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BE Wildlife Heroes Co-Author Jeff Folken INSPIRATION │ KNOWLEDGE


Wildlife Heroes explores the inspiring efforts of dedicated individuals working to ensure the survival of endangered species around the world. The book showcases a collection of 40 leading conservationists, sharing their passion and knowledge for protecting the world’s wildlife. Bringing to the fore innovative new methods of preserving biodiversity whilst educating on the impact of species loss and imparting strategies to reverse the trend. A wonderful tribute to ‘Wildlife Heroes’ and an indispensable source of hope and direction for future guardians of the wild. Each chapter offering a new adventure with intimate perspective of rare animal encounters - reminding one of the value of all species.


What prompted you to write this book?


My co-author Julie Scardina and I have both been working in wildlife conservation for years, her with the SeaWorld Busch Gardens Conservation Fund and myself first with the US Government and these days with the International Fund for Animal Welfare. And we have witnessed the frightening continuing decline in species populations. At the same time, we've been lucky enough to personally have met some of the most inspiring and effective conservationists alive today working to find solutions and save species. Those are the people who motivated us to do more and helped inspire us to keep going in a field that is sometimes filled with bad news and up-hill battles. So we decided to write a book about these heroes, and hopefully share these amazing individuals with wider audiences, who could in turn be inspired to help species themselves.


How did you decide on which profiles to include? Picking the heroes and species was a real challenge because there are lots of people out there doing good work for animals, and there are many species in crisis. We started with a list of about 200 animals and individuals, then we just started picking the stories that most inspired us. That narrowed the list down some, then we had to try and balance the types of species, and the variety of heroes we wanted to profile, in order to keep the book fresh and engaging. We wanted some iconic conservationists, as well as some up-and- comers. We also wanted wide global geographic representation and critters found on the land, in the water, and in the air and trees.


Lastly, we decided to set aside some of the profiles to highlight a number of individuals addressing broader threats to species as opposed to the majority of the highlighted heroes who are doing very species specific work. So one of the later chapters of the book features heroes combating threats like Kassie Siegel who works on climate change, Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai who fought habitat loss in Africa before her recent passing, Judy St. Leger who investigates wildlife disease, and Steve Galster and Grace Gabriel who are fighting wildlife trade and wildlife consumption in Asia.


What is the key message reflected throughout? There were a number of themes that kept coming out in our interviews with the heroes. A passion for wildlife was an obvious one, but also modesty, and a sense of just how high the stakes are in the battles these individuals are waging against the loss of biodiversity on our planet. The other theme that emerged again and again was that local people who live alongside wildlife need to be part of the solution -- without their involvement and buy-in, there is no chance of winning in the long-run.


What do you learn about wildlife from these heroes? We were impressed with how resilient many of these species were. It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking of endangered species as fragile animals that would be unlikely to survive on their own -- but that just isn't the case. These animals have all evolved to fill specific roles in their ecosystems and can thrive if given the opportunity to live. All they need is a place to live, a food supply, and clean water. They are endangered from man-made threats, and we now need man-made solutions for saving them.


Do you have a favorite story/project from the collection? We've been following the work of these heroes so long it's a little like having to pick your favorite child. That said, the Australia Koala Foundation's Deborah Tabart's work on koalas has been phenomenal. She is so driven and passionate, and has shown such brilliance in developing new mapping technology to show habitat loss for the species, matched with hard hitting advocacy efforts, that she really stands out as an amazing leader.


Additionally, the folks in Brazil - Leandro Silveria working on jaguars at the Jaguar Conservation Fund, Patricia Medici's work on tapirs with the IUCN Tapir Specialist Group, and Vera da Silva's efforts on behalf of Amazon river dolphins - are all very motivating.


Interview by Inga Yandell


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