Meet the Duck Defenders
Executive Director & Anthrozoologist, Board President
John Di Leonardo is an anthrozoologist and our Executive Duck Defender. John has successfully led campaigns to stop massacres of thousands of wild geese, directly rescued thousands more domestic ducks, geese, and swans from Manhattan to Montauk, and stopped a poultry slaughterhouse and a sordid aquarium from being built on Long Island. Through Duck Defenders and his work as part of the steering committee for the National Goose Protection Coalition, he has aided in the protection of countless more.
John is a New York state-licensed Wildlife Rehabilitator and “Nuisance” Wildlife Control Operator. He holds a Master of Science in Anthrozoology from Canisius College and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Siena College, as well as a graduate certificate in Jain Studies from the International School of Jain Studies in India.
John formerly served as the Senior Manager of Grassroots Campaigns and Animals in Entertainment Campaigns for PETA, the largest animal rights organization in the world, where he also served informally as an advisor on all things fowl. During his tenure, he reversed PETA's stance on backyard poultry to oppose the exploitation of fowl for their eggs, spoke on PETA's Podcast about how ducks are not Easter gifts or school science experiments, and commissioned articles such as 'Backyard Chicken' Eggs: A Kinder Option or Straight-Up Speciesist and Ducks for Sale? They—Like All Other Animals—Should Never Be Bought, Sold, or Bred. He also advised PETA's Emergency Response Team on fowl rescue and was dubbed "PETA's Bird Guy" in One Green Planet.
Previously, John managed day programs on Long Island for people with developmental disabilities. His appreciation for people who are differently abled carries over to his work for waterfowl suffering from anthropogenic developmental disabilities such as Niacin deficiency, angel wing, and wry neck, resulting from feeding waterfowl bread or other nutrient-deficient foods.
His essay "Waterfowl Abandonment: An Anthropogenic Disaster for Native and Non-Native Birds Alike" has appeared in Sierra Club and Audubon Society chapter newsletters.
John has been honored to receive awards from the New York State Humane Association, the Humane Society of the United States, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, In Defense of Animals, and the Suffolk County SPCA, as well as the distinction of being named Mr. February in Rescue Men USA‘s 2016 Calendar. He is a recipient of the inaugural Professional & Animal Lovers (PALS)' Compassion Award and the National Goose Protection Coalition's Golden Goose Award.
Read more about John in the Long Island Herald.
JULIANA DI LEONARDO
Vice President of Arts & Humane Education, Board Vice President
Juliana Di Leonardo is vice president of arts & humane education for Duck Defenders and a team leader for our animal rescue response team. She graduated from Dowling College with a Bachelor of Arts in Visual Arts and a minor in Education. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Visual Arts with a minor in Education from Dowling College. She is also a New York State Licensed Wildlife Rehabilitator, 500 RYT yoga instructor, ballroom dance instructor, swim instructor, artist, model, Reiki Master Practitioner, and the best hand-catcher of animals we know.
Whether it’s teaching humane education yoga classes, preparing presentations at schools and congregations, or catching injured or abandoned birds with her bare hands, Juliana’s warm heart, creative flair, and endless dedication have not only refined Duck Defenders' humane education efforts but also grown our animal rescue operations exponentially.
Juliana's advocacy for animals exploited by the fashion industry was credited in the 2021 documentary The Face of Fashion is Fear—where she appeared body-painted as victim of the cruel down feather industry—and was recognized by PETA with a Hero for Coyotes award following the announcement that luxury outerwear company Canada Goose went fur-free. (She continues to urge them to drop down feathers.)
As a leader of Duck Defenders' New York response team, she and John were featured in an episode of A&E's Rescue Cam removing fireworks duct-taped to a goose.
Intern & Content Producer
Sarah Stegeman is the founder and director of Sweet Peace Animal Sanctuary in Lincoln University, Pennsylvania. She holds a Master of Science in Humane Leadership from Madonna University and a Bachelor of Science in Wildlife Ecology & Conservation with a minor in Animal Science from the University of Delaware. Before volunteering with Duck Defenders, Sarah interned with Animal Ethics, Chenoa Manor Animal Sanctuary, and Plumpton Park Zoological Gardens Inc.
Sarah is an experienced advocate and caregiver for ducks and geese alike and is happy to be sharing her knowledge through Duck Defenders' online resource center.
BONNIE S. KLAPPER
Legal Counsel, Board Member
Bonnie S. Klapper is an American lawyer who was a federal prosecutor in both New York and California for 25 years.
She is in private practice, specializing in the defense of extraditables. She is a member of the bar in the States of New York, California, and the District of Columbia and has been admitted to Federal District Court in New York, California, Florida, Texas and the District of Columbia.
In 2018, Bonnie became a vegan, limited her private practice and decided to devote her legal skills to animal liberation and animal rights organizations as well as assisting individual activists. She is on the legal teams for: Direct Action Everywhere, a group dedicated to open rescue, exposing factory farming abuse, and empowering animal activists worldwide; Veterinarians International, an organization dedicated to enhancing the health of both humans and animals around the world; Slaughter Free NYC, a group dedicated to closing down the over 80 wet markets and slaughterhouses in New York City; and China Dogs Rescue, a group that helps rescue dog meat trade survivors in China. She is on the Board of Directors of the Southampton Animal Shelter in Suffolk County, Long Island and Black Sheep Retreat and Sanctuary, one of the only farmed animal sanctuaries in Mexico.
Bonnie is honored to be on the Board of Duck Defenders and believes deeply in its mission.