CITYWIDE — Wild African savannas are a far cry from the beaches of California, but one Santa Monica resident is vying for the title of National Geogrpahic’s next great explorer to help save rhinos across the globe.

Kim Putman is one of 10 finalists in this year’s National Geographic’s Expedition Granted contest. The winner – chosen through a public online vote – receives $50,000 in funding. Putman’s dream, “Changing a Culture to Save Rhinos From Extinction” focuses on ending poaching by educating Asian cultures about rhino horn.

“I was very excited, just to be picked was a highlight of the whole experience,” she said. “I’ve always been a fan [of National Geographic], I grew up reading the magazine.”

Last year, Putman spent a month volunteering in South Africa at Care for Wild Africa, a rehabilitation and conservation center. She worked frequently with baby rhinos, orphaned after their mothers were poached.

Winning the grand prize would give Putman the opportunity to start implementing education efforts in countries like China and Vietnam where rhino poaching is most prevalent, she said.

“The change has to come from the culture and people, it can’t just be an American saying, ‘You’re wrong, this is illegal, stop,'” she said.

Putman wants to start work on a documentary addressing why people are interested in purchasing the illegal horn.

“It goes from poacher to purchaser,” she said. “Just addressing poaching is like putting a Band-Aid on a leak in a pool. You have to go to the source.”

In many Eastern cultures, rhino horn is said to have mystical properties like curing cancer or impotency, so it is highly desired, Putman said, even though the trade is outlawed.

Originally from Michigan, Putman moved to Santa Monica 13 years ago. She dreamed about traveling to Africa since she was young.

“I’ve always been around animals, and when I’m away from that too much, I feel less human,” she said.

The contest began in June with more than 700 submissions outlining innovative exploration in science, technology, conservation, adventure and arts. The finalists were selected based on project originality, viability and ability to make an impact on the local and/or global community.

“The passion and ingenuity that went into the hundreds of videos submitted for consideration were truly inspiring,” National Geographic CEO Courteney Monroe said in a statement. “The 10 selected finalists really embrace our vision of pushing boundaries and forging new paths with their thoughtful submissions. We welcome the public votes to help narrow down our ultimate winner and 2014 Expedition Granted Explorer.”

Voting continues at www.expeditiongranted.com through Monday, Sept. 29, and the winner will be announced Sept. 30. “Changing a Culture to Save Rhinos From Extinction” was in ninth place at the time of publication.

“I want the future generation to experience being in the presence of a wild rhino,” Putman said. “It’s amazing. There’s not a similar creature on the planet.”

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