Meet the Staff

The work we do at Jungle Friends would not be possible without the hard work of our staff. Learn more about the staff at Jungle Friends below: 

Kari Bagnall  - Founder, President, and Executive Director

Kari  is Founder and Executive Director of Jungle Friends Primate Sanctuary. Kari was volunteering as a court appointed special advocate (CASA) for abused and neglected children in Las Vegas when a baby monkey named Samantha changed the course of her life and inspired Jungle Friends.
Kari was introduced to a vegetarian lifestyle over 40 years ago when she moved into a yoga ashram in Phoenix. Today, vegetarian communal living is a part of the Jungle Friends experience for staff, interns and volunteers. As part of the sanctuary culture, people are encouraged to adopt a vegan lifestyle, to have compassion for all of the Earth's remarkable inhabitants, and to join us in hope that these individual acts of kindness across species will one day reach the 'critical mass' needed to transform the world.

Sara Smith – Executive Assistant

Sara Smith is the assistant to the Executive Director.  She has been with Jungle Friends Primate Sanctuary since 2001, first as a weekly volunteer and then hired as staff in 2005. During her tenure at the sanctuary, Sara has been a member of the carestaff and office. She is familiar with all aspects of caring for monkeys and running the sanctuary. 
Sara always has been an animal lover and volunteered at a seabird sanctuary previously.  Prior to being employed by Jungle Friends, Sara was self-employed doing clock and watch repair for 30 years. She is a Certified Master Watchmaker with an associates' degree in Watch Repair from Parkland College and has a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Michigan, where she studied computer programing. She and her husband Shannon enjoy fixing things and Shannon is a frequent volunteer at Jungle Friends.

Max Polyak, DVM, MPhil – Medical Director

A native of Southern California, Max comes to Jungle Friends as Medical Director from a diverse background ranging from biotech entrepreneur to overseas wildlife veterinarian. Max has spent several years visiting wildlife sanctuaries in Central and South America, working to improve access to wellness and medical care of primates, manatees and marine turtles in Belize, Costa Rica and Bolivia. Simultaneously, he developed holistic and naturopathic treatments at his family's veterinary practice in California having trained in traditional Chinese and naturopathic medicine.
Prior to this, Max was director of the Organ Transplant Lab at UF's College of Medicine, and served as adjunct faculty in the Department of Surgery at UF. Before academia, Max built a biotech company around a technology that he invented which improves the success of organs for transplantation. In this capacity, he worked with several varieties of primates and other species in a research setting at Cornell Medical Center and UF, publishing over 30 papers.
While at UF, Max was also instrumental in building UF's Sea Turtle Hospital in St. Augustine as a founding trustee. He is a graduate of the College of Veterinary Medicine at UF, the University of Cambridge, England, and the University of Southern California. 

Kathleen McGibbon - Director of Development

A native of Detroit, Michigan, Kathleen comes to Jungle Friends as the Director of Development. Kathleen began her career in Human Resources in Athens, Ohio. After working in that position for several years, she moved to Washington State in 2009 to join the staff at Sea Shepherd Conservation Society to Conserve, Defend & Protect ocean wildlife. She was promoted several times at the organization, and worked in Media, Merchandising, and Development.  In 2015, Sea Shepherd closed its national headquarters in Friday Harbor, Washington, and moved to Los Angeles. Kathleen then became an AmeriCorps volunteer at the Lopez Island Elementary School, Washington, while also working as a Development Consultant for a non-profit consulting firm, where the majority of her work was writing grants.
In June of 2018, Kathleen arrived at Jungle Friends Primate Sanctuary with her dog, Cristina, a retired anti-poaching police dog from the Galapagos Islands.
Kathleen studied at the University of Wales, Swansea, Wales, UK and Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, where she was granted a Bachelor of Arts in History and Political Science.

Keara Wright - Database Administrator

Keara joined our development team as Data Base Administrator January of 2018. Her work experience includes working as a research assistant, in fascinating fields such as physics and astronomy, at the University of Missouri from 2007 – 2009. At NASA she did a summer internship in Astrobiology. Keara is also a subject matter expert in Math and Physics, writing step by step detailed textbook solutions to beginner through advanced math and physics courses. She also taught math at Batterott College in St. Louis.
Keara moved to Florida and worked as a graduate research and teaching assistant at UF in August of 2015. In September of 2017 she worked as a database analyst for a Gainesville based phone application. She also worked as a marketing and communications assistant at Community Weatherization Coalition. Keara holds a Masters of Science from UF in Astronomy and a Masters of Science in Mathematics from Missouri University of Science and Technology.