MONDAY, APRIL 23
Geeta Seshamani, Senior Wildlife Conservationist and Co-Founding Director, Wildlife SOS
Known for the landmark conservation success of ending the brutal dancing bear trade in India through the rescue of 628 dancing bears and the rehabilitation of the Kalandar community that depended on the bears, Wildlife SOS has established itself as a premier conservation organization in India.
Wildlife SOS was started in 1995 as an offshoot of Geeta Seshamani’s existing helpline for domestic animals in distress in the National Capital Region, and has since grown from a local 24-hour rescue helpline for wildlife to a country-wide organization, running more than 40 projects and 11 rescue centres with the aim of enabling coexistence of human beings and wildlife. Today, the organization runs three 24-hour rescue helplines in major cities in India (including the national capital of Delhi), which rescue, rehabilitate and release wildlife caught in urban settings.
With exploding populations and rapid urbanization, forests continue to shrink as anthropogenic stress destroys natural habitats, diverts water channels and depletes prey bases for indigenous wildlife, forcing them into human habitation on the periphery of former forested areas. A natural result of this is human-wildlife conflict, a fast growing and extremely critical conservation concern for the 21st century.
In response to this growing threat to wildlife, Wildlife SOS runs conflict mitigation projects in Maharashtra for leopards, in Kashmir for Asiatic Black Bears and Himalayan Brown Bears, and in Chhattisgarh for the Asian elephant. The projects work closely with local affected communities and stakeholders to provide solutions to conflict that are inclusive and hence sustainable, relying on increased tolerance and compassion on the parts of local people inculcated in them through training programs, awareness drives and mitigation workshops by the organization. Wildlife SOS also works on human-primate conflict mitigation in the city of Agra, running a humane population control project through scientific immuno-sterilisation that also helps reduce inter and intra-specific territorial aggression and conflict.
- There’s no going back, only learning to move forward: Populations are growing, and will continue to grow unchecked for a long time, and anthropogenic pressure on the environment cannot always be reduced or eliminated. In situations like this, dwelling on the difficulty of the situation and wishing we could undo the problems we have created for wildlife will not work – the need of the hour is to find a way to move forward sustainably by creating oases of sanctuary for these animals, and helping people learn to co-exist with the wildlife they share their landscapes with.
- The larger the animal, the larger the problem: With larger animals, particularly carnivores, who force themselves to adapt to urban environments, the problem is exacerbated by an acute intolerance founded on baseless fear, misunderstanding and a lack of awareness. In most instances, unrealistic demands for culling, capture and relocation cannot be met due to their significant detrimental impact on the environment and wild populations of critical species – and innovative solutions are required to solve the problem.
- The key is in community: In instances where local communities, particularly poor farming communities residing on the fringes of society are the most affected by conflict, legal, political and governmental solutions are rarely as effective as community-based solutions that seek to involve local stakeholders and affected persons by engaging with them to increase awareness, and involving them as active participants in the conservation of the species through mitigation of conflict.
Geeta Seshamani started working in 1979 with an animal welfare organization called Friendicoes SECA in New Delhi. Her passion is Wildlife Conservation and Research. Geeta has been a Member of the Animal Welfare Board of India, Central Zoo Authority, Government of India and has received several life time achievement awards and felicitations for her work in the field. Geeta established Wildlife SOS, India (wildlifesos.org) in 1995 with Kartick Satyanarayan that runs several projects to support Bear conservation in India including the largest rehabilitation center in the world for sloth bears. She is known for her work in bringing an end to the ‘dancing bear’ problem in India while rehabilitating the Kalandar communities through education and alternate livelihoods. She is now focused on tackling Bear conservation issues through biodiversity conservation, protecting sloth bear and black bear habitat and creating bear conservation and education programs to mitigate bear human conflict in India, wherever there is an increase in human-bear conflict.
