When IFAW was founded in 1969, it consisted of just one man taking on one problem threatening one species in one part of the world. From those humble beginnings, little did Brian Davies know that fifty years later, IFAW would contribute to the conservation and welfare of countless threatened animals in at least 130 countries around the world.
Brian Davies was a pioneer of his day who dared to challenge the status quo. By exploring new and unconventional methods, he voiced his message loud and clear to the world: Killing baby harp seals is cruel. It could never be made humane. And the only option was to end it. Because of his ingenuity, the crusade to end Canada’s commercial seal hunt became the first animal welfare issue to be internationally condemned, and helped birth the modern-day animal welfare movement. As our work gained recognition around the world, we realized something remarkable. We may be small, but our impact was global. What other animals could we champion?
From seals, we expanded our work to protecting other animals in Canada. In 1971, we relocated 24 polar bears to safety, and two years after, saved thousands of songbirds from extermination by Canadian blueberry farmers. By the end of the decade, our efforts had extended internationally as we rescued river otters in Thailand, husky dogs in Greenland, and iguanas in Honduras.
As the decades passed, our work became more comprehensive. We implemented projects in more and more countries tackling the most notorious animal welfare issues, including dog meat consumption in the Philippines, cosmetic testing on rabbits in Europe, and the kangaroo hunt in Australia. Building enduring relationships with local partners on the ground, we successfully pushed countries like South Korea, the United Kingdom, and Russia to pass historic animal welfare laws. And we expanded our animal rescue efforts to natural disasters, dispatching emergency response teams to every corner of the world, whether it was an earthquake in Haiti, a volcano eruption in Indonesia, or flooding in Germany.
Amidst all these campaigns, our core belief remained constant: Individual animals are sentient beings that have intrinsic value and they should be respected and protected. But through our experiences, we always knew we needed to think bigger. What good would it do to rescue an individual animal if the fate of an entire population, or species, or even ecosystem, was at stake? And so IFAW innovated, adapted, and evolved to incorporate more conservation into our work.
By adopting a holistic approach to our work, we strive to build a world where people and animals can coexist and thrive together. Working closely with local communities, we created sustainable solutions to safeguard endangered species like the vicuña in Peru, and the Tibetan antelope in China. Meanwhile, we utilized scientific research to better protect the Mediterranean Monk seal in Greece, and the North Atlantic right whale in the United States. And we helped restore the wild populations of African and Asian elephants, Indian rhinos, and Amur tigers by establishing first of their kind rescue, rehabilitation, and release programs for orphaned animals. We implemented victorious campaigns that led to the protection, preservation, and restoration of vital natural landscapes in Kenya, India, Mexico, and the Southern Ocean. And by training and providing resources to boots on the ground, we’ve limited the threat of illegal wildlife trafficking in countries like Botswana, Ethiopia, and the Republic of the Congo. With all these multiple strategies working together, we uniquely connected animal welfare and conservation, demonstrating that healthy populations, naturally sustaining habitats and the welfare of individual animals are all intertwined.
From what started as one man, IFAW today is a global network of experts with diverse backgrounds and skillsets who are committed to protecting animals on an international, national, and community level. Through passion, courage, determination, and innovation, it is the people of IFAW that have made our work possible. Over the past fifty years, our team has seen it all. But through success and failure, heartbreak and joy, we’ve persevered and will continue to push boundaries for animal welfare and conservation. We know it won’t be easy. As we celebrate our 50th anniversary, we look ahead to the next fifty years with great optimism and excitement. We hope you’ll join us on our continued journey helping animals, people, and the place we call home. Let’s get to work.
— Alexander Mejía-Johnson, Tiff DeGroot, and Kaila Ferrari, IFAW Digital Team
Illegal wildlife trafficking is big business – currently ranking as the world’s fourth-most lucrative illegal industry after narcotics, counterfeiting, and human trafficking. Rhino horn, for example, is now more valuable than gold, diamonds, and cocaine. Global, sophisticated and well-resourced criminal organizations work cooperatively to kill and traffic animal parts, further funding this criminal enterprise. This greed-driven cycle of violence robs the animal of its life, communities of their stability, and the world of our iconic species.
When Lieutenant Colonel Faye Cuevas learned about the poaching crisis in Africa, she couldn’t help but see the similarities between wildlife crime and her work fighting terrorist networks for the U.S. Air Force. Both fields involved fighting against organized crime, corruption, and nested layers of local players and high profile criminals. But there was one major difference that stood out. All too often, counter-poaching events focused on the aftermath of deadly attacks, placing emphasis on confiscating illegal products. Cuevas knew exactly what we needed to revamp our counter-poaching networks. Similar to the military strategy of “left of boom,” Cuevas developed a “left of kill” strategy where the team places immense resources and data on predicting and preventing attacks before they happen. With this philosophy, Lt. Col. Cuevas joined IFAW as Chief of Staff to launch a revolutionary counter-poaching program in Kenya, called tenBoma. Through tenBoma, we are able to save more animals, prevent deadly attacks, and gain crucial information from the poachers under arrest.
The tenBoma project creates a network to defeat the criminal networks that sustain poaching. But defeating poaching is complex. It requires high-tech data analysis and coordinated systems of eyes and ears that can monitor landscapes, predict attacks, and share data. When we began tenBoma, KWS had stockpiles of data on elephant deaths, but it was mostly on paper. Cuevas and other IFAW and KWS staff pored through the data and used geospatial mapping to create visual representations of the landscapes and poaching events. Through this technique, we were able to identify poaching “hotspots” that would become the focus of tenBoma’s initial efforts.
As critical as knowing where poaching is likely to happen, is knowing when it might happen. And to do so, we need the support of the local community. So, Cuevas and IFAW’s tenBoma community liaisons work closely to develop lasting relationships with the local Maasai villagers through comprehensive community engagement. We empower local men and women through educational initiatives, helping them develop the skills they need for better livelihoods. As they see IFAW’s work help their communities, the villagers become more comfortable sharing information about suspicious activity in their community. Since something as seemingly unrelated as a theft of tea and sugar from a small village shop or a stranger to the area inquiring of a motorbike repair can be a predictor of poaching, these tip-offs can be critical to knowing when an attack will happen.
The tip-offs are gathered and combined with data from sophisticated modern technology such as satellite surveillance, drones and GIS mapping. And once we know where and when a poaching attempt is likely, we get to work in order to remain “left of kill” and stop the poaching incident before it happens. Our tenBoma intelligence officers inform teams of field rangers who deploy to the site and patrol the area. Often, the mere presence of rangers is enough to deter would-be poachers, sparing animal lives.
IFAW’s pilot initiative originated in Tsavo East National Park, Kenya’s key conservation area. Since then, we’ve expanded tenBoma to other critical Kenyan landscapes, including Tsavo West National Park, Amboseli National Park, and the Kilimanjaro landscape. IFAW and KWS have trained more than 70 intelligence and investigation ofﬁcers, and executed three major operations – uncovering new poaching networks and leading to investigations and arrests. And since the project was implemented, where IFAW tenBoma has worked with partners like KWS and community conservancies to focus analysis and operations in targeted hotspot areas, the system has been effective in reducing poaching to zero, according to reporting. We know this work will not stop illegal wildlife trafficking alone. But, it is a vital part of IFAW’s holistic approach to destroy every link in the wildlife trafficking chain – and combined with policy changes and conservation, we can make a lasting difference for the elephants and people of Kenya.
— Tiff DeGroot, Kaila Ferrari, and Alexander Mejía-Johnson, IFAW Digital Team
Tusks are a remarkable feature of elephants. Growing from inside the animal’s mouth, they are actually the upper incisors, continuously growing at about 7 inches (17 centimeters) a year. But unlike human teeth, these ones can’t easily be removed. At least one third of the tusk is embedded inside the elephant’s skull and consists of blood vessels, connective tissue, and nerves. Some of the nerves even stretch to the tip. Simply put, it’s not possible to remove a tusk without killing the elephant and causing immense suffering.
This is the ugly truth behind the global trade in ivory. The Asian demand for the hard creamy-white material comprising elephant tusks was responsible for the slaughter of over half a million African elephants in the 1970s and 1980s. The killing spree was only halted by a global ivory trade ban in 1989. However, in 2007, the ban was temporarily lifted to allow a sale of over 108 tons of ivory from southern Africa to Japan and China, reinvigorating the demand.
Grace Ge Gabriel, IFAW’s Regional Director of Asia, was horrified by the potentially devastating impact the ivory trade would have on elephants. China’s booming economy had produced tremendous new wealth. Tens of millions of consumers could now afford to buy ivory to demonstrate their wealth and and social status. But an IFAW survey found 70% of people in China were unaware that ivory came from dead elephants. In Chinese, the word for ivory or tusk is elephant teeth. People thought elephants don’t die — they just shed their teeth.
As a native of China who understands and respects the complexities of the cultural heritage, Ge Gabriel knew that pulling on the hearts and minds of consumers was the key to changing attitudes and stopping the slaughter of elephants. In 2008, IFAW embarked on a massive, multifaceted public awareness campaign called “Mom, I Have Teeth,” which used the point of view of an elephant mother and her calf to sensitize the Chinese public about the reality of the ivory trade. Corporations such as JCDecaux helped us install thousands of billboards at airports, on trains, and in subways all across China. A billboard went up in Guangzhou, steps from a notorious ivory market. An educator, so touched by the message, put it into the College Entrance Exam as a language question. Subsequently, 9 million college applicants learned that ivory came from killing elephants.
The “Mom, I Have Teeth” campaign went viral online. Resonating with the message, thousands wrote comments in blogs, forums, and social networking sites. A young mother asked others to not take away a mother elephant’s joy in seeing her baby growing teeth. A former ivory carver thanked us for informing him of the facts, and vowed to never carve elephant ivory again. In just four years, the campaign penetrated 75% of urban China and successfully reduced the segment of the Chinese population most likely to purchase ivory from 54 to 26 percent.
Ge Gabriel realized public awareness can erase ignorance, but to eradicate greed, we needed clear laws making ivory trade illegal in all circumstances. In December 2011, IFAW alerted authorities of an impending and illegal auction of wildlife products leading to a ban on the auction of ivory, rhino horn, tiger bone and other endangered wildlife products. The ban resulted in a 90% drop in ivory products sold in auctions the next year.
