Thursday, July 30, 2015

When creativity and conservation come together

I have heard it said by many that conservation is not a hobby or something people take lightly. Rather, conservation is a way of life. A passion. I could not agree more with these statements. Over the years it has become very clear to me that conservation is something Dylan is very passionate about. While my viewpoints are obviously shared and discussed with him, he makes his own decisions about where he will focus his conservation efforts and ultimately his fundraising. In the past, the choice was not always an easy one to make, but it was fairly cut and dry with large goals of $1,000. Tigers, then leopards, then rhinos. As soon as one project was completed, he was ready to move on to the next. Throw in the occasional symbolic animal adoption and that was our life.

As Dylan continues to grow, so do his dreams of saving endangered species and changing the world. One project at a time just won't do anymore. There are too many endangered species out there that Dylan wants to help. We needed to come up with a plan, so over summer vacation we brainstormed. We listed all the programs that we wanted to support in the next year or two and started coming up with ideas. Ideas of how we could raise the money without asking friends and family for donations. Dylan thought it would be good to sell something instead of only asking for money. I agreed.

When creativity and conservation come together you get Creations4Wildlife. Inspired by the endangered species that we want to help save, we have designed several bracelets that we are selling as a way to raise funds to support our conservation efforts.

Each piece of the collection is handcrafted by me and Dylan and the profits will be donated to the designated non-profit organization. We are currently raising money for the Tiger Conservation Campaign, International Rhino Foundation, Rhino Rescue Center, Giraffe Conservation Foundation, and Red Panda Network. Every purchase gives Hope that these endangered species can be saved.

Working together on this new conservation project with Dylan has reminded me how important it is to never lose faith in your beliefs. No matter what the obstacles may be, another poaching story in the news or hearing that there are now only 4 northern white rhinos left, you just keep going.  Conservation is a way of life for us and I am confident that we can raise the funds and meet our goals. No question about it, this mother and son team are determined to make a difference for wildlife.

To purchase one of bracelets please visit
Thank you for helping support our conservation efforts!

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Saving the icons of Africa

When I think of Africa, the first thing that comes to my mind is the iconic silhouette of a giraffe standing next to an acacia tree. Giraffes are truly symbolic of Africa. They are found no place else on earth, only in Africa. Standing tall with pride, these gentle animals spend their days walking across the plains. The giraffe is an integral part of the African ecosystem and sadly they are disappearing at alarming rates. Historically Reticulated giraffes could be seen from north-central Kenya to southern Somalia and Ethiopia. However, this is not what can be seen now. Reticulated giraffes have declined by over 80% in the last 15 years, going from 28,000 to about 4,700 today. That is a drastic decline that if not stopped, could lead to the extinction of these giraffes by 2019.

So why are these icons disappearing? Why are more people not talking about this?

As with other endangered species, the number one cause of decline is poaching. I could go on for hours about how much I loathe poachers - about how ignorant people are to believe that an animals bones can cure AIDS and cancer - about how inhumane it is to kill an animal and leave them to die a slow and painful death just so they can go home with some sort of trophy ... but I won't. Not now.

Habitat loss from development and agriculture, areas that have become uninhabitable because of over-grazing, competition for food and water with newly introduced species of livestock, and the simple fact that we just don't know enough about the iconic animals. We need to understand more about the giraffe and those who share a home with them in Africa so that we can do everything possible to save the giraffe.

I would like to share the story of how Dylan is helping to save the Reticulated giraffes ...

Last month while attending a Curators Club breakfast in San Diego, Dylan and I listened to a man talk about the plight of the giraffes. His name is David O'Connor and he is one of the Conservation Research Coordinators at San Diego Zoo Global. I will never forget his words, "There are less Reticulated giraffe than the endangered black rhino. At this rate, these giraffe will be extinct by 2019." What? Was I hearing this right? Why have I not heard about these staggering statistics before?

After hearing these words, I looked over at Dylan, His face said it all. We both knew how serious these numbers were since we have been big supporters of the rhino conservation efforts for several years now. Something told me this would be Dylan's next endeavor ... and I was right. After the breakfast Dylan walked up to David and asked how he could help save the giraffes. David told us about his conservation project that was being funded on Crowdrise and how all the money was going directly to help the giraffes in Africa. When we got home Dylan decided he didn't want to just donate to David's team, he wanted to join his team!

I helped Dylan set up his page and within a matter of minutes he was part of the team. His goal was $250 by Endangered Species Day. That only gave him 13 days, but he was determined to make it happen. A few tweets and Facebook posts later, Dylan had met his goal. In just 11 short days he had raised $250 for David's Giraffe Conservation Project.

Dylan's passion and determination to change the world continues to inspire me. If you would like to help him raise more funds for the Giraffe Conservation Project (so that David can reach his project goal of $60,000) you can click here to make a tax-deductible donation. Giraffe badly need our help, and right now that means funding for on the ground programs in East Africa that are working to save them.