SUNDAY, APRIL 22
Dr. Shelley M. Alexander, Professor, Department of Geography, University of Calgary
Victoria Lukasik, PhD Candidate, Department of Geography, University of Calgary
We need to expand our compassion footprint to wild animals like coyotes. It is estimated that one coyote is killed every minute in the USA, which is a statistic echoed in Canada. For instance, in 2009 alone, approximately 70,000 coyotes were killed on a government-sponsored bounty in Saskatchewan, and untold numbers of dead coyotes dumped along borders and in landfills of adjacent provinces. The welfare implications of routine culling are ignored because coyotes are an extremely resilient species. Arguably, a lack of understanding of the emotional lives of social animals like coyotes plays into citizen requests for and management agencies compliance with the use of lethal force. Further, calls for more compassionate science and management that are based on the knowledge of animal suffering tend to dismissed considered "biased" research or "advocacy" – not science. The idea that coyotes are a menace and should be killed is supported by some citizens, and select interest groups can drive killing, even if the larger citizenship does not agree with this practice. Finally, some agencies are working to promote co-existence and no-kill strategies, but this is difficult in the face of multiple worldviews about what wild species deserve our compassion and belong in proximity to people. This talk will introduce Compassionate Conservation science and convey key findings from a decade of research on coyotes, concepts from animal geography and personal experience raising/studying orphaned coyote pups.
- The causal factors of human-coyote, coyote-pet entanglements.
- Elucidating the ecological, ethical and social pressures shaping these engagements.
- Exploring the emotional lives of coyotes as evidence of moral considerability and the need for compassion.
Dr. Shelley Alexander is a Professor in the Department of Geography at the University of Calgary. She has more than 25 years of experience studying wild canids, specializing in wolves and coyotes in Canada, and is the Founder and Lead Scientist for the Foothills Coyote Initiative. Shelley is also a recognized specialist in geospatial analysis (GIS, Satellite imagery and statistics) for conservation and a road ecologist – studying the effects of roads on species movement patterns. Her other research collaborations include: modelling swift fox critical habitat with the Conservation Science Centre - Calgary Zoo, studying road effects on large carnivores in the Yucatan and developing species-environment models for endangered painted dogs with Painted Dog Research, Zimbabwe. She is a member of the Science Advisory Board for Project Coyotes, USA, Member of the Board for the North American Society for Conservation Biology and Science Advisor to Coyote Watch Canada.
Dr. Alexander's talk will be followed by a short presentation by Victoria Lukasik, a PhD candidate under Dr. Alexander's supervision at The University of Calgary.
Coyotes and other "resilient" (behaviourally-adaptable) species are often managed through lethal control methods, with limited consideration of ethics and social dynamics. Rural public perceptions that indiscriminate killing of coyotes and wolves helps to reduce livestock losses and "control" predator populations persist in spite of evidence to the contrary. In urban areas, perceptions of risk to human and pet safety can promote lethal removal of coyotes deemed too habituated to humans. These perceptions and actions create barriers to co-existence at municipal and regional levels. When the only vocal citizens are those in favour of shooting, trapping and poisoning "inconvenient" species, there is little incentive for wildlife managers and their agencies to strengthen regulations aimed at co-existence. These issues will be discussed with a focus on building bridges to more compassionate conservation of coyotes, wolves and cougars in Alberta and across North America.
Victoria Lukasik is completing her PhD in the Canid Lab, in the Department of Geography at the University of Calgary under the supervision of Dr. Shelley Alexander. Through this research, Victoria examines lethal carnivore management in western Canada and identifies barriers to more effective and compassionate wildlife management approaches. She previously studied urban coyote diet and human-coyote interactions in Calgary during her Master of Science research, and holds a Bachelor of Science from McGill University in Wildlife Biology. Her research interests center around human-wildlife coexistence, carnivore ecology, and conservation. She has worked on numerous research and conservation projects studying birds, mammals and amphibians in academia, government, NGO and industry. She also has experience in environmental education and is passionate about sharing science with public groups.