In 2014, we revved up our efforts to mobilize society with a new campaign, “Save Elephants, Say No to Ivory.” A dozen Chinese celebrities joined us in asking their peers, friends and fans not to buy ivory and urging the government to ban the trade. That same year, we even developed an “Augmented Reality” elephant called Laura that traveled across the country into shopping malls, libraries, and museums — allowing the Chinese public to experience the beauty of a live elephant up close and personal. This collective work was so successful that in 2015, IFAW was officially recognized as one of the top 20 brands in China — the only non-governmental organization that made the list.
In December 2016, China amazed the world by announcing a ban on ivory trade by the end of 2017. The ban had resulted in the drop of ivory prices across Asia, enhanced enforcement actions against illegal ivory trade, and increased penalties against wildlife crime in China. This was truly a historic victory for the conservation of elephants.
This kind of societal change does not happen overnight. But through patience and persistence, IFAW has single-handedly been the driving force in changing how Chinese society views ivory. But the work is not over. Ge Gabriel and IFAW will continue to stigmatize wildlife consumption. As long as ivory markets exist – legal or illegal – elephants will be at risk. But through our behavior change campaigns, we’ll be there to convert one person at a time – and eventually put an end to all of the world’s remaining ivory markets.
— Kaila Ferrari, Tiff DeGroot, and Alexander Mejía-Johnson, IFAW Digital Team
Unbeknownst to most of the world above, the ocean’s surface hides one of conservation’s biggest crises. North Atlantic right whales are suffering slow and excruciating deaths from entanglement in fishing gear and collisions with shipping vessels. And they could be extinct in the next twenty years if we don’t act now.
The North Atlantic right whale has endured a long history of suffering at the hands of humans. Back in the 16th and 17th centuries, whalers considered them the “right whale” to hunt. Their docile and slow moving nature, and tendency to stay close to the coast made them preferred targets. And with a high blubber content, they floated after being killed, allowing whalers to easily harvest their lucrative whale oil. By the early 1900s, East Coast whalers in the United States and Canada had pushed the right whale to the brink of extinction. For the next fifty years, conservationists worked tirelessly to end whaling in these regions and increase protections for the right whale.
Today, the North Atlantic right whale is legally protected by a global ban on whaling and the Marine Mammal Protection Act and Endangered Species Act. Yet, we find ourselves in a similar battle as those conservationists a hundred years ago. Now the biggest threat facing North Atlantic right whales are entanglements from fishing gear. Over the course of a migration, right whales have to navigate through a maze of ropes and fishing gear. By the end of the trek, they are sometimes entangled in hundreds of pounds of fishing gear. As the rope cuts deeper into the whale’s flesh, every day is a struggle to feed and survive. It’s not long until the whales starve to death or drown from the overbearing weight.
For years, IFAW has been leading the charge to save the North Atlantic right whale. Our research vessel, Song of the Whale utilized innovative technology to learn more about the overall health of right whale populations. Meanwhile, our Marine Mammal Rescue and Research team assisted partners in disentanglement rescues and performed necropsies, or animal autopsies, on dead right whales to investigate the cause of death. We were making progress and the population was slowly rebounding, but we didn’t anticipate what would happen next.
In 2017, the North Atlantic right whale experienced an unexpected and unprecedented number of deaths known as an Unusual Mortality Event. Seventeen right whales were found dead over the course of the year, leaving just an estimated 415 individuals. In the aftermath, a comprehensive report on right whale mortalities since 2003, recently submitted for publication by IFAW, revealed the grim truth: 100% of the whales for which we could establish a cause of death died from human-induced trauma.
To make matters worse, no right whale calves were born during the Unusual Mortality Event. Scientists suspected severe entanglements were forcing female right whales to exert extra energy that was otherwise needed to reproduce. With whales dying and none being born, there was even more urgency for scientists, fishermen, and policymakers to work together to save the right whale. We needed to act fast, or else we would lose right whales forever.
IFAW jumped into action and began tackling the crisis from every angle. Through digital campaigns and public outreach, we’re spreading awareness of the crisis. We’ve partnered with local fishermen on Cape Cod to test new ropeless fishing gear that could prevent whale entanglements. And our marine experts are working closely with the U.S. Congress to pass the SAVE Right Whales Act of 2019, new legislation that would establish a grant system to provide funding for research and new fishing gear testing. We’re even working to develop a “whale-safe” seafood certification system that would drive demand for sustainable seafood to benefit fishermen that use ropeless fishing gear.
It takes innovative solutions to save a critically endangered animal like the North Atlantic right whale. But it will require immense collaboration with scientists, lawmakers, fishermen, and consumers to ensure a future for these majestic animals. We can save the right whale. And we must do it now.
— Kaila Ferrari, Tiff DeGroot, and Alexander Mejía-Johnson, IFAW Digital Team
For many of us, getting water is as simple as turning on a faucet. But in reality, about 2.1 billion people, or 30% of the world population, lacks access to safe, readily available drinking water at home. For the people living in the Chikolongo village of Malawi, retrieving water was often a matter of life or death. Villagers had to walk miles to collect water from the Shire River in Liwonde National Park, exposing themselves to dangerous encounters with native wildlife like elephants, hippos, and crocodiles. And for the women and girls who are traditionally responsible for the task of collecting water, the risk of being assaulted by men made this trek even more dangerous. By 2013, the community was experiencing an average of three deaths a month. But the victims weren’t just humans. Animals were often killed in retaliation for the harm they inflicted. The wildlife and people of Chikolongo and Liwonde couldn’t go on living like this.
In 2013, IFAW partnered with the Chikolongo community to help develop a sustainable solution that would ensure the safety of both villagers and wildlife. After a year of planning and construction, we built a water pump and pipeline that would provide the community with a secure and easily-accessible source for clean water. This water would not only be used for drinking, but it would also nourish vegetable gardens and fill man-made pools utilized for a sustainable fish farm.
The pipeline changed everything. The number of people killed by crocodiles or hippos while retrieving water from the river dropped to zero. And retaliatory actions on animals also dropped significantly. But the pipeline was not simply a safety measure. The ripple effect it would have through the community was extensive. Food production from the fish farm resulted in a 71% increase in the locals’ protein consumption. More importantly, this sustainable food alternative decreased illegal poaching of fish in the Shire River and the consumption of bushmeat. Meanwhile, a surplus of crops from the vegetable gardens are being sold to the park lodge, providing economic growth to Chikolongo. And with girls no longer having to walk to the river to fetch water, they now had more time to go to school and improve the quality of their education. Overall, we’ve built a stronger sense of community, harmony, and happiness for Chikolongo and its wildlife.
Today, our project has expanded to cover three villages, serving over 3,500 individuals. More than just a water pipeline, we’ve also built electric fences to prevent elephants from raiding village crops. And we’ve trained people on animal husbandry and beekeeping as alternative sources of income. Our new educational workshops are changing perspectives, helping people understand the benefits of choosing coexistence over conflict with wildlife. By empowering communities like Chikolongo through sustainable human development, we’re increasing the well-being of both people and animals and showing that we can indeed thrive together.
— Kaila Ferrari, Alexander Mejía-Johnson, IFAW Digital Team
The endangered Siberian or Amur tiger is the largest of all cats in the world. But despite its formidable size and strength, this apex predator of East Asia has been no match for humans. Once found in Russia, China, Mongolia, and Korea, rampant poaching and deforestation has reduced the population to a small area in the Russian Far East and northeast China. Today there are fewer than 600 Amur tigers left in the world.
IFAW has helped with intensive conservation efforts to ensure the recovery and expansion of the last remaining Amur tiger population. We began our work in 2006 when we collaborated with local partners and the Russian government to form two national parks in the Russian Far East. This would secure critical landscapes needed for a project to rescue, rehabilitate, and release tigers. Some experts said it wasn’t possible to successfully release a rescued Amur tiger back to the wild. But one special tiger would prove otherwise.
On February 25, 2012, hunters in Primorsky Krai came across two orphaned tiger cubs: a brother and sister, only about six months old. Their mother was likely killed by poachers. Starving, malnourished, and frostbitten, the cubs were utterly helpless. They were brought to the local Russian Wildlife Department to be nursed back to health by a veterinarian. Tragically, the brother was too weak and did not survive. But the resilient female pulled through. She was named Zolushka, the Russian word for “Cinderella.”
After an operation to remove the tip of her tail, which had been damaged by severe frostbite, Zolushka was transferred on March 14 to the IFAW-supported PRNCO Tiger Center. Here, she would undergo a special rehabilitation program to improve her physical condition and develop the appropriate behaviors and skills needed to survive in the wild. Provided with a spacious enclosure, she slowly learned to hunt and stalk her prey and grew into a confident and strong tigress.
The following year, when Zolushka was about 20 months old, she was independent and completely ready for the next stage of her life. On May 9, 2013, she was transferred and released into the Bastak Nature Reserve, becoming the first successfully rehabilitated Amur tiger cub to be reintroduced into the wild as part of this history-making program.
But before this Cinderella was released, she was fitted with her own glass slipper in the form of a satellite/radio collar to track her movements and monitor her well-being. For months, monitoring showed that Zolushka was acclimating well to a life in the wild. Although alive and thriving, the ultimate measure of success would be if Zolushka could eventually reproduce and further contribute to the wild population. However, there was one problem. Tigers disappeared from the forests of Bastak Reserve 40 years ago, making Zolushka alone without a Prince Charming.
That problem was miraculously solved when a lone male tiger, later named Zavetny by the research team, wandered into Zolushka’s range. Tracks of Zolushka and Zavetny were soon found together. But Zolushka still needed time to mature until she was ready for motherhood. More than two years later on December 9, 2015, we were finally rewarded with the news we’d all been patiently waiting for: Zolushka had given birth to two cubs. Zolushka was now the first rehabilitated and released Amur tiger to give birth in the wild. Her two new cubs had now doubled the population in the Bastak Nature Reserve, validating the successful efforts of IFAW and our partners.
But Zolushka wasn’t the only tiger with something to prove. Meanwhile, more and more orphaned tiger cubs were continuing to be rescued and rehabilitated. In 2014, five tigers — Ilona, Borya, Kuzya, Ustin, and Svetlaya — were released back to the wild, the largest-ever Amur tiger release in Russia. And Filippa and Vladik were then released in 2017. That same year, Svetlaya was photographed with a young cub, while Zolushka had her second litter with Zavetny.
Through our collaborative work in the Russian Far East, IFAW and our partners on the ground narrated a true Cinderella story for Zolushka and her fellow Amur tigers. Once faced with unfortunate circumstances, these animals have persevered against all odds returning to the wild to triumphantly reclaim a habitat once lost. With the overall population now stabilized, there may be a fairytale ending after all for Russia’s tigers.”
