Maui, Hawaii working with the Maui Nui Seabird Recovery Project. “Kupu is a programme that provides seasonal and yearlong internships with different organisations, for example the seabird project with the Department of Land and Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife./University of Hawaii.”
“The birds we worked with were the Wedgetailed Shearwaters, they can dive 200 feet and sleep and fly at the same time. They use the Moon and stars to navigate, so bright lights really confuse them. A big part of our job was to find them, pick them up, make sure they were okay, and then release them back to sea. I did that internship for about a year then I got hired full time as a field tech, so I was with them for three and a half years in total.”
“During my time there, we did a lot of outreach with the community. The seabirds nest and burrow on the beach, but then I noticed people would collapse their burrows or put trash inside thinking they were made by rats and mongoose. Once they found out they were actually for seabirds, they got really excited and wanted to help! That’s when I realised that education is so important to protecting our native wildlife.”
Hawaii is the extinction capital of the world, there are more endangered species per square mile than anywhere else in the world. This is because the only native mammals to Hawaii are the Hawaiian Hoary Bat and the Hawaiian Monk Seal (one of the most endangered marine mammals in the world). All these species have evolved for millions of years without any predators and suddenly there are feral cats, mongoose, rats, and an ongoing increasing list of invasive species to compete with.
Che felt that it was all a bit ‘out of sight, out of mind’ and that people just were unaware of the difficulties that the island’s native species were facing. He witnessed first-hand not only how challenging it was to communicate the island’s wildlife need for protection, but also how the NGO’s working with these species were constantly struggling for funding.
Che decided that he wanted to bridge the gap between the community and the non-profits by starting a business to educate the community on the different native species and use some of the profits to funnel back into NGOs. He’d always loved to draw, so combined his passions of art and conservation education to start his own business, ‘Advance Wildlife Education’.
“That’s when I realised that education is so important for conserving our wildlife.”
A typical day for Che includes setting up his pop up store around the island at craft fair shows to showcase his message and products, engaging with the public and selling his wildlife educational colouring books, jewellery, and clothing.
On days he’s not doing craft fairs and expo shows like Merrie Monarch, Tokyo International Gift Show, and Denver Outdoor Retailer Show, he handles the admin side of the business; emails, shipping of products, networking to collaborate with different organisations and working on new products.
He also takes part in podcasts and interviews to broaden his reach. He is so passionate about the cause he goes into schools to give talks on his days off about Hawaiian wildlife, working in conservation, and starting their own businesses.
I first stumbled upon Che and ‘Advance Wildlife Education’ on social media, so I was keen to find out his view on how a social media presence can play a part in conservation education, especially when Covid limited his ability to host in-person shows.
“It all definitely picked up online once the lockdown happened. I made the majority of all my sales in person, so I didn’t really have much of an online presence. I think I started out with 3,000 followers, then I started posting three to five times a day, educating on different wildlife species and now half a year later I am almost to 20,000. It’s been a learning curve, learning what people like, what kind of information I should put out there and how to structure the social media platform to grow it.”
“That’s what my biggest goal is, to inspire the next generation of biologists.”
“After the US, my biggest engagement is with the UK, Australia, Canada and India. I constantly get messages from photographers, students and up and coming biologists so they can showcase their work on my page, as well as educators and parents. Parents and home schoolers love following the page, they tell me it’s their favourite account, that they and their kids are learning so much – that’s what my biggest goal is, to inspire the next generation of biologists.”
“I actually have a great story – I had a grandma buy one of my Hawaiian books, for her six-year-old granddaughter. Her granddaughter was going through the book their whole trip, learning about Hawaii’s wildlife. She then told her family at dinner that she wanted to be a wildlife biologist when she grew up. She started doing more research on YouTube, watching all kinds of videos wanting to learn more about all the different Hawaiian species. Then she saw a video of a turtle with a straw up its nose. She decided to go around the condo, collecting all the cans and straws to recycle so they couldn’t hurt any more turtles. She was just so excited and loved the book. They ended up buying a few more books, which is common, people come back every year to get more books and tell me just how much their grandkids or kids love the books, which is so amazing.”
I can vouch first-hand how great Che’s books are, as he kindly sent me a signed copy to give to my niece, a budding 12-year-old ecologist, or zoologist, depending on what day you catch her. They are insightful, with just the right balance of facts and art (which is stunning) to keep both young and old readers engaged.
“You can’t protect what you don’t know exists”
Che is passionate about communicating Hawaii’s title of extinction capital of the word, and how many of the species on Hawaii, both wildlife and fauna, are non-native and often invasive species. What started as small scale craft and book shows is now growing into a global business with over 20 books in 65 locations.
Che advocates perseverance to get to where you want to be, and to not be afraid to change direction and carve out a job for yourself; you don’t always have to follow the well-trodden path.
Che started in 2016, and has been building his business full time for almost 5 years now. Now if that doesn’t inspire you, then his nomination for Entrepreneur of the Year Under 40 certainly should!
Watch out for Che and ‘Advance Wildlife Education’, they are here to shake up conservation education with social media, educational colouring books and an app. Conservation has gone digital, and we all need to get onboard to propel the message of protecting nature into the future.
Now you’re all fired up, why not take a look around Conservation Careers, where you’ll find a whole host of training, support, jobs and podcasts to get stuck into. If you’d like to see more of our interviews and have a keen interest in marine biology, then click here for your free guide on how to become a marine biologist. Also keep your eyes peeled for the next Communications for Conservation Projects Course, it’s the perfect way to upskill and become as good as a communicator as Che!
Author profile | Helen Burt
Helen is English and lives with her partner in Germany. She is studying for a degree in Geography and Environmental Science with the Open University. She is also an English Language Teacher. Travel and exploration have always been in her blood, but her love of conservation was ignited 2 years ago after throwing herself into the wilds of Africa with EHRA. She has also volunteered with the RSPB as a schools outreach officer, and hopes to one day run her own lodge and charity out in Namibia.