- What is your name?
- What is your occupation?
President, Animal Defenders International
- Do you have a “green” memory growing up?
I read a lot about the protection of animals and the environment as I grew up, especially. At a young age, I was very influenced by animal stories such as Black Beauty, those written by Jack London (White Fang, Call of the Wild) and Joy Adamson (Born Free trilogy), and other animal stories.
- What’s your favorite meal?
My own home cooked vegan pasta dish!
- Where on the “green scale” do you fall?
I think this is all about what we can each do, at home or at work. We recycle everything possible at home, waste food and garden cuttings/organics both go to composting, plastics recycled and so on. We are quite lucky to live in an area where our local services are geared to helping and encouraging greening and recycling.
- Where do you turn for your news?
Mainly TV (Sky, BBC, CNN) and The Times (London)
- What is one environmental change you vow to make in the next year?
To use our garden to benefit the environment and wildlife more – plant more trees, native plants, more homes for bees and beetles as well as amphibians, small mammals and others.
- What’s your favorite book?
I have several really, I find I can’t choose just one – stories where the animals are winning! I do read a lot and like action-adventure stories, courtroom dramas, environmental and political dramas and mysteries.
- How did Animal Defenders International get started?
In the late 1980s there was a generational change, when young people were gripped by what was happening to the planet, climate change, the rainforests and the other species that share our planet. At the time, I was working for an organization called the National Anti-Vivisection Society in the UK – founded in 1875, it is the world’s very first organization dedicated to opposing cruelty to animals in research laboratories (I still work for the NAVS as well). I felt that we needed to change our approach to what we were doing as all of these issues are interconnected. It is about respect for other species, those who don’t look like us and don’t speak our language, and respect for our environment. It has taken a long time for humanity to realize that the destruction we cause hurts us, too.
- Have animals always had a special place in your heart?
Yes, always. I have always been fascinated by their lives, their communication, their intelligence – they are often much better at understanding us, than we are at understanding them!
- Did you have pets growing up?
Yes, a dog and when I was very young, hamsters.
- Can you talk a little bit about “Lion Ark”?
Lion Ark is the story of the rescue of 25 lions and other animals from circuses in Bolivia. Following Animal Defenders International’s 2-year investigation of cruelty in South American circuses, we launched our findings in Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay. The public was horrified. People demanded action and bans followed in each of those countries, and have continued with more! Bolivia was first to ban all animals in circuses, and ADI promised that if they passed a ban, we would help with enforcement of the new law.
This meant helping police and wildlife officials with seizures of illegal circus animals and finding them new homes. Lion Ark is more action adventure style than traditional documentary; it is up close and personal, in the thick of the action. Circuses defy the law but are tracked down, animals saved, and a joyous finale sees 25 lions airlifted to freedom. It is a story of a small group of people determined to make a difference, of bravery, compassion, and a country that said ‘no’ to cruelty and how attitudes towards animals changed across a continent.
We are very proud that Lion Ark won 11 awards at international film festivals and critical acclaim such as, “the feel-good movie of the year!” (Reel Talk); “A consciousness-raising milestone” (The Ecologist); “Refreshing”, The New York Times; “Compelling cinema verité” (The Hollywood Reporter); “unmissable, and Born Free with Balls on” (Britflicks).
The movie is certainly changing minds and I am always delighted when audiences tell me that they would never have believed they could make a connection with an individual lion, until they see the movie. It is out on DVD since November.
- What are some of the hardships you faced while filming “Lion Ark”?
The hardships were the tough seizures – taking animals away from people who see them as a piece of property – many hours wrangling to get the animals away. And the very long, hard road journeys with trucks of animals. Bolivia is an enormous country! Some of our journeys involved driving for days to get the animals to our temporary rescue center so that we could care for them until we found their forever home. Filming in rainy season, lots of biting insects. I got dengue fever towards the end of the rescue (I disappear in the film for a while…).
- Were there any benefits during filming?
Being of service to these beautiful, intelligent and emotional animals is a privilege and getting so close to them and getting to know them, an honor.
- With your constant time, work and devotion to saving animals, we’re sure a lot of our readers are curious. Are you a vegetarian?
I have been vegan for about 30 years.
- We read that Animal Defenders International has successfully seized and saved animals from 9 different circuses across Peru. Can you offer us, and our readers, a little bit of insight on how animals involved in circus life are treated, and why these circus bans are important?
Our most recent rescue has been Operation Spirit of Freedom – following Peru’s ban on wild animals in circuses, we tracked down all the circuses and together with wildlife officials and police, we rescued the animals. Colombia’s ban has also passed, so we took their first nine lions with us as well. This time, we have rescued over 100 animals – monkeys of six species, bears, coatimundis, kinkajous, birds, reptiles, a tiger, a mountain lion and of course, 33 African lions. Peru is a huge and remote country and it took us 18 months; when the first seizures started, the circuses fled to the mountains and jungle to avoid capture. So we had to wait and track them down. We also rescued animals from the illegal wildlife trade and from suppliers and restaurants. All the native wild animals were returned to their natural habitats, in protected habitats that we built, in sanctuaries. So it was only right that the African lions got to be returned to their homeland, too – so we took them back to Africa! We have built habitats for our rescued animals in two Amazon shelters and we have built huge habitats for the African lions. We are funding the enclosures, food, staff and veterinary care for our animals in Peru and Africa.
- How can others get involved with Animal Defenders International?
We really need people to help ADI to do more! We need volunteers to work in their local communities and spread the word about ending the suffering of animals for entertainment. We need people to help educate in schools, educate elected officials, raise funds to care for our rescued animals and also, to build up money for the next rescues – there are a lot of animals who need to be saved! Arranging a local Lion Ark screening, or an event at home, or getting together with friends to organize an event for animals is essential! Why not see how you can be of service to those who cannot speak for themselves? When we rescue animals, we need help with that, too! We would love everyone to become a real Animal Defender and take action for animals.
HELP us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AnimalDefenders/
VOLUNTEER! come on our website: http://www.ad-international.org/adi_home/
BECOME a circus educator at: http://www.stopcircussuffering.com/
- What’s next for Animal Defenders International?
Our most exciting projects right now are our new federal circus bill in the US Congress – Representatives Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) and Ryan Costello (R-PA) have introduced HR6342, The Traveling Exotic Animal and Public Safety Protection Act, which aims to end the suffering of wild animals in circuses in the United States. Over 30 countries have introduced legislation to end the suffering and 63 local jurisdictions in the US have already acted to stop wild animal circus performances. We are hoping that Congress will look at the suffering and decide, as other countries have, that it is no longer acceptable in a civilized, advanced and educated society, to make animals suffer for a few moments of entertainment.
LEARN ABOUT the bill, and what you can do: http://www.federalcircusbill.org/
We also have another huge rescue coming on the horizon – Colombia is in the process of putting together their regulations and plans to implement a wild animal circus ban, and they will need help with relocation of the animals.
BECOME an ADI ANIMAL RESCUER and see the happy result: https://lionsbacktoafrica.org/
And we would like to see more progress – an end to testing cosmetics on animals and a commitment to phase out primate use in laboratories – a huge educational effort needs lots of volunteers to help!