— Alexander Mejía-Johnson, IFAW Digital Team
On a brisk January morning in the Tver Region of Russia, two bear cubs cuddle against their mother for warmth. Just a few days old, they are blind, hairless, and toothless. All they know is the inside of the den where the family will hibernate until summer arrives. Outside the cave, hunting hounds bark aggressively. Mens’ footsteps get louder as they slowly approach the cave’s entrance. The scared mother, startled awake by the commotion, rushes towards the outside world. As soon as she steps out of the safety of her den, a bullet flies through the air and strikes her. Her lifeless body slumps to the ground, her splattered blood staining the snow crimson. The men, proud of their kill, seize their trophy and head home, indifferent to the the two cubs they have left orphaned. Unable to survive on their own, the cubs will die slowly of starvation or hypothermia.
Russia is home to the largest brown bear population in the world, and a centuries-old tradition of winter den hunting: the cruel practice of rousing bears from their dens during winter hibernation to then shoot them. This resulted in thousands of bear cubs left orphaned every year all over Russia.
Luckily, Russia’s bears had a savior in the name of Professor Valentin Pazhetnov. In the 1970s, Professor Valentin Pazhetnov began studying the behavior of brown bears, and then began rehabilitating bears by 1983. Through his findings, he learned that bears are extremely difficult to raise in captivity because cubs become accustomed to humans very easily. And if the animal is not afraid of people, it will not survive in the wild.
And so Professor Pazhetnov sought to develop a unique method of rehabilitating bears that would ensure their survival back in the wild. This project took a giant leap forward in 1995 when he partnered with IFAW to establish the Orphan Bear Rehabilitation Center (OBRC). Located in Bubonitsy, 280 miles (450 kilometers) northwest of Moscow, OBRC’s primary objective is to rehabilitate the bears, while minimizing their exposure to humans, thus preparing them for independent survival in the wild. Rather than intimately raising these bears, OBRC provides conditions that resemble their natural environment as closely as possible. Through this process, the bears acquire all the forms of natural behavior necessary for life in the wild: foraging for food, nesting, climbing trees, and most importantly — a fear response to humans. With these methods, OBRC proved to be a resounding success. Year after year, bears have been released back into the wild. And post-release monitoring has indicated that the cubs had adapted well to their new natural habitat.
However, the success of IFAW’s OBRC did not change the fact that the winter den hunt continued on, killing and orphaning brown bears. Therefore, while we supported rescue efforts at OBRC, we were simultaneously pressuring the Russian government to end the den hunt. Thousands of our supporters wrote letters in protest to the Russian president, prime minister, and parliament. And we gathered about 500,000 signed petitions demanding a stop to the den hunt. Through our active campaigning, it became obvious to the Russian government that the time had come to stop this barbaric tradition. And on March 16th, 2011, Russia passed the “Rules of the Hunt” legislation, which significantly reduced the hunting season for bears, specifically banning the winter season when bears are hibernating in their dens. This legislation was a huge victory for IFAW and a tremendous step forward for animal welfare in Russia.
The 2011 ban has reduced the number of bears orphaned annually by around two thirds. But every year, hundreds of bears are still left orphaned either by poachers violating the law, or by loggers inadvertently scaring mother bears away. And so the lucky few that continue to be rescued are brought to OBRC for a second chance at life. Meanwhile, Professor Pazhetnov has passed on his passion and skills for bear rescue to his family, with his son Sergey now the head of OBRC, and his grandson Vasili a care specialist. With three generations worth of expertise and experience, more than 230 bears have now been rescued, rehabilitated, and released back to the wild.
— Kaila Ferrari, Alexander Mejía-Johnson, IFAW Digital Team
Imagine operating an animal clinic in one tiny room. As you check in a new patient, your colleague across the aisle administers anesthesia to a cat who will undergo a spay procedure. The phone is ringing, dogs are barking, and volunteers are running around caring for one animal after another. The scene is hectic, yet IFAW’s Dr. Erika Flores remains focused and calm. Stitch by stitch, she heals a dog and gives him a second chance at life after suffering from severe wounds. In the midst of the chaos, Dr. Flores finishes the surgery and lays the dog down in a makeshift dog bed to recover. This scenario was a daily experience for our partners at Coco’s Animal Welfare in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. And we knew we needed to make a big change.
Playa del Carmen is one of the fastest growing multicultural cities in Latin America and the number of dogs and cats that roam the streets grows alongside the human population. Known in local communities as “malix,” the Mayan word for “mutt,” common mixed-breed dogs were a familiar sight on almost every street corner. Although owners care for their dogs and cats, many lack money or transportation to access the resources necessary to treat them. Additionally, roaming animals that are either un-owned or abandoned suffer from untreated illnesses and injuries, and are left to scavenge for food and clean water.
In 2012, IFAW partnered with Coco’s Animal Welfare, which was the region’s only spay and neuter clinic. To make their services more efficient, we purchased a mobile veterinary unit in 2013 that aided in educational outreach, transportation of animals, emergency assistance, and spay and neuter campaigns. But the growth of the community increased the demand of these services. With Coco’s operating from a small house, we recognized that we were in desperate need of a larger facility.
In 2015, IFAW sponsored the construction of a new clinic that could provide our experts with the appropriate space and equipment they needed to thrive in their jobs. And on May 7, 2016, we celebrated the grand opening of our new state-of-the-art Coco’s Animal Welfare clinic.With all the proper rooms, equipment, and supplies required, our veterinarians now have the resources to efficiently provide treatment in a comfortable atmosphere.
On average, Coco’s Animal Welfare clinic now assists 10,000 animals every year. Our low cost spay and neuter services for cats and dogs help minimize the number of unwanted animals and ensures that animals have a loving family to take care of them. In many cases, our dedicated staff even open their own homes up to animals in need. When Princesa came to us, the little dog was suffering from a tick-borne disease and needed around-the-clock care. Dr. Flores brought her home and cared for her throughout the entire night until she was well enough to reunite with her family the next morning. This dedication is what makes Coco’s Animal Welfare such a loved and respected organization in the community.
It’s not only the animals that benefit from our work. Through community outreach initiatives and daily interactions with locals, we’re building an environment where people respect animals and benefit from these positive relationships. Pet guardianship has improved drastically and families are happy knowing they can rely on Coco’s Animal Welfare when their animal is in need. We’re changing perspectives and creating a better future for the people and animals of Playa del Carmen.
— Kaila Ferrari, Alexander Mejía-Johnson, IFAW Digital Team
A sea of gray bodies cover a narrow sand bar in Chatham, Massachusetts – a haul-out of gray seals have gathered to rest. Among the crowd is a young female who is in desperate need of more than just rest: she needs a rescuer. With deadly-thin monofilament fishing net wrapped tightly around her neck, she suffers as the line cuts deep into her flesh. But she is lucky. Others die at sea, drowned or strangled by the fishing gear they are entangled in. This seal will be saved.
Like many other seals around the world, this young female had the misfortune of interacting with fishing gear and getting caught in it. Unable to free herself, she carried the gear and grew into it, causing the wound to grow ever deeper. There is no doubt that entanglement can cause immense suffering, whether through slow strangulation, starvation, exhaustion or prolonged infection. And so, IFAW’s Marine Mammal Rescue and Research team has committed to advancing disentanglement methods to reduce the effects of this rampant animal welfare issue.
Capturing and treating seals is dangerous – even for trained professionals. Adult seals weigh hundreds of pounds, have powerful jaws, sharp teeth, and can be aggressive when approached. Further complicating the issue, seals who have hauled out to shore flush back into the water at the slightest disturbance, resulting in a flurry of flippers, and general chaos for rescuers searching for a single individual. This made it difficult to capture a specific seal from a haul-out of hundreds. Even with weeks of planning, coordination, and specialized gear, the success rate of actually catching an entangled seal was low. And so we realized that in order to increase our chances of capturing these animals, which are clearly suffering, we needed to be able to safely and quickly sedate seals from a distance.
On Wednesday, July 27, 2016, our Marine Mammal Rescue team made this a reality by performing the first-ever seal disentanglement using remote sedation on the East Coast of the U.S. In the early morning hours, we left the docks in three boats loaded with specialized disentanglement and veterinary equipment, along with a talented team of biologists and veterinarians. Not long after, we spotted the young female, who we later named Sausalito. Using remote sedation methods, we delivered a dart containing the sedative and an acoustic transmitter, which was specially-developed for use in darts by our partners at the Marine Mammal Center in California. As the seals flushed back to sea, we used a hydrophone to determine her location in the fray. And after twenty minutes of tense searching, Sausalito was safely captured. We carried her to land and the team immediately began to remove the monofilament fishing line that was cutting into her neck. We cleaned her wounds, gave her a dose of antibiotics, and attached a satellite tracking tag to monitor her recovery.
Sausalito’s successful release was a significant step in responding to entangled seals on Cape Cod. Ultimately though, disentangling animals is merely a bandage on the larger issue of marine entanglement. IFAW’s Marine Mammal Rescue team continues to research and understand more deeply the issues causing these entanglements. We are also finding solutions, which if implemented can reduce the problem. But in the meantime, the current victims of entanglement do not deserve to suffer. So we invest the time and resources for better methods to save individual animals – because each individual animal matters.
All activities are performed under NMFS permit #18786 and supported in part by a John H. Prescott grant.
— Tiff DeGroot, Kaila Ferrari, and Alexander Mejía-Johnson, IFAW Digital Team
When the global ban on commercial whaling went into effect in 1986, it was a landmark event hailed as one of the most effective decisions ever made by an international body for the protection of wildlife. Tens of thousands of whales would be saved from slaughter every year.
However, there was one catch — A previous provision from an international treaty on whaling signed in 1946 allowed for the killing of an unlimited numbers of whales for purposes of “scientific research.” And some countries, including Japan, and later Iceland, decided to take full advantage of this loophole to defy the moratorium, and continue whaling.
Japan became the most notorious perpetrator, expanding its “scientific whaling” programs and increasing the size, scale, and the number of species it slaughtered in the name of science. Even after the International Whaling Commission (IWC) created the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary in 1994, Japan, the lone nation to vote “No” disregarded the decision and continued killing whales in this internationally recognized marine protected area.
In reality, no uniquely useful information comes from so-called scientific whaling, which has much more to do with whaling than science. Scientific permits require whale parts and products to be fully utilized, making a scientific permit little more than a license to sell whale meat. And conveniently, the whaling country approves its own permits without meaningful prior scrutiny.
Behind this farcical facade, the truth is obvious — Scientists no longer need to kill whales to learn about them. The world’s best whale science comes from IFAW scientists and others studying live whales swimming in their ocean habitat.