In the words of David O'Connor, Giraffes are the forgotten megafauna. We still do not fully understand how they move across the landscape, how and what they eat, how many are left, their social structure, how they interact with people and livestock. As such, these giraffe are rapidly disappearing, with little notice. It is especially worrying as most of the giraffe's range is outside of protected areas, overlapping with pastoralist herders and small-scale agriculturalists.

Africa wouldn't be Africa without this iconic animal ... please help us save the giraffe.

All photos courtesy of David O'Connor.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

5 Reasons to Symbolically Adopt an Endangered Species

Wild animals don't make good pets, but that doesn't mean you can't have a tiger or a rhino as part of your family. Symbolic adoptions are a win-win for everyone.

  1.  You are helping species by giving money to organizations that are doing hands on conservation work in the field. While I can't be in Africa, these people can and my support helps make it possible. 
  2. You are creating memories that you can put into a scrapbook or picture frame. Most symbolic adoptions come with a photograph, adoption certificate, fact sheet, and often send updates on your animal. For critically endangered species, you often get quarterly updates on how the species is doing. 
  3. You are inspiring others by sharing your adoption with friends and family. Telling people how easy it is to adopt and how it really helps the species will inspire others to adopt. 
  4. You are giving a voice to those who cannot speak for themselves. These animals need our help.
  5. You are making a difference. This may be the most powerful reason of all to symbolically adopt an endangered species. Every adoption is one step closer to making big changes and turning those numbers around. Seeing that a species is increasing in population, because of something you may have helped do, is an amazing feeling. 

Whatever animal you choose to symbolically adopt, I guarantee there is a non-profit organization waiting to read your email. I suggest starting by contacting your local zoo/aquarium for a list of animal adoptions. If you want to help a more specific or unique species, try World Wildlife Fund or research non-profits that work with your chosen animal. 

To help you get started, here are a few of the organizations that I have adopted from. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Recognition from USFWS gives Dylan hope for his future

Conservation. Saving endangered species. 

Fundraising. Setting goals and surpassing them. 

These are just a few of the topics discussed at my dinner table. 
Yes, I know this is not your typical dinner conversation, but that is because my son is not your typical 11 year old. 

Being a conservationist is not the coolest thing for a 6th grader to be known for. However, Dylan takes pride in his efforts and I keep reminding him that he is doing great things. That's what moms do, right? We praise our children for a job well done. Sometimes the response I get is "You're just saying that because you're my mom" or "Most people don't care about what I'm doing to save the animals". As his mom, this breaks my heart to hear him think this way. He may be partially correct, the world is filled with all sorts of people who have their own beliefs ... but as Dylan recently found out, there are a whole bunch of people who think he's doing some pretty awesome things for wildlife conservation. 

Last Friday was Endangered Species Day and we were invited to take part in a special Rally4Rhinos event at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park to help bring more awareness to the plight of rhinos. Even though Mother Nature decided to give us lots and lots of rain this day, it was an event we wouldn't miss. The Rhino Rally kicked off with a "crash" mob of elementary students and teachers from the San Pasqual Valley and was followed by updates from San Diego Zoo Global and William C. Woody, Chief of Office of Law Enforcement at the US Fish & Wildlife Service. Imagine Dylan's surprise when Chief Woody asked Dylan and another young boy to come up to he podium.

Both boys were recognized for their conservation efforts and for making a difference for rhinos and other endangered species. Hearing my son share what he has done and seeing the look of of pride on a friends face while he spoke was something I will always remember. The applause that filled the pavilion for Dylan when he was done speaking filled my heart with a kind of joy that I have never felt before. Not just pride as his mom, but pride for him getting the recognition he so desired and needed. As Dylan walked back to his seat, standing tall and clutching his rhino sculpture, I saw something in him that I haven't seen before. I saw confidence. The confidence of a young man was beaming from my pre-teen son's face. This public recognition from our friends at San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy and from Chief Woody was just what Dylan needed to reaffirm his passion for conservation. 

As another way of saying thank you to the boys, we were invited to go out on a VIP caravan safari to see Nola, one of only five Northern white rhinos left in the world. Nola is our favorite rhino and truly one of the most beautiful creatures I have ever met. This was a dream come true for Dylan.

I really don't think it matters anymore what the kids at school say because Dylan just had the best day of his young life.

For more about Nola and to see pictures from our visit with her, you can visit my photography site 

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Happy World Binturong Day!

A bintur-what? What the heck is a binturong? Well, up until a few years ago I didn't know what a binturong was either, but now that I do, I love them! Binturongs are these adorable animals that look like something out of a cartoon. They have the head of cat, the body of a bear, and a prehensile tail that is just as long as their body. Sometimes people call them bearcats. However, they are neither a bear nor a cat. They are binturongs and today marks the very first World Binturong Day!

