Project Personnel

Zara McDonald
Researcher and President, Felidae Conservation Fund
Biologist, entrepreneur and multisector consultant Zara McDonald is founder and president of Felidae Conservation Fund, a global conservation organization conducting innovative research on wild felid species in the Bay Area and in targeted regions across the globe. Zara has led multiple startup ventures in technology, biotechnology, healthcare and private equity.

She formed Felidae in 2006 after a transformative encounter on a Bay Area trail with a mountain lion. The benign encounter compelled her to question the prevailing narrative of the dangerous predator, leading to further questions about how wild felids influence ecosystems and biodiversity, especially at the urban-wildland interface, and how we can succeed at co-existence.

She has worked throughout the world researching snow leopards, tigers, cheetahs, leopards, and multiple lesser known small cat species in Asia, Africa and South America. Zara is also a former competitive marathoner and ultra-runner, as well as a longtime insight meditation practitioner, an experienced yoga teacher, and biohacking and health coach.

Dr. David Stoner
Principal Investigator, Bay Area Puma Project
David C. Stoner is a post-doctoral research fellow in the Quinney College of Natural Resources at Utah State University. David received his BA from the Department of Geography at UC Berkeley, and holds graduate degrees from USU, where he investigated the effects of urbanization, habitat fragmentation, and exploitation on cougar behavior and population dynamics. His current work is focused on ungulate migration patterns and habitat use in response to plant phenology, snowpack dynamics, and predation risk. He has worked for the US Forest Service, UC Santa Cruz's Predatory Bird Research Group as well as the USGS Biological Resources Division, Humboldt State University and the California Department of Fish and Game. His interests are in the application of landscape and behavioral ecology to the conservation of mammals and birds.

Dr. Courtney Coon
Co-Principal Investigator and Lead Field Biologist
Courtney is a central California native with a bachelors in animal biology from UC Davis and a PhD from the University of South Florida. She is generally interested in examining the role of host and environmental variation in animal health. For her graduate degree, she primarily investigated the ecological interactions between a recently invaded songbird, its native competitors, and their shared parasites in Kenya. After completing graduate school, she worked for two years as a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Pretoria in South Africa where she studied infection incidence and immunity in wild African buffalo inside a wildlife preserve and domestic cattle that live near the preserve boundaries. Findings from this study are being used to develop an effective disease control program that considers aspects of individual physiological risk factors. Email Courtney at

Virginia Thomson
Executive Director
Virginia (Ginger) Thomson is a social entrepreneur, change leader and consultant. As a consultant she has extensive experience in cross-sector corporate management and governance, fund raising, grant making, finance, strategic planning and new business development. As a social entrepreneur she has launched and developed companies in new media and technology and has scaled ventures in wildlife conservation and youth development and education.

Virginia currently serves as Executive Director of Felidae Conservation Fund, a conservation group conducting research and outreach to conserve wild cats. She is also Executive Director of Track Two: An Institute for Citizen Diplomacy, developing programs to engage influencers in regions of conflict in peacebuilding. Previously she worked with the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in northern Kenya. Lewa’s primary focus was in building community support for wildlife and particularly for the critically endangered black and white rhinos and the Grevy’s Zebra.

With an MBA and BA from Harvard University, Virginia has worked in finance (Credit Suisse-First Boston), launched an Internet company in the Internet’s infancy (DoughNET), managed a social media site for youth (YouthNoise) before the existence of Facebook or MySpace, and built the world’s first debit-card based affinity toolset for young people. She has a fervent desire to preserve the presence of wildlife particularly in communities and on landscapes along the urban-wildland edge.

Catherine Gallo
Office and Volunteer Manager, Felidae Conservation Fund
Catherine has always had a passion and interest in ecology and received her Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science from Chico State University in 2017. After college, she returned to the Bay Area where she spent a summer volunteering with Golden Gate National Recreation Area aiding in habitat restoration projects throughout several parks.

After interning with Felidae, Catherine’s interest in the Bay Area ecology grew as did an interest in mountain lions and she has been a part of Felidae Conservation Fund since October 2017.

As volunteer and office manager, Catherine works in office, at events, and assists biologists in the field. Email Catherine at