For almost four decades, IFAW has led the fight to end scientific whaling by facilitating international political pressure against a defiant Japan. We’ve supported the IWC in passing more than 40 resolutions criticizing Japan’s whaling. In November 2005, we backed a powerful coalition of nations in adopting a resolution urging Japan to stop its Southern Ocean whaling. And in June 2006, an international panel of independent legal experts convened by IFAW found such whaling “unlawful” under international law.
Ignoring all criticism and diplomatic pressure, Japan doubled down and launched a second Antarctic scientific whaling program in 2005. In response, IFAW encouraged the Government of Australia to launching a legal fight against Japan’s new program on the basis that it was not for purposes of science. In 2013, Australia took their case to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the principal judicial organ of the United Nations. And on March 31, 2014, the ICJ declared Japan’s Southern Ocean whale hunt illegal under international law.
Despite this leviathan victory, which the Government of Japan initially accepted, its fisheries bureaucrats once again found a loophole. Under international law, Japan technically fulfilled the legal requirements of the ICJ ruling by stopping its ongoing whaling program, but then reintroduced a tweaked “new research program” of Antarctic whaling the following year. And so Japan continued whaling, adding more whales to the body count of more than 14,000 slaughtered over more than 30 years.
Undaunted, IFAW continued our efforts to encourage bold action at the IWC. We also redoubled our commitment to encouraging fresh thinking inside Japan, where the decision to end high seas and scientific whaling would ultimately be made.
Respectful, persistent pressure from multiple points ultimately paid off when in December 2018, Japan announced its plans to leave the IWC to end its Antarctic and North Pacific scientific whaling, and to limit any future whaling to its coastal waters and territorial seas. When this decision takes effect at the end of June 2019, the long-running sham of scientific whaling will finally come to an end. As the world closes this grim chapter in our history, all of us at IFAW are recommitting ourselves to leading and supporting the IWC’s continuing migration from ancient “whaler’s club” to becoming a world class whale conservation body addressing the many threats and challenges confronting whales and their ocean habitat in the 21st century.
— Alexander Mejía-Johnson, IFAW Digital Team
The Maasai people of Kenya believe the god Ngai created everything: sky, earth, humans… and cattle. Ngai gave cattle to the Maasai herdsmen to care for, and this has been their sacred task throughout the centuries. Today Maasai lives still revolve around the livestock that provide their very livelihoods.
Daniel Leturesh spends his mornings like most Maasai. He wakes up at 5 am, greets his children, and heads out to check on his cows. But after that, his day strays far from the typical Maasai routine. Instead of spending his day protecting his cattle, he has another group to watch over – his community.
As the Chairman of the Olgulului/Ololarashi Group Ranch (OOGR), which nearly surrounds Amboseli National Park, Leturesh is tasked, among other things, with coordinating individual landowners in the Kitenden Corridor towards developing the corridor to a functioning and operational community Conservancy. He is constantly moving from one meeting to another, finding the best solutions to the concerns of his neighbors. But like the Maasai have for centuries, Chairman Leturesh also recognizes the importance of the wildlife they share the lands with – like the 1,400 elephants who also rely on this land.
Within OOGR lands lies a critical corridor between the park and Mount Kilimanjaro to the south – a route the elephants have used for millennia. If it is broken up by agricultural use, elephants and people end up competing for the same resources, leading to injury and death of both the animals and people alike. Recognizing this, along with the imminent threat of ecosystem degradation and loss of income for the local community, the OOGR, along with Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), opted to collaborate with IFAW to preserve this critical migratory route, called the Kitenden Corridor.
The only viable solution, reached after much discussion and research by IFAW and our partners, was to lease land in the Kitenden Corridor to secure it. But this required each of the 1,600 landowners to agree to the lease.
Chairman Leturesh was a true champion for the effort. He held community meetings and traveled to landowners’ plots. He wanted them to understand the benefits of leasing the land for conservation in lieu of selling it for profit, something other landowners had been forced to do to sustain themselves. He even brought community members to other farms that had been sold, so they could see the negative effects of selling out to developers firsthand.
It took him six years. But working with IFAW, Chairman Leturesh was able to get all the landowners to agree to lease. And on July 17 of 2013, with Mt. Kilimanjaro watching over us, IFAW signed the historic lease agreement – freeing up 16,000 acres of Kitenden Corridor. IFAW renewed the Kitenden Corridor lease for five years and signed leases with an additional 1,000 landowners, bringing the total number of acres protected to 26,000. And Kitenden is now a legally recognized conservancy: the Kitenden Conservancy Trust – the first community-owned trust in OOGR. The group is now well positioned to continue upholding Maasai community values and protecting wildlife in Amboseli as they have for generations.
— Tiff DeGroot, IFAW Digital Team
The sun sets over the horizon, just barely touching the tall elephant grass that stretches as far as the eye can see. An Indian rhino grazes alongside the Brahmaputra river, while a white-bellied heron flies overhead. This is Kaziranga National Park – one of the world’s greatest biodiversity hotspots.
Nestled in the state of Assam, India, Kaziranga National Park is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Indian rhinos, Asian elephants, wild boars, Bengal tigers, and sloth bears are just a few of the iconic species that live in the park and rely on its natural resources for survival. Kaziranga used to be an animal paradise – but conflict resides in the corners of the park. Poaching, habitat destruction, and conflict with humans threatens the everyday survival of these beautiful animals that deserve protection.
In 2002, IFAW, Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), and the Assam Forest Department created the Centre for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation (CWRC) and started an initiative to rescue, rehabilitate, and release animals in need. Our doors were open to every feathered, scaled, and furry animal that needed our help. We created specialized rehabilitation programs for some of India’s most threatened animals, including Indian rhinos, Asian elephants, leopards, eastern hoolock gibbons, and Himalayan griffon vultures. By 2012, we had rescued over 16,000 individual animals and 150 different species.
Every year from June to September, monsoon season sweeps across Assam and leads to an increased number of displaced wildlife and animals in need of rescue. During this time of increased tension, conflict between wildlife and people is high. In preparation for this season, IFAW and WTI organize a pre-flood awareness training for foresters, para military rescue teams and local communities. By the time the floods hit, we are ready to take action fast, collaborate closely with local officials to rescue as many animals as possible, and admit them to CWRC for rehabilitation.
Today, we continue to make a difference for not only India’s animals, but also the local communities that live in Assam. Our experts work directly with local communities to encourage coexistence with native animals and educate people on ways they can avoid conflict. Every animal we rescue, rehabilitate, and release helps contribute to India’s ecosystem and ensures that parks like Kaziranga can continue to flourish. And every educational workshop helps inspire local communities to find sustainable solutions that allow them to live peacefully alongside wildlife. Coinciding together, our animal rescue and public outreach initiatives are creating a better future for India’s people, animals, and landscapes.
— Kaila Ferrari, IFAW Digital Team
Whether you think it resembles mint leaves, clouds, or something else, one thing is certain: Since humans first discovered the clouded leopard, its distinctive coat has fascinated us. The animal’s coat provides the perfect camouflage for them in the forests of Asia. Unfortunately, due to the coat’s beauty, the fur has also put this wild cat at risk of extinction.
Along with shrinking habitats, illegal hunting, primarily for their beautiful fur and their teeth, has pushed this animal to the brink. There could be fewer than 10,000 clouded leopards left in the wild, scattered in small populations throughout Asia. With so few animals left, every individual clouded leopard matters to the species as a whole. So when IFAW and Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) staff learned about two orphaned clouded leopard cubs in northeast India in March, 2009, we knew we had to give them the best chance at a life back in the wild.
Under two weeks old and eyes still closed, the cubs were completely vulnerable and in need of immediate, expert care. Even though it meant weeks of nearly constant bottle-feeding, and later, months of potentially dangerous night walks in the forest, we were determined to save these helpless cubs. For six months, keepers meticulously nurtured the cubs at the IFAW-WTI Mobile Veterinary Service field station. Meanwhile, IFAW staff got to work identifying the best possible release site, a secure space where the cubs could thrive in the wild when they were ready.
At the release site in western Assam, India, the leopards were cared for by their “surrogate mother,” Nath. Dressed in his distinctive green jumpsuit and camouflage hat, he accompanied the two cubs on daily and nightly forest walks. At first, Nath walked them in nylon harnesses, but as they gained confidence, he was able to let them wander freely. But they still relied on him for reassurance, and never left his sight – even returning in a flurry of spots at the sound of their special, secret call. As the leopards matured, Nath reported on their behavior and analyzed their progression towards a life in the wild.
On May 1, 2010, after nearly a year of rehabilitation, the young leopards were finally ready for their big day. It was time to say a bittersweet goodbye to Nath, and venture out into the wild, once and for all. They were each fitted with a special post-release monitoring radio collar so IFAW-WTI staff could track their movements and ensure they were adjusting well to their new lives on their own in the wild. This was the first known instance of clouded leopards being rescued, rehabilitated, and returned to the wild. Since the clouded leopard is one of earth’s least-studied cat species, the knowledge we gained from daily behavior was critical in helping us hone rehabilitation methods for future rescues. IFAW-WTI teams have since rescued and successfully released more clouded leopards, along with everything from Asian elephants to cobras to Indian rhinos.
— Tiff DeGroot, IFAW Digital Team
Severely dehydrated and disorientated thanks to a cloud of black smoke, a koala is struggling to breathe. Second-degree burns have seared away her fingerprints and left her in crippling pain, unable to move herself to safety. If she survives, her future will be difficult. Koalas evolved fingerprints as a way to better climb trees and grasp eucalyptus leaves. Without them, she will have to relearn how to maneuver the treetops. Injuries and all, she is one of the lucky ones. IFAW’s Disaster Response team spots the koala and rushes to her rescue. She is brought to our local Australian partner for emergency treatment and embarks on the road to recovery.
On Saturday, February 7, 2009, all-time record high temperatures and low humidity hit the Australian state of Victoria. Around midday, winds speeds reach their peak at 100 kilometers per hour (62 mph), ripping down an electric transmission line. This sparks a bushfire that would become the deadliest and most intense firestorm ever experienced in Australia’s post-colonial history. By the end of the day — a day forever known as Black Saturday — as many as 400 individual fires were recorded across Victoria. One hundred and eighty people lost their lives and many more lost their homes.