Dylan and I had the opportunity meet Khi, a resident of the San Diego Zoo, up close during a special Presidents Association event back in 2013. Khi is a young male binturong who serves as an animal ambassador for his species. The more we know about these animals, the more we can do to help save their habitats and ultimately their species.

Binturongs live in the tropical rainforest and spend most of their time living in the trees. They have long coarse hair that actually repels the rain water, an adaptation that allows them to live in the rainforest. Although classified as a carnivore, binturongs love fruits and vegetables. The hibiscus flower is one of their favorite treats. Oh, and they smell like buttered popcorn!

By giving the binturong their own day, more people will learn about this wonderful animal and realize how important the binturong is to our ecosystem. To learn more about the binturong and how you can help raise awareness, visit

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Zoology for Kids

As the parent of an animal lover and an animal lover myself, I can tell you that Zoology for Kids is a book that you will definitely want to add to your collection. My son has read too many animal books to count and frankly, they all start to look the same to me after a while. He doesn't read the average animal books, he reads animal encyclopedias. Animal facts, species breakdowns, habitats, and so on ... is what most of his books contain and he loves it. Don't get me wrong, this is all valuable information for him. I've just always wondered if there isn't something else out there to teach him more about his passion of working with animals.

Luckily, last weekend we had the opportunity to meet Josh and Bethanie Hestermann, coauthors of the wonderful new book Zoology for Kids, at a meet and greet during the International Children's Day Festival at the Aquarium of the Pacific. Listening to them talk during a brief presentation was so inspiring. They both have backgrounds in Zoology and truly believe that whatever your passion is ... scientist, educator, artist, photographer, writer, etc. there is a place for you working with animals.

It is no secret that Dylan wants to pursue an animal-related career. Whether he becomes a zoologist, a zookeeper, a researcher working in the field, an ambassador for endangered species, or is working campaigns to stop the poachers is still unknown because of his young age.

Until now, he has only talked about the possibility of these careers. Thanks to Zoology for Kids, he can actually read about his choices and what each job entails. This book is the ultimate research tool for any child interested in understanding and working with animals.

Each section contains valuable information about the various animal-related careers along with corresponding science experiments, activities and fun games for kids of all ages.

Aside from the great content, what I love about Zoology for Kids is that it was written by two people who have made their living working with animals. Josh and Bethanie encourage kids to follow their dreams and are living proof that it is possible to make a difference doing what you love.

To learn more about Josh and Bethanie and find out where you can purchase their book, visit

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Happiness is being someone's Hero

I've said it many times and I will probably continue to say it a few more times ... being a single parent is no easy task. Heck, in today's world being a parent period is no easy task, married or single. There are so many things to think about, questions to be asked and answered, problems to solve, and so on. The last thing any parent needs is to be second guessing themselves as a parent. As difficult as things may get, the one thing I really love about being a single mom is the relationship I have with Dylan. I can honestly say that we are friends and talk about almost everything.

Last week I was going through one of those times where nothing I was doing seemed right. At least not in my eyes. All I could see was failure and disappointment as I compared myself with others around me. Better jobs, bigger houses, nicer things.

As usual, I was not able to hide how I was feeling from Dylan. He sees right through my "I'm fine, nothing is wrong" responses. I guess that only worked when he was younger. So I proceeded to tell him small tidbits of what was bothering me and asked him if he was really happy. Was he happy living in a small apartment with hand-me-down furniture? Was he happy with his school? Was there anything he wanted or needed that I wasn't providing him? I was making the biggest parenting mistake of all and questioning my worth as a mother.

It didn't take long before the roles were reversed and I was sitting across from my son (who became the parent) listening to words much wiser than his 11 years.

He began with "Mom, listen to me ..."  
For the next five minutes I sat in awe of my child and just listened.

"Mom, I am proud of you. You work really hard for what we have and I love you. Sure, those other people might have a big house or a successful career, but there is something that none of them will ever have. They don't have you as a mom. You have taught me so much about conservation and philanthropy. You have made a difference. You inspire me to save animals and make the world a better place. (This is where I fought back the tears) I know it cost millions of dollars to build Tiger Trail and we only raised $1300, but still, we made a difference and helped build a new home for the tigers. That is something they don't have. Mom, you are my hero."

I felt the tears rolling down my cheek. All this time I thought he was inspiring me and come to find out that I inspire him. He told me I was his hero, just like Rick and that I should be proud of that. Heck yes, I'm proud of that! My son just put me in the same category as Zookeeper Rick - top that!

So the lesson that I learned from my 11 year old son is that it doesn't matter what my job title is or how much money I make. Living in an apartment doesn't make me any less of a person than someone who owns a home. Money cannot buy happiness and sometimes the little things really are the big things in disguise.

What does matter is that I am someone's hero ...
                     and nobody can take that happiness away from me.

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.