Our Research Team


Erika DeferErika Defer is the Director of Research, as well as the animal department assistant manager, at Safari West. As part of her role, Erika coordinates the internship program at Safari West in hopes of inspiring college students to pursue a variety of careers that involve working with exotic wildlife. Erika has been working with exotic animals in various capacities for about 15 years. She received her B.S. in Biology from Sonoma State University and her M.S. in Animal Biology from University of California, Davis. In her undergraduate, she studied Western Pond Turtles (Actinemys marmorata) and assisted in the head start program at Sonoma State University, in collaboration with the San Francisco and Oakland Zoos. Her master’s thesis focused on parasitology and social network analysis utilizing fecal testing, PFGE with commensal E. coli, and behavioral observations to determine social networks and gastrointestinal parasite infection risk in several antelope and giraffe herds housed at Safari West. In addition to her career at Safari West, Erika also serves on the Board of Directors for the American Association of Zoo Keepers.


Nancy Lang portraitNancy Lang is the founder of Safari West, along with Peter Lang. Attaining both a B.A. and an M.A. in biology from San Francisco State University as well as a Ph.D. from the University of Wales in Cardiff, Dr. Nancy Lang initially made her mark at the San Francisco Zoo. Over a twenty-year tenure, Dr. Lang founded the Avian Conservation Center and developed a highly successful program for the propagation and release of endangered birds of prey. Dr. Lang’s achievements served her well and she quickly rose to the position of general curator at the San Francisco Zoo. These experiences would later prove invaluable to the conservation breeding programs active at Safari West today. Peter and Nancy met, fell in love, and married. Together they transformed a 400-acre wildlife ranch into what we now know as the Safari West Wildlife Preserve. Side by side they have carefully steered this enterprise through two and half decades of growth and development. Thanks to their combined efforts, Safari West is now a leader in wildlife conservation and a premier institution for education and research.

Keo Hornbostel portrait

Keo Hornbostel is the Executive Director of Safari West. Keo joined Safari West in 2015 and oversees all operational aspects of this amazing 400-acre property which houses nearly 1,000 animals.  Prior to joining Safari West, Keo had a 30-year hospitality career running vacation Resorts from the Caribbean to Hawaii. Prior to his hospitality career, he achieved his bachelor’s degree from Hastings College in Nebraska. His role on the Research Committee is to ensure the projects work within the operational aspects of Safari West.

Dr. Stephanie Larson, County Director & Livestock & Range Management Advisor, University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE), promotes research and extension programs in Sonoma County. She addresses climate change, food production and ecological and economical management of working landscapes in Sonoma and Marin Counties. She has a BS and MS in Animal Science (University of Idaho; University of Wyoming) and a PhD in Rangeland Ecology & Management (Oregon State University). Dr. Larson assists local livestock producers to improve production and marketing of livestock, conducting research in the wise stewardship of rangelands. Her program documents and integrates the ecosystem services provided by rangelands, highlighting the benefits of using grazing animals as tools to address vegetation management, such as reduced fire fuels, improved habitat and increased forage production. She is a licensed Certified Rangeland Manager (CRM) and serves on the Range Management Advisory Committee (RMAC). Stephanie brings public and private land owners and managers together to make science-based decisions for sound policies on the management of working landscapes for the benefit of all users.

Dr. Emily Cehrs DVMDr. Emily Cehrs is the Head Veterinarian at Safari West. She attended Cal Poly San Luis Obispo for her undergraduate degree and then moved to London, England to complete her veterinary qualification at The Royal Veterinary College, graduating in 2018. She worked in South Africa as a wildlife and mixed animal veterinarian for several years prior to becoming the veterinarian at Safari West.

Victoria BrunalVictoria Brunal is our research coordinator at Safari West. She completed both her Bachelor’s and Master’s degree at Sonoma State University. Her Master’s thesis focused on the endangered California tiger salamander (Ambystoma californiense) in Sonoma County, researching the impacts of surrounding land use on their movement patterns during their breeding season within a complex of vernal pools. She has worked in environmental consulting since 2019, helping mitigate private and public sector work in regions that overlap with protected wildlife species. She has participated in multiple native herpetofauna research projects including western pond turtles (Actinemys marmorata), Alameda whipsnake (Masticophis lateralis euryxanthus), San Francisco garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis tetrataenia), California red-legged frog (Rana draytonii), foothill yellow-legged frog (Rana boylii), among others. In 2018 she interned at Safari West working in the animal department’s String 4, returning in 2022 as the research coordinator after completing her master’s to assist with the ongoing research efforts at Safari West.

Derek GirmanDr. Derek Girman is currently the Director of Graduate Studies at Sonoma State University and remains engaged in ongoing research associated with biogeography, conservation ecology & genetics, and behavioral ecology.  He has studied a wide range of species including current studies of rhinos and giraffes at Safari West as well as of species of concern among native raptors, lizards, and amphibians.  Dr. Girman received both his Bachelor’s and Ph.D. degrees from the University of California Los Angeles where he worked on conservation studies of gray wolves, Ethiopian wolves, black-backed jackals, and Channel Island foxes, with a focus on the endangered African wild dog (Lycaon pictus). Since joining Sonoma State in 1998 he has studied conservation and evolutionary ecology of African and Neotropical birds (black-bellied seed cracker, little greenbul, sharp-shinned hawk, Wilson’s warbler, Western grebe, Sandhill crane, & Catharus thrushes), endangered and threatened populations of steelhead trout, and biogeography of ants in Africa and Madagascar (genus Mystrium).

Mark PresslerMark Pressler has worked at Safari West in varying capacities since 2012, and currently spends most of his time as a tour guide training supervisor and conservation writer. He received his Bachelor’s in Wildlife, Fish, & Conservation Biology from UC Davis in 2017, and has worked as a research technician for a project studying conspecific brood parasitism in wood ducks, as well as projects studying anthropogenic effects on the demography of northern spotted owls and greater sage-grouse. He hopes to help initiate and advise research projects that focus on the native flora and fauna that share space with Safari West’s exotic species.