For nearly three months, bushfires continued to sweep across Victoria and wreaked complete devastation on communities, wildlife, and natural landscapes. It’s estimated that thousands of wild and domestic animals were killed or injured by the fires and heat. IFAW deployed a team and mobile response unit to the scene to help support our local partners and save animals in need. Many sleepless nights were spent searching for animals. So many perished, but the ones found alive were rushed to emergency treatment. The first action for veterinarians was to administer anesthesia to ease the animal’s pain and perform a health evaluation. Burn victims had their injuries soaked, cleaned, and bandaged, while animals suffering from smoke inhalation were given oxygen. Every animal’s rehabilitation process was different. For some, they recovered quickly and were able to successfully return to the wild within a week. For others, it took up to a year until they walked freely in the wild again. In all, IFAW saved a total of 142 animals including koalas, kangaroos, wallabies, possums, and horses.
The Victoria bushfires of 2009 weren’t the first to devastate Australia, nor will they be the last. Every year, bushfire season approaches and Australians are forced to deal with the horrible aftermath of smoke, fire, and extreme heat. In January 2015, IFAW’s Disaster Response team responded to large bushfires spreading across South Australia and Victoria. With koala patients, staff worked around the clock to ensure the animals received proper treatment. Burned koalas needed their bandages changed daily, causing us to go through our supplies faster than anticipated. In need of additional support, we asked the public to sew and donate a simple pair of cotton mittens that the koalas could wear to protect their wounds. Before we knew it, our mailboxes were flooded with koala mittens sent from supporters around the world. Within a week, we received enough mittens to care for not only our current koala patients, but also the next batch of koalas sure to come through our doors in need of help.
Responding and caring for animals in disasters takes a huge mental, physical, and emotional toll on our IFAW team of responders, volunteers, and partners. But the love and support from people around the world motivates us when the times get tough. With climate change, bushfires and other natural disasters are only going to intensify and become more frequent. But we remain steadfast and on standby, ready to answer the call for help.
— Kaila Ferrari, Alexander Mejía-Johnson, IFAW Digital Team
Small and landlocked, tucked between Zambia, Tanzania and Mozambique in Southeast Africa, Malawi is one of the world’s least-developed countries. With nearly all of the population relying heavily on agriculture, and historically poor soil conditions, the country was thrown into turmoil in the early 2000s when a severe drought devastated food supplies. In dire search of water, elephants migrated from forest reserves to the highly-populated agricultural areas of Phirilongwe. By 2009, elephant families were encroaching on farming communities, destroying crops, and placing locals in dangerous predicaments. With little food left from the drought, and the government grain reserves depleted, villagers desperately relied on these crops to survive. They resorted to using arrows, snares, and guns to drive the elephants away, but this only resulted in the injury of elephants and the death of more than ten villagers. At this point, the Malawian government knew they must intervene and act fast before matters worsened for both the people and animals.
After requests from the chiefs in the area to intervene, government officials contacted IFAW and asked for help solving the crisis. The lives of humans and elephants were hanging in the balance, and IFAW’s goal was to find a lasting solution that would address the security of both. In just three weeks, we planned a massive evacuation to move 83 elephants 250 kilometers to Majete Wildlife Reserve, a protected landscape where they would have the resources and freedom to live in peace.
Early in the morning on each moving day, our professionals carefully tranquilized the elephants and transported them by truck to Majete. Throughout the month, we moved 14 elephant families, each with their own unique relationships and personalities. Upon arrival, the elephants were kept in special enclosures and monitored closely to ensure their health was up to standards for release. After a brief monitoring period, the elephants were released – ready to embark on this fresh stage of their life.
Four years later, the elephant families had fully integrated into their new home at Majete Wildlife Reserve. Our massive undertaking was a success. Individuals mingled and integrated with the native elephant populations, having babies of their own who were blissfully unaware of the conflict that plagued their parents. Our collaboration with the Malawi government set a positive example by taking an ethical approach to elephant management practices. Today, IFAW continues to work directly with local communities in Malawi, finding creative solutions to water crises and providing alternative livelihoods to the communities most vulnerable to resorting to poaching to survive. By addressing the root causes of human and animal suffering, we can create sustainable solutions that benefit both.
— Tiff DeGroot, IFAW Digital Team
After the Canadian government reinvigorated the commercial seal hunt in the 1990s, the number of seals killed skyrocketed. Almost 3.5 million seals were killed between 1996 and 2008. Despite our efforts documenting the continued animal cruelty and unnecessary suffering that was taking place, the hunt continued to grow thanks to Canadian government funding. Once again, a new strategy was needed.
To break the stalemate, a new generation of IFAW crusaders took a page out of IFAW founder Brian Davies’ book and brought the fight back to Europe, targeting politicians. The idea was to get Europe to ban seal products (which would decrease demand). In 2004, IFAW took two Members of the European Parliament (MEP) to visit the ice and witness the seal hunt firsthand. As Michel Vandenbosch, a Belgian animal activist who took part in the visit, said, “What was happening there, I will never forget.” During one harrowing moment, the MEPs witnessed a harp seal clubbed in the head. But the animal was still alive. Not permitted legally to take action to ease the suffering, the MEPs were forced to stand there helplessly, watching the seal twitch and gurgle its own blood for minutes on end as it died slowly. “What I saw was hell on ice,” Vandenbosch grimly recalls.
The MEPs personally witnessing the cruelty of the hunt was a turning point for IFAW’s campaign. They returned to Europe with renewed pressure to call for an outright ban on seal products. By 2007, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, and Austria began to implement or take steps towards bans. And then finally in 2009, the European Union passed a resolution to ban the import and commercial trade of all seal products, except for those from Indigenous hunts. The industry then took another blow when Russia, which represented 90% of Canada’s seal fur exports, followed with a ban in 2011. Meanwhile, Canada and Norway challenged the ban at the World Trade Organization in 2014, but lost both the original challenge and appeal on the grounds that trade bans may be justified based on public moral concerns over the commercial hunting of seals. Today, a total of 36 countries now have restrictions on the import and sale of seal products.
Since the 2009 EU Ban, Canada’s sealing industry has been in decline. Immediately after the ban, the entire seal hunt was worth about $850,000, eight times less than the previous year. While an estimated 5,594 sealers took part in the hunt in 2006, only 393 took part in 2014. And by 2015, only 35,000 harp seals were killed from the allowable catch of 400,000 – the lowest kill since 1986.
Nevertheless, Canadian politicians still insist on keeping the struggling industry alive using a steady stream of taxpayer dollars to develop new methods to access an international market. In an outrageous sign of desperation, the Canadian government even considered peddling seal penis sex potions as aphrodisiacs for Asian markets. But last-ditch attempts like this, and others to access new markets, have failed.
Fifty years after IFAW was first created to end Canada’s commercial seal hunt, the battle is nearly won. No longer going out on the ice to document the hunt, the real work of the campaign now lies in the political arena to defend the bans, to keep markets for seal products closed, and to end government subsidies to the hunt. In creating a world where animals and people can exist peacefully alongside one another, clubbing seals to death for business is no longer economically viable, nor acceptable. Canada must accept the end of the hunt – and that end is within reach. You can help us stop the commercial seal hunt right now by sending a quick note to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
— Alex Mejía-Johnson, Tiff DeGroot, and Kaila Ferrari, IFAW Digital Team
On June 24, 2011, after seven months of rehabilitation, Drew, Jason, Lori and Dean are ready for a second chance at life. Our team tranquilizes the 400lb grizzly bears, places them inside “culvert” bear traps, made from large drainage pipes, and loads them onto a flatbed trailer. Driving throughout the night for over 14 hours, the bears arrive in the Bella Coola Valley. Upon arrival, we place a pair of sedated bears each on a single sheet of plywood. We wrap a cargo net around the makeshift platform and attach it to a helicopter. Soaring over the beautiful forested landscape below, the grizzlies are airlifted to their release site by the Owikeno Lake. Unaware of their aerial journey, Drew, Jason, Lori, and Dean awaken on the ground and wander off into their new home. This was only the third time such a release took place under IFAW’s unique Grizzly Bear Pilot Project.
During the 19th century, the booming fur industry led to a major drop in grizzly bear populations across British Columbia, Canada. Hunting wiped out crucial grizzly populations, and urban development created widespread habitat fragmentation. By 1990, British Columbia’s grizzly bear population was on the brink of extinction, and the surviving animals were forced to live in sparse pockets of forest scattered across the country.
By the 2000s, it became clear that something needed to be done to save these grizzly bears. All too often, mother grizzlies were shot dead, leaving cubs orphaned and unable to fend for themselves. In 2007, IFAW partnered with Northern Lights Wildlife Society (NLWS) to create the Grizzly Bear Pilot Project – an initiative to rescue, rehabilitate, and release orphaned grizzly bear cubs back into the wild. Although grizzly bear cubs had been raised and released in British Columbia before, this would be the first time a project had used post-release monitoring to prove that cubs could survive and reintegrate into the wild population.
The project took off in July 2007 with its first two rescued grizzly orphans, Suzy and Johnny. After Suzy’s mother had been killed by poachers and Johnny’s mother killed by a semi-truck, both bears were the first to undergo rehabilitation at the NLWS rehab facility in Smithers, northern British Columbia. Over the course of the winter, our caretakers provided Suzy and Johnny with food and “enrichment” – toys and other items which help animals in rehabilitation gain practical experience to help them thrive when released to the wild. During this time, the cubs developed important life skills like climbing trees, foraging for food, and digging with their long claws. On July 12, 2008, Johnny and Suzy were released back into the wild, becoming the first sanctioned grizzly bear release in Canadian history.
After Suzy and Johnny, Espen and Koda were the next to be released in the summer of 2009. And then followed the fab four: Drew, Jason, Lori, and Dean. By 2014, our Grizzly Bear Pilot Project in British Columbia had helped rehabilitate and release 13 grizzly bear cubs. Before all these releases, each animal was fitted with a satellite collar that tracked their activity for 18 months. The data collected from the satellite collars has helped us better understand the bears daily movements, range, and activity across Canada.
Through work like this in British Columbia, along with similar IFAW-supported projects in Russia and India, we altered the view of conservationists and wildlife officials, proving rehabilitating orphaned bear cubs is a more sustainable and humane alternative than killing these bears outright. Now these animals can not only survive, but also thrive back in the wild.
— Kaila Ferrari, Tiff DeGroot, and Alexander Mejía-Johnson, IFAW Digital Team
Navigating the depths of the ocean can be a difficult task for marine mammals. Luckily, cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises) have developed keen echolocation and unique vocalization skills. Through echolocation, toothed whales and dolphins produce sonar clicks that reflect their surroundings to help them “see” their environment. And like humans, cetaceans have complex social systems. Echolocation enables them to communicate with their pod, reproduce, and hunt. Baleen whales like humpbacks and grey whales rely heavily on unique vocalization patterns called songs and whistles. Through these specialized vocal patterns, marine mammals are able to communicate with other members of their pod to locate prey, and mate.
