Sunday, December 11, 2011

"Inspiration in Action" for wildlife conservation - a personal account


OMG Belize Wildlife & Referral Clinic is in the final for the contest! I rub my eyes and can not believe it. „Inspiration in Action“ is truly an awesome title for this and, believe it or not, the first grant proposal for a project that has been in my head for over 15 years. But how did I get there?

In brief and leaving out a few years and countries in between it started in 1994 when my dear friends from Profelis in Costa Rica opened my eyes to what would become the passion I would dedicate my career to: wildlife conservation and medicine, as well as rescue and rehabilitation.

I had decided to become a veterinarian out of a love for animals and the desire to work in and with nature with biology as second choice. After the first three years in vet school I felt discouraged about what I learned about the profession of a domestic veterinarian. While I loved dogs and cats, I more and more disliked the fact that we humans would breed animals to our liking of what we felt was „pretty“ while the animals suffered with the „breed dispositions“. Of course, „never argue „fashion““ but to me welfare was more important. I loved farm animals but I disliked the fact that their main purpose seemed to be to grow and produce as fast as possible, often under to me questionable conditions. I loved horses too and it was because of them that I decided I wanted to be a veterinarian at age 11; after I witnessed my first birth – who would not be inspired watching the first steps of a newborn foal? But at 22 I had come to realize that my motivation for becoming a veterinarian - the desire to heal and „help“ animals and to work in and for nature - had been somewhat naive.

It seemed to me our daily veterinary life would all too often make us have to be psychologists and make economic choices to sacrifice animals or their welfare to human needs. I decided to take a break for a semester. At this point I have to thank a special person: my mother! Instead of possibly turning into a „jewelry selling beach traveler“ (my back-up plan at the time) she convinced me to volunteer in a conservation project with wild cats in Costa Rica.

Little did we know that it would change my life, to meet two inspirational German biologists, founders and directors of Profelis. They had come to study wild cats, and discovered a clear need for a facility that would rescue confiscated animals for the government. They took on the challenge to try to provide a solution by receiving and when possible rehabilitating to release this endangered species. I saw their challenges: no money, several years of negotiations, cooperation issues, grant applications, bureaucracy and many adversities. And I witnessed their whole-hearted dedication: living in a humble little house and rebuild the center 3 times, even from total devastation through a hurricane, with their own hands and WITHOUT a salary, for as long as 7 years! That truly inspired me. It was them who pointed me to a contact in Guatemala, the veterinarian and director of ARCAS, a general wildlife rescue center. The most amazing 2 years of my life would follow, while travelling Costa Rica and Guatemala to work as a veterinary volunteer in wildlife conservation projects. ARCAS was truly inspiring in that for the first time I saw local people, not foreigners, and from poor backgrounds (so not philanthropists) work hard to save their natural heritage. I experienced the first baby season and I saw a wildlife rescue center overwhelmed with hundreds of animals coming from the pet trade in a period of 6 weeks.

I returned to vet school with new found goals and passions. I had learned about the need for professional veterinary assistance in wildlife conservation in the field. I had seen the hardship, mainly meaning little to no income, hard work and many set backs, but I had also been inspired by simple people, who had so much less than I was even born with, dedicate their lives towards animals and nature. And I felt that, coming from a rich „country of abundance“, Germany, I wanted to dedicate my career to benefit development and nature conservation and take that challenge as well.

My childhood experiences in and the resulting love for Latin America, and having seen animals in the pet trade on the „other end“ - after illegal smuggling to developed world, and usually point of no return - I wanted to apply my skills, where there truly still is a chance of returning an animal to its natural habitat. And, where we can still work towards preserving natural habitats, and ultimately a harmonious cohabitation of humans in nature. I know that is the naive part of me again, but I believe in the benefit of having positive dreams and goals.

Over the next 15 years the proposal suited for my desire to find a similar niche, where I could use my medical professions’ training to apply it to heal and help animals and work to conserve nature and „give back“, would be refined over and over. One day I would like to dedicate an entire book to the many inspiring people I met while volunteering and visiting projects in 7 countries and learning many lessons over many years. And I guess that could be a nice book because all so often we tend to think that the world is filled with BAD people and tend to not remember those great inspiring people.

Ending our „nomadic“ years and visiting and settling in Belize was a like a revelation to the still hazy vision. And of course the beginning of another long process of learning, which is certainly continuing as we speak. After 8 years of living here, evaluating the situation, finding the gap and my niche, networking, consulting stakeholders, gathering (philosophical) support, and working with the government, I have finally given up on the idea that „someone“ will come along and „absorb my idea“ and write a large grant for me. With the idea to assist solving many of the countries wildlife problems in one go, for now and forever (meaning beyond my own involvement). I know that was setting my goals way too high, but I did that for years anyways. And I didn’t even know how to begin. Here I just must thank my dear husband for supporting me throughout and pointing out „you are trying to jump from A to Z instead of going via BCDE...just do it yourself, and start it small.“ and I finally heard him too.

It was Spartacus the 600 g Howler monkey baby who „pushed me over the edge“ to decide that even if it was small, the need for a medical facility for wildlife and some basic medical diagnostic and treatment tools was overwhelming. And that I would just start this clinic myself, without a million $ grant. It was Spartacus who inspired me, to activate this blog, apply for a minute loan and finally start looking for financial support for the wildlife rescue facility that I somehow started dreaming about in 1994. And just to make it clear: since then I have held numerous paid jobs simultaneously to support my „expensive hobby and passion“ as a „professional volunteer“ mostly without outside financial support or a salary.

And a few days after the decision to finally start seeking outside financial support for the work I am most passionate about, I accidentally saw this „Inspiration in Action“ contest... which in addition to the opportunity to help wildlife, offered the opportunity to assist the countries veterinarians and fulfill my personal mandate in the veterinary association to assist the advancement of our profession. So I felt inspired and just started writing. And I got a lot of help in the writing. And now we are in the final and with YOUR HELP could win $25,000 to purchase medical and diagnostic equipment to serve an entire country.

Regardless of outcome, it is VERY inspiring to have our proposal selected over so many other great projects and it sure will give me more energy and desire to continue facing the challenges of trying to assist sustainable development and wildlife conservation as well as animal welfare. I will be EVER GRATEFULL for the amazing response from everybody out there!

We keep our fingers crossed that despite being an „outsider“ and a small Caribbean country, with your help the Belize Wildlife Referral Clinic will win the Heska Inspiration in Action contest! Voting continues until the 18th of December.

We need thousands of votes to compete with the other 4 excellent contestants. So I hope you can also help us by convincing as many of your US-friends and family to please vote for BWRC here:

http://www.heska.com/Inspiration-Wall.aspx

Or directly on Facebook:

http://www.facebook.com/Heska?sk=app_280290708677410

Many exciting new rescues have happened recently, including another baby howler monkey, an Osprey and the most amazing solitary eagle! So stay „tuned“ for more?

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