Sunday, March 1, 2015

It's Time To Get Serious About Wildlife Crime

Wildlife Crime -
You see it on the news and read about it on social media, but do you really know what it is? You might think you do. I know I did ... until one day I came face to face with the reality of wildlife trafficking.

This day was so intense that it has taken me two years to share my story. I thought about telling my story numerous times, but to be perfectly honest, it is a painful story to tell. Not many things stop me in my tracks, but this did. In fact, the experience literally took my breath away. I had to step back and remind myself to breath, remind myself that this was reality and that what I was seeing was meant to educate people about wildlife crime.

On February 17, 2013 my son and I were attending an event at the San Diego Zoo called Discovery Days: Cool Cats. There were various booths set up for people to get information and learn more about what else, cats. Pet stores, animal shelters, organizations where you could adopt endangered cats, an artist sketching pictures of cool cats, and then we saw it. The booth that stopped my heart for a split second.

A booth from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

This was not an ordinary booth. This booth was specifically set up with one thing in mind.

Wildlife Crime.

I can still picture it clear as can be. It is an image that will never leave my mind. Fur coats hanging in the background. A female lion cub in a sitting position to the left. Full body skins of leopards, ocelots, jaguars, and other small cats to the right. Then there was the face, the face that was looking at me, the face that was attached to the skin and fur of a young tiger.

The tears began to flow and I had to walk away. We both did. It was too much to take in.

I was not prepared for what I was seeing, or for how I was feeling.

Each item on display had a tag attached to it that read "These items are all genuine animal products seized by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service".  I was looking at real animals that had been killed for their fur and body parts. This was the reality of wildlife crime. Yes, the fur was beautiful. However, I would have much rather seen it on a live animal. Was the fur soft? I don't know, because I didn't touch it. I wanted to know what a tiger felt like, I still do, but I couldn't touch this one. It was just too sad.

Many people were petting the skins, like they were pets or something. Some even made jokes. I chose not to engage in their uneducated conversations and chose rather to talk with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife officer that was there. I chose to educate myself more about wildlife trafficking. The sadness and pain didn't go away, but I did become more determined to do everything I possible could to stop wildlife crime.

This painful day is something that I will not forget. Nor will my son. It was a day that forever changed us and reminds us to keep fighting. This Tuesday, March 3, 2015 is World Wildlife Day -  a day to create awareness and work toward a future where people and wildlife can coexist.

I chose to share my story this year in hopes of getting more people to stand up against organized wildlife crime. Please join me and thousands of others by using #SeriousAboutWildlifeCrime on your social media channels this week. Alone it is an uphill battle, but together we can save these animals and put an end to wildlife crime.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Choose One ...

How many times have you been asked to make a choice? To choose one thing over another.

Almost daily, right? Although not an easy task, choosing a favorite color or favorite flavor of ice cream is something most people can do without too much hesitation. If asked to choose between a cat or a dog, most people favor one or the other. In general, you are either a cat person or a dog person.

If I were asked, "Which endangered animal do you want to save?" I would have a difficult time answering. How can I possibly choose only one?

My first response would be to save them all, but that is not the answer the average person is looking for. They want me to choose. To choose one over another.

Do I choose a rhino?
If so, which one?

Black, Javan, Sumatran, Greater One-Horned, Southern White, or the almost extinct Northern White?

Maybe I should choose a tiger... but wait, that only leads me to yet another choice...
Which one?

Sumatran, Malayan, Amur, Bengal, Indochinese, or South-China

As you can see, there is no one easy answer. It is basically impossible for me to choose only one. Therefore, like so many other conservationists, I choose to save them all.

Rhinos, Tigers, Elephants, Lions, Tasmanian Devils, Cheetahs, Gorillas, Snow Leopards, Orangutans, Polar Bears, Amur Leopards ... These are just a few of the endangered animals that I have helped save through fundraising, symbolically adopting, and overall creating awareness through this blog, social media, and my photography.

How I choose which animal to help save is constantly changing. Sometimes I attend a lecture and listen to experts speak about their work in the field, other times I read an article that captures my attention and ultimately pulls at my heartstrings when I learn of the continued poaching and wildlife trafficking.

Then there are those times when I least expect it. When I am editing my photographs and an image speaks to me. A few days ago I was editing photos from a recent trip to the zoo and came across this image of Flynn the red panda - it spoke to me.

Before I knew it, my next choice had been made and I was adopting a red panda named Niyati from the Red Panda Network.

Who knows which endangered animal I will choose next.
All I can say is that there will definitely be more than one.

Friday, February 20, 2015

A new beginning

Life has a funny way of throwing curve balls. Just when I thought I knew where I was going, someone else had other plans. The signs were coming at me from all directions and it was time for me to start listening to them. Time for me to pick up where I left off ...

I have never been one to - how should I say this - bite my tongue. I speak my mind and I stand up for what I believe in. Sometimes people don't agree with me, but that's ok. I do not have to walk in their shoes and they do not have to walk in mine.

I believe strongly in speaking up when you feel that something is not right ... when something goes against your morals and personal ethics. I have taught these values to my son and I am proud of him for taking a stand in his beliefs at such a young age.

It has been three long months since I have written here. I can't even begin to count how many times I thought about writing or sat here staring at a blank computer screen ... pondering the idea of writing again.

I need to write.
I need to speak my mind and stand up for what I believe in.

I will choose my words carefully and I will write from the heart.

I will write about issues that I believe in - about causes that need to be heard.

Sometimes we all need a little break. The short time away from this blog opened my eyes to a whole new way of looking at life. I thoroughly enjoy sharing my photographs to tell stories on my other website, Michelle Fryer Photography. However, my passion for conservation and creating awareness about endangered species is too strong to completely walk away. I was recently put in a position that reminded me how important it was to stick to my beliefs.

So here I am.
Writing again.