But it’s becoming harder and harder for cetaceans to effectively communicate because of increasing ocean noise. Our oceans are now booming with the intense echoes of seismic blasts from offshore drilling, the spinning of massive propellers from commercial shipping vessels, and the pings of military sonar. This ocean noise pollution has become one of the greatest threats to marine mammals around the world. This ever-increasing noisy underwater soundscape they live in disrupts communication patterns, prevents them from navigating the ocean, and causes them to strand in shallow water as they attempt to escape the noise.
Less than 20 years ago, the devastating effects of ocean noise were still not yet well-known. On May 30th, 2008, everything changed when Madagascar experienced its largest ever recorded mass stranding of whales. Over 100 melon-headed whales had entered the shallow water of Loza Lagoon and some animals had already died from stranding in the complex lagoon system. Within 24 hours of notice, IFAW’s Marine Mammal Rescue and Research (MMRR) team flew to Madagascar to respond to the stranding event. As the plane circled the area, our team’s hearts sank. The sight below was devastating. Stranded 65 kilometers away from the open ocean, those few whales still alive were sunburned, bruised, and severely dehydrated. Katie Moore, IFAW’s Deputy Vice President of Conservation and Animal Welfare, recalls, “In the end, we probably saved a handful of whales. Most of them died. And then our job was to go in and figure out why they were there. These animals weren’t sick, they weren’t injured. We ruled out the things that we knew it wasn’t. And the only smoking gun left was this oil and gas exploration work being done offshore that coincided in time and location with this event.”
Over the next four years, IFAW and other marine rescue organizations joined the International Whaling Commission in reviewing details of the event and animal necropsies. In September 2013, research concluded that the mass stranding event was caused by acoustic disruption most likely due to sonar mapping system used by ExxonMobil. The company was using the sonar mapping system to scan the ocean floor and locate possible locations for oil drilling. This was the first known marine mammal mass stranding event caused by high-frequency industrial sonar mapping systems.
As the ocean becomes louder due to industrialization and human-made noise, marine mammals are struggling to survive. Our MMRR team performs necropsies to gather scientific data that helps us better analyze the impacts of ocean noise. On a political level, our experts collaborate with government officials to make sure marine mammal protections remain prominent on the global agendas. In 2017, IFAW collaborated with Natural Resources Defense Council and Imaginary Forces to help produce Sonic Sea, a documentary film that depicts the dangers of ocean noise. The film won an Emmy and to this day, continues to reach audiences around the world.
Like raising a human child, it takes years of loving socialization, lesson building, and immense patience to rehabilitate a rescued orphaned elephant. In the majority of cases, it takes 10 to 15 years for an elephant calf to gain the complete set of life skills and independence needed to fully transition back to the wild.
Over the past decade, as elephant populations have plummeted across Africa, saving individual elephants has become all the more crucial. Following its founding in 2007, IFAW partnered with Game Rangers International, the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation, and the Zambia Department of National Parks and Wildlife to further develop the Elephant Orphanage Project (EOP). The first center of its kind in Zambia, EOP operates with the mission of rescuing, rehabilitating, and releasing orphaned elephant calves back into the wild, where they can rejoin critical elephant populations and contribute to the overall wellbeing of the ecosystem.
In 2007, EOP rescued one of its first elephants, Chamilandu. At only one and a half years old, she was found alone and helpless after her mother was shot by poachers. Traumatized and in need of expert care, she was taken to EOP, where Game Rangers International could give her a specialized rehabilitation process.
The first step of Chamilandu’s journey began at the original rescue facility built in Kafue National Park. During her early days here, she received round the clock treatment, feedings, and support. Elephants are sensitive and affectionate animals, making this stage of rehabilitation incredibly crucial. As Chamilandu learned to trust, she began to view her caretakers as loving mother figures who comforted and supported her. Their relationship became unbreakable and crucial during her journey to recovery. During this process, EOP realized they needed a critical care facility – a nursery – closer to veterinary support and medical labs. The result is the current Lilayi Elephant Nursery in Lusaka. Here young elephants receive the critical care they need to survive the physical and emotional trauma of being orphaned.
Over the years, more elephant calves have arrived at the nursery. Once the calves are ready to be weaned off milk and reduce their dependence on human support, they move to the Kafue facility that has transformed into a pre-release facility – a safe place where they can become more familiar with their new environment before they are released into the wild. The facility provides a large “boma,” or enclosure to provide security for the calves from predators in the evening. And during the day, the elephants are allowed to move into the park with their keepers, continuing the learning and growing process. It is at these points that the herd often meets the wild elephants.
At the Kafue facility, Chamilandu has become the matriarch of her new surrogate family, the release herd. Her loving personality and watchful eye help the calves adjust to their new surroundings. She has became the backbone of the herd of orphans. Chamilandu and the herd now have the freedom to explore, socialize, and forage at their leisure. They are now bonded to each other, rather than their keepers, an essential step in their return to the wild. These days, Chamilandu spends the majority of her time out in the wilderness interacting with nearby wild elephants. At twelve years old, Chamilandu is one of the oldest elephants at EOP. She usually spends her nights outside the boma now. Once she is physically, emotionally, and socially ready, she is expected to reintegrate with a wild herd and permanently return to the wild.
The Elephant Orphanage Project’s success has come from many moving parts, including the caretakers dedication to the individual animals, great collaboration with partners, and close relationship with the Department of National Parks and Wildlife. Rescuing and rehabilitating elephants is a daunting task, but when we see Chamilandu reach new milestones in her return to the wild, we are reassured that every action we take to save an individual animal is helping bolster the species as a whole. The EOP currently has 14 elephants at the Kafue Release Facility and four in care at the nursery in Lusaka.
— Kaila Ferrari, IFAW Digital Team
If you cruise down the well-groomed roads leading to Meru National Park today, you won’t see a sign of its bleak past. But in the late 1990s, the roads were in such ruin that you would not have been able to drive to the park – even if you wanted to. If you did make it to Meru, you would have seen only broken-down offices and lodges, neglected roads, and bullet-riddled carcasses, which was all evidence of the presence of armed poachers.
Initially, Meru National Park was a hub for biodiversity, with hundreds of species of birds and many of Africa’s most iconic mammals, like elephants, rhinoceroses, and cheetahas, among others. Announced in 1966, the park is one of the oldest in Kenya. From its inception, the park was under the watchful eye of the late Peter Jenkins, an influential game warden in Kenya at the time, established law enforcement and oversaw the construction of Meru’s buildings and roads. But his transfer in 1979 seemed to set the park on a downward spiral of poaching and neglect.
Throughout the 1990s, tourism in the park dropped by 83%. And the effects on the wildlife that called Meru home were far worse. Ninety percent of elephants were killed, leaving just 300 traumatized, dysfunctional individuals across families which had been ripped apart by poaching. And the elephants were the “lucky” ones; rhinos were literally exterminated from the park. These issues, compounded by the degradation of the parks infrastructure, led conservationists to fear the worst: A total collapse of the ecosystem.
Though the challenge seemed almost insurmountable, in 2000, IFAW began an ambitious five-year project with Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) to restore Meru to its former majesty. Instead of investing millions aimlessly, we identified the deepest challenges the park faced, and concentrated efforts where they were most needed. We worked closely with KWS and Meru Park officials to empower them with a sense of pride and investment, and ensure they could continue efforts long after the restoration was complete.
In the first year of restoration, IFAW and KWS worked to improve airstrips, roads, and buildings for park officials. We supplied state-of-the-art radio equipment to help staff communicate. Importantly, this work greatly improved the welfare of the people working in the park, making them more comfortable, willing, and motivated to protect this majestic landscape. The results spoke for themselves: Rapid counter-poaching operations and efficient management of everything from routine tasks to conflicts between wildlife and people.
Once the park’s security was assured, something was still missing: The iconic wildlife that once flourished in the Meru landscape. So, IFAW supported the relocation of 1,300 animals by KWS. Like Noah’s ark, everything from leopards to impalas to giraffes – and most importantly, elephants were moved back to Meru. And rhinos set foot in the park again for the first time in over a decade.
Since 2005, KWS has maintained the work of our restoration partnership, making Meru bigger and better. And in 2007, KWS unveiled Meru National Park as a unique and world class conservation area. With Meru poised to rival the famous Tsavo Park, this restoration project is truly one of our proudest achievements.
— Tiff DeGroot, IFAW Digital Team
We still have a lot to learn about most species of whales and their habitats. The world’s oceans are vast and deep. And some species live great distances offshore and spend most of their lives underwater, making them difficult to study.
Since 1987, IFAW has pioneered research techniques to better support conservation measures for these elusive animals. For 17 years, we carried out this important research on a converted 46-foot luxury yacht called the Song of the Whale. Clocking more than 250,000 miles, we traveled across oceans studying the behavior and movement of whales, dolphins, and porpoises. We also collected vital information on how these animals were being affected by human threats. For example, we collaborated with Cornell University in the early 2000s to develop special acoustic monitoring buoys in the Gulf of Maine that detect right whales and warn nearby ships of their presence. IFAW-led research like this was changing the field of marine conservation and advancing science that was helping protect marine mammals everywhere.
But after years out at sea, Song of the Whale was in need of a makeover. With technology constantly improving, we knew we could take our work to the next level. And so in 2002, IFAW commissioned the creation of a new state-of-the-art research vessel. Taking two years to build, the RV Song of the Whale II was launched from London, England on June 6, 2004.
This 70-foot sailboat was purposefully crafted with a host of features to reduce noise pollution, including being powered primarily by sail, vibration-dampening engine mounts, a five-bladed propeller akin to that of a stealth submarine, and state-of-the-art exhaust systems. Having one of the quietest, most non-invasive research vessels in the world would allow us to study cetaceans up close without disturbing them. As one crewmember said, “We are trying to demonstrate that you can carry out very good science without harming the animals.”
We also equipped the Song of the Whale II with the best resources to fulfill its core objective of serving as a floating research station. It was customized with observation platforms to better perform visual surveys and photo identification of animals. With the addition of specialized computerized audio/video recording equipment, we ensured the most advanced acoustic studies could be carried out. And the vessel was staffed by an experienced full-time crew who were constantly perfecting techniques and developing technologies to successfully analyze the overall health of marine mammal populations.
The SOTW II continued to take our innovative work around the world, visiting more than 25 countries. In 2012 alone, we traveled all over the Atlantic, detecting vocalizations of common dolphins in the Azores, measuring the length of humpback whales in the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, and monitoring pilot whale behavior off the coast of Spain. Through its travels, SOTW II served as more than just a research center, but also as a public outreach vehicle. By working closely with scientists, students, community groups, government officials, policy makers, and the media, we used SOTW II to raise awareness and foster support for the urgent need to protect marine life and their habitats.
In 2014, IFAW granted Song of the Whale II to Marine Conservation Research International. But our work with this pioneering vessel has not ended. We continue to engage SOTW II on specific IFAW-supported research voyages, including an acoustic and photographic survey of the Mediterranean in June, July and August of 2018, and important work on the endangered North Atlantic Right Whale in recent and coming months along the East Coast of the U.S. and Canada. For more than 30 years, the Song of the Whale has helped share the fascinating and often mysterious life under the sea. And we know this special vessel will continue to inspire and encourage a new generation to act on the behalf of animals and the place we call home.
— Alexander Mejía-Johnson, IFAW Digital Team
On August 29th, 2005, Hurricane Katrina made landfall on the Gulf Coast of the United States. With powerful 125 mph winds and a storm surge causing extensive flooding, the Category 3 storm wreaked catastrophic damage. With at least 1,245 people dead and more than a million displaced by Katrina, humanitarian disaster response organizations had an overwhelming task ahead of them. But what would happen to the thousands of pets and animals also in dire need of rescue?
In the aftermath of the storm, IFAW deployed a team to ground zero of the devastation – New Orleans. Going door-to-door in search of lost and abandoned pets, we faced every situation imaginable. But almost 15 years later, one particular rescue stands out from all the rest.
Navigating through the flooded neighborhoods in an emergency boat, we came across a man named Jim Parsons standing outside his home. “It’s my pig,” the man desperately cried. “Can you take my pig?” We entered his home and were introduced to Rooty, his beloved Vietnamese pot-bellied pig. “She’s my baby,” he said with love. “I can’t leave her.” Ordered to evacuate by the National Guard, Parsons pleaded with them to shoot Rooty rather than leaving her to the horrible fate of starving to death. But they wouldn’t do it. And he refused to leave Rooty. So he waited – desperately hoping that an animal rescue group would find them. Parsons was not alone in his loyalty to his animal. A 2006 poll later found that 44 percent of people who chose not to evacuate during Katrina did so because they didn’t want to abandon their pets.
IFAW was ready to rescue Rooty, but at 300 lbs, the pig was difficult to maneuver through the disaster zone. Our team carefully placed a blanket over the pig and corralled her into the largest crate we had. Hearts racing, we inched the crate down the porch of 15 stairs and placed her onto a board to be towed by boat amid the the debris-flooded streets. Reaching land, a Bobcat tractor was there to transport Rooty to a safe location to be cared for. It wasn’t until days later when the water finally receded that Parsons was able to reunite with Rooty, and bring her back home.
With millions of pets and farm animals left behind and dying throughout the Gulf Coast, Hurricane Katrina was a wake-up call to everyone involved in disaster response work. We wanted to do more to prepare for disasters and ensure that resources were used effectively. In 2006, IFAW helped found the National Animal Rescue and Sheltering Coalition (NARSC). The coalition works collaboratively with communities and government organizations to plan for natural disasters like wildfires, floods, and tornadoes, as well as man-made animal emergencies like hoarding situations. Disaster response teams like IFAW’s now have the capacity to respond swiftly and effectively when disasters strike. The impact of NARSC has been a blessing to people overcoming disasters. Dedicated pet owners like Jim Parsons are no longer forced to make the horrible choice of leaving their pets behind to die. They know they can rely on us to rescue their beloved animals and bring them to safety.
As for Rooty, sadly, she died in 2010 at 15 years old. But her memory lives on forever with “Our Rooty: The True Tale of a New Orleans Pig,” a children’s book Jim Parsons wrote in honor of his courageous pig and the IFAW first responders that helped her survive the horrors of Katrina.
— Kaila Ferrari, Alexander Mejía-Johnson, IFAW Digital Team
The howls of dogs and hunting horns pierce through the trees. Hooves pound the dirt. The unintelligible shouts of men and women on horseback echo across the English countryside. They’ve tracked a scent. A fox, panicked, is flushed from cover and sprints just ahead. A relentless pursuit follows. He is running for his life – hour after hour, mile after mile. He’s been running in terror for longer than he’s ever run before. His body is pushed to the absolute limit until his muscles are incapable of moving. He collapses from exhaustion. Alive but motionless, he succumbs. There is no escape. The pack of frenzied hounds descend on the fox. Their powerful jaws tear apart the flesh until nothing is left behind but a bloody pulp of skin and fur. This the agonizing reality of fox hunting.
Fox hunting with hounds was a minority British pastime for hundreds of years. The origin of this so-called sport dates back around 800 years, involving royalty, aristocracy and rural landowners. They painted a false picture that foxes were pests who threatened livestock and needed to be eliminated. Other bloodsports became unacceptable to the public and were banned over time. Yet fox hunting continued to have fervent support from an influential minority, despite being strongly opposed by the general public because of its inherent cruelty. Polling by IFAW consistently showed overwhelming public support for a ban on hunting with dogs, with the majority of people in both rural and urban areas opposing fox hunting.
For 80 years, attempts were made to put a stop to this sadistic sport. And in response to the public outcry of our supporters, IFAW began campaigning in 1989 to ban the hunting with dogs of not only foxes, but also deer, hares, and mink. In 1996, IFAW formed a coalition with the RSPCA and the League Against Cruel Sports for “The Campaign to Protect Hunted Animals.” IFAW soon became one of the leading organisations working to educate the government on the cruelty of fox hunting. For years our experts campaigned against hunting, working with decision-makers and the general public, many of whom lived in countryside and strongly opposed the hunts taking place on their doorstep. Time after time, parties clashed over the discussion and bills failed to pass Parliament. Could we get the government to choose animal welfare over “sport” and end a centuries-long tradition? The answer turned out to be yes.
IFAW’s work revealed the reality of the suffering caused by hunting with dogs through video, photographic, and eyewitness accounts. This documentation was instrumental in the final passing of the Hunting Act on November 18, 2004. Placed into effect three months later on February 18, 2005, it became illegal to hunt wild animals with dogs in England and Wales. The Hunting Act became a defining moment for animal welfare in the UK. Protections for hunted mammals in Scotland had been granted earlier with the passing of the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002.
In the following years, IFAW headed up investigations that led to several prosecutions for illegal hunting. But quickly the pro-hunt lobby had developed a new practice called trail hunting, invented as an alibi against prosecution for fox hunting. Hunters claimed to use fox urine to encourage hounds to track the scent to a final destination that “coincidentally” often results in the “accidental” killing of foxes. Undeterred, IFAW published Trail of Lies in 2015, the most in-depth report to date exposing the role of trail hunting as a contemporary cover-up for fox hunting. The study revealed the horrors that foxes continue to face and generated a new wave of continual support for fox protection.
IFAW has kept up the pressure for the Hunting Act to be protected from the threat of repeal, and to be adequately enforced. But there is still work to be done. We are now lobbying to strengthen legislation in Scotland, which again will prevent packs of dogs from being used to hunt foxes.
— Alexander Mejía-Johnson, Tiff DeGroot, and Kaila Ferrari, IFAW Digital Team
While India may have the largest wild tiger population in the world, there are actually more tigers living in United States.
Across the U.S., as many as 10,000 tigers, lions, and other big cats are kept in backyard cages and roadside zoos where they suffer in inhumane conditions. These animals are often poorly fed, denied stimulation and opportunities to engage in natural behaviors, and left to spend their entire lives in cages with barely enough room to move. In some cases, owners realize that they cannot provide adequate care for these dangerous wild animals; in others, the animals may be confiscated. When this happens, rescue operations kick into gear and organizations like IFAW help bring big cats to reputable sanctuaries where they can receive the expert care they deserve.
On November 11th, 2003, IFAW helped perform one of its largest big cat rescues to date. Teaming up with sanctuary leaders and the New Jersey Division of Fish & Wildlife, and other state agencies, IFAW experts helped rescue 24 tigers from a private owner in New Jersey. The tigers’ owner had been under state inspection since 1999 when a 430-pound Bengal tiger escaped from her residence. After years of close watch and a long legal battle, a New Jersey judge finally ordered the tigers to be relocated, and we were able to perform the rescue operation.
If 24 tigers can be found in a New Jersey suburb, they can be found anywhere. Not only did this pose a great threat to the welfare of the animals, but it also placed communities and first responders at risk. Dangerous situations like this persuaded the U.S. Congress to pass the Captive Wildlife Safety Act in 2003 to restrict transport of big cats across state lines and U.S. borders.
Since 2003, IFAW has come to the rescue of over 185 big cats along with other displaced, unwanted, and abused captive wildlife. In addition, we continue to advocate for the legal protection of big cats from private ownership. We are currently supporting the passing of the Big Cat Public Safety Act, which aims to bring an end to the U.S. trade in “pet” big cats — and lead us one step closer to ensuring the best possible welfare for captive big cats.
— Kaila Ferrari, IFAW Digital Team
People and dogs coexist differently around the world depending on their lifestyle, environment, and culture. For Canada’s remote First Nations communities in northern Quebec and Ontario, it’s common for dogs to spend the majority of their time outside. When winter arrives, temperatures have reached as low as -58 °C / -73 °F. And for remote communities who lack the resources needed to provide their dogs with adequate shelter, the freezing cold can become a deadly threat to their animals.
As a way to support First Nations communities and improve the welfare of dogs, IFAW created the Northern Dogs Project in 2002. As part of creating comprehensive programs, our vet team sets up mobile clinics in northern communities where we perform spay and neuter surgeries, vaccinations, and de-worming. In just one year, we can respond and care for an estimated 500 dogs. Our Northern Dogs Project is also widely recognized for providing winter-proof doghouses to communities to protect dogs from the bitter cold.
Over the past 17 years, we’ve proven that education is the key to changing attitudes about dogs and their care. Through our community outreach, we’ve partnered closely with community members to promote proper guardianship that ensures animals receive the care they deserve. Our Northern Dogs Project has helped people see the long-lasting effects of living safely and kindly with dogs so as to experience how animals and people can coexist together.
— Kaila Ferrari, IFAW Digital Team
The Tibetan antelope, or chiru, lives in one of the harshest environments on earth, the Qinghai Tibet Plateau in China. Known as “the Roof the World,” it’s the world’s highest plateau, standing over 3 miles above sea level. The chiru’s special down fur, or undercoat, which is both light and warm, allows it to survive in the plateau’s freezing conditions. But the very adaptation that allows the chiru to thrive in the wild has also proven to be its curse.
Traditionally, chiru have been killed for their fur to be woven into shahtoosh, a luxurious shawl woven by craftsmen and women in the Kashmir region of northern India. Meaning “king of fine wools” in Persian, shahtoosh is so fine that it can pass through a finger ring. The shawls, which were originally worn by traditional northern Indian families, became a fashion statement — eventually selling for as much as $17,600 (USD) for one shawl on the international market!
The high demand for shahtoosh came at a deadly price for the Tibetan antelope. It takes three to five chiru for every 150 grams of wool, and thousands were slaughtered to satisfy the demand. Although given the highest possible level of legal protection under CITES since 1979, illegal poaching continued, and by the 1990s, less than 75,000 chiru remained. Furthermore, despite the international commercial ban on chiru products, the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir had a different set of laws, which allowed for the continuation of shahtoosh manufacturing.
To save the Tibetan antelope, these loopholes had to be closed. After successful campaigning by IFAW and the Wildlife Trust of India, Jammu and Kashmir announced on August 23, 2002, that they had banned the manufacturing and trade of shahtoosh shawls. But while this ban was critical for the survival of the chiru, it was also detrimental to the thousands of traditional shahtoosh weavers whose livelihood depended on the making of these shawls. So, IFAW and WTI found an alternative for the displaced workers in Pashmina wool, which is taken from farm-raised mountain goats.
Because of IFAW’s efforts in India, along with effective conservation efforts by the Chinese government since the late 1990s, the Tibetan antelope population is steadily recovering. As a result, the IUCN reclassified the species from Endangered to Near Threatened in September, 2016. Overall, IFAW’s campaign to save the chiru has shown it is possible to conserve wildlife while helping local communities preserve their livelihoods.
— Alexander Mejía-Johnson, Tiff DeGroot, IFAW Digital Team
Reaching speeds of 240mph, the peregrine falcon is the fastest animal on earth. Found on every continent except Antarctica, the falcon has adapted to various environments. They can be found in cities, deserts, coastal communities, and mountains. As top predators in the food chain, all birds of prey play a crucial role in maintaining a balanced ecosystem and must be protected for the wellbeing of our planet. This could not be truer than in Beijing, China, where thousands of raptors pass through during their annual migration. Although Chinese law protects raptors, illegal wildlife trade and habitat loss threaten their survival and have caused dangerous drops in populations.
After witnessing a series of incidents, IFAW’s Grace Ge Gabriel recognized the need for a raptor rehabilitation center in her home country of China. In 1998, there was a customs seizure of over 400 saker falcons at the Beijing airport. With limited options available, the falcons were sent to a wildlife park. When Ge Gabriel visited, she knew something had to be done. The falcons were flying into the chain link fence, had no branches to perch on, and were developing foot injuries from the concrete floor.
Ge Gabriel’s determination to demonstrate the welfare standards of animal rescue, rehabilitation, and release were met with great enthusiasm from professors at Beijing Normal University. Joining efforts with Beijing Forestry Bureau, they established the Beijing Raptor Rescue Center (BRRC) in 2001. The first of its kind in the country, the center rescues birds of prey and provides them with the rehabilitation needed to return to the wild. Our experts have treated over 30 different species of raptors, including common kestrels, golden eagles, and long eared owls. We’ve seen everything from broken wings, lodged bullets and severe hemorrhaging from ingesting rat poison.
Every year, the weeks between April and July are especially busy for BRRC as breeding season begins. During this stretch, it’s all hands on deck as our rehabilitators receive an influx of fledglings injured from falling out of nests. It can take months to help a bird of prey regrow its feathers, strengthen its wings, heal its wounds, and regain its strength to return to the wild. But nothing compares to the joy of watching a healthy and strong raptor take flight into the bright blue sky.
On October 24th, 2018, a rescue of a Japanese sparrow hawk marked BRRC’s 5000th response. This impressive milestone is a testament to the changing attitudes within China about animal welfare and co-existence with nature. Each individual raptor brought to BRRC has become an ambassador for the non-human species. They inspired politicians to enhance wildlife protection policies, law enforcers to crack down on illegal wildlife trade, rescue centers to improve animal welfare standards, and ordinary citizens to adopt a more animal-friendly lifestyle. Motivating change from within the country has always been IFAW’s approach wherever we are. Sustained behavior change is the hope for all creatures on Earth, no matter if we are running, swimming, or flying.
— Kaila Ferrari, Alexander Mejía-Johnson, IFAW Digital Team
Every October, hundreds of threatened eastern Pacific gray whales in the Arctic Circle begin an epic two to three month journey south along the west coast of North America. By January, these travelers reach their destination — Laguna San Ignacio in the Mexican state of Baja California Sur. Recognized as a World Heritage Site, the calm, warm waters of the lagoon serve as a refuge for pregnant mothers to give birth to their calves.
However, one of the world’s most powerful companies was once dangerously close to endangering Laguna San Ignacio and the gray whales that call it home. In 1994, Mitsubishi Corporation entered into a partnership with the Mexican government to build a massive industrial salt production plant at San Ignacio. Covering 116 square miles and costing $100 million (USD), the facility would have been the largest salt plant in the world. This new salt plant would have had devastating effects on this vital ecosystem, wiping out hundreds of acres of rare desert and marine habitat and threatening dozens of species. That didn’t sit well with IFAW.
In response to Mitsubishi’s plans, IFAW, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and a coalition of leading scientists, and other environmental organizations led a multi-year crusade to protect Laguna San Ignacio. Through our “Mitsubishi: Don’t Buy It” campaign, more than a million people wrote to Mitsubishi to protest the salt plant. And more than 40 California cities passed resolutions against the proposed project. With growing global pressure against the corporate giant, the battle to save San Ignacio and its gray whales would ultimately take five years to win. And on March 3, 2000, the President of Mexico announced Mitsubishi would cancel its long-standing plans to build the salt plant. To its credit, the company has actually taken steps in recent years to preserve portions of this pristine habitat in perpetuity.
This landmark decision remains a prime example of what a united effort of committed partners and supporters can achieve. The media would hail our efforts as “the most important environmental victory in a generation.” Today, Laguna San Ignacio continues to be a winter haven for Pacific gray whales. Whale watching operations now provide a sustainable economic alternative to harmful development. Instead of meeting the threats of industrial intrusion, whales are now met with the wonderment of tourists from all around the world who also make the journey to this pristine paradise to admire the beauty of these animals.
— Alexander Mejía-Johnson, IFAW Digital Team
Over the past 20 years, IFAW’s Marine Mammal Rescue and Research team has made incredible advances for the field of Marine Conservation. When we first started out, the standard release rate for mass stranded dolphins was only 15%. And professionals believed that a single stranded dolphin had no chance of being rescued and returned to its pod. We challenged this idea and put together a team of experts to create a new strategy for rescuing marine mammals. Today, our successful release rate for mass stranded dolphins is over 79% and we’ve proven the point loud and clear – healthy single stranded dolphins can successfully be released.
The history of our Marine Mammal Rescue and Research team takes us back to 1998 when IFAW became a founding member of the newly formed Cape Cod Stranding Network. A small non-profit at the time, it was comprised of two staff members, one part-time veterinarian, an old truck, and a group of 300 local volunteers. With 500 to 700 marine mammal strandings occurring every year on Cape Cod and southeastern Massachusetts, CCSN was in high demand. The network made groundbreaking rescues, but realized that if they wanted to achieve greater success, they would need greater resources.
The network’s luck turned around in July 2007 when they merged with IFAW to create what is now our Marine Mammal Rescue and Research team. As the years passed, we advanced our research and became recognized around the world for our innovative work. In 2012, our rescue skills were put to the test. Throughout the months of January, February and March, 140 live common dolphins stranded on the coastline of Cape Cod Bay in what is recognized as one of the most prolonged mass dolphin stranding events ever recorded. Our team was able to successfully rescue and release 104 of those dolphins.
Today, our team continues to push the boundaries and lead the way in global marine mammal rescue procedures. Along with responding to the 700-mile-long stretch of southeastern Massachusetts coastline – known as having the most frequent strandings anywhere in the world – our travels have taken us to countries like India, Oman, and New Zealand to host training workshops and share our extensive knowledge. To date, we’ve rescued 14 different marine species, including Risso’s dolphins, harbor porpoises, minke whales, harp and gray seals, and even the occasional manatee!
On November 27th, 2018, our team responded to their 5000th marine mammal response and were able to successfully release all four of the dolphins – a monumental achievement worth celebrating! Looking forward, our Marine Mammal Rescue and Research team will continue to explore new methods of rescue and help organizations around the world learn the skills needed to ensure the well-being of marine animals.
— Kaila Ferrari, IFAW Digital Team
The African penguin is also widely known as the “jackass” penguin — no, not because of its foolish behavior, but for its loud donkey-like bray. Unfortunately, the African penguin is endangered due to threats like overfishing, pollution, and climate change. At the beginning of the 20th century, African penguin populations numbered up to two-million. Now the population has decreased by 95 percent to around 21,000 breeding pairs.
Disaster struck the species on June 23, 2000, when the iron ore tanker, MV Treasure, sank five miles off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa between Dassen and Robben Islands, which support the largest and third largest colonies of African Penguins. The spill released 1,300 metric tons of bunker fuel, oiling more than 20,000 African penguins, about 41 percent of the entire population. It was the worst ever oil-spill bird disaster.
In response, IFAW teamed up with the South African National Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) and the International Bird Rescue Center (IBRRC) to lead an unprecedented rescue, rehab, and release effort to save the species. Within 10 days of the spill, 20,251 oiled African penguins had been admitted into a rehabilitation center in Cape Town. The rescue effort lasted for 12 weeks, and by late August, over 18,000 oiled Africa penguins had been rehabilitated and released — 90 percent of all the oiled birds were rescued!
With more than 130 international team members and over 45,000 different volunteers, this disaster response was one of the world’s largest ever animal rescue missions. As an IFAW responder said at the time, “without such a massive undertaking and without the help of these thousands of committed individuals and the work, funds, and expertise of organizations such as IFAW and SANCCOB, the African penguin population could have faced extinction.” With responses like this, IFAW would become a world leader in oil spill responses.
Check back tomorrow for the next question!