MONDAY, APRIL 23
Kartick Satyanarayan, Co-Founding Director and CEO, Wildlife SOS
This talk will describe in detail the challenges of wildlife welfare and protection in a developing nation and how the challenges include working with the local communities to decrease dependency on exploitation of animals and providing local people with alternative livelihoods. The session will give examples of how we worked for nearly twenty long years to eradicate the brutal and illegal practice of dancing bears across India and have now embarked on the protection of elephants. The talk will include inspiring examples of how what is often perceived as impossible (like rescuing elephants from a hostile mob of animal abusers) is definitely possible if one has a plan and a strategy and is committed to the cause.
- Nothing is impossible.
- Leap and a net shall appear.
- If you are committed to the cause, nothing can stop you from helping animals.
Kartick Satyanarayan is known for his work to end the dancing bear problem in India (view his TED talk). He is now focused on tackling bear conservation issues through biodiversity conservation, protecting habitat and creating bear conservation and education programs to mitigate bear/human conflict in India. He founded the charity Wildlife SOS India with Geeta Seshamani, which runs several projects to support bear conservation in India, including the largest rehabilitation center in the world for sloth bears. Wildlife SOS works with indigenous communities and in partnership with the Indian government to tackle the increasing bear/human conflict through awareness. Kartick is a Honorary Wildlife Warden of Delhi, member of the state wildlife advisory board for the Government of Uttar Pradesh, Member - Wildlife Crime Control Bureau, Member - Central Zoo Authority, and a Member of the Leopard Conflict committee of the National Tiger Conservation Authority of India.
MONDAY, APRIL 23
Christina Carrieres, Vice President, Board of Directors, Wildlife Rehabilitators' Network of BC
Heather Schmitt, Board of Directors, Wildlife Rehabilitators' Network of BC
As our urban areas continue to expand and human-wildlife interactions increase, with it is a growing demand for humane care for distressed wildlife. This trend is paired with a growing public expectation that wildlife rehabilitators provide care that meets professional standards comparable to those in place for companion or exotic animals.
Barriers to meeting this demand include the position of wildlife rehabilitation centres as non-profit organizations relying on charitable support to provide a needed public service, a lack of available formal technical training, a high rate of professional burnout, succession planning challenges and uneven geographical access to wildlife rehabilitation facilities.
The Wildlife Rehabilitators’ Network of BC has begun a dialogue with rehabilitation professionals across British Columbia to explore how best to support the field and enhance wildlife welfare. The initial findings from this exercise have offered valuable insights into the common issues faced by the rehabilitation community and have provided a starting point for creating professional development resources.
- What is the current landscape of wildlife rehabilitation across British Columbia?
- What are the common challenges faced by the rehabilitation and wildlife welfare community?
- What connections can be created or strengthened among rehabilitation facilities and other animal welfare professionals?
Christina Carrieres is an Animal Health Technologist, a Certified Wildlife Rehabilitator and an instructor for the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council. She worked at BC SPCA Wild ARC for more than 12 years, where she led a team of wildlife rehabilitation staff and volunteers treating more than 3,000 wild patients every year. She is originally from Montreal, where she worked with marine mammals at the Parc Aquarium de Québec for some time before moving to Victoria in 2003 to complete a Double Major in Biology and Environmental Studies at the University of Victoria.
Christina is the Vice President of the Wildlife Rehabilitator’s Network of BC, the Vice President of the Oiled Wildlife Society of BC, and the WRNBC trustee within the Oiled Wildlife Trust of British Columbia. She also volunteers with Vets for Pets, a local organization that provides free basic medical care to low income and homeless people’s pets and is a member of the Canadian Animal Assistance Team.
Over the years, she has completed a number of training courses and has gained experience volunteering in various wildlife rehabilitation centres in different countries, such as Guatemala, Belize, South Africa and the US (Hawaii) where she worked with endangered species. She also attended numerous conferences related to wildlife in order to provide the best possible care for Vancouver Island’s wild patients.
Heather Schmitt is a Certified Volunteer Administrator and completed a Bachelor's degree in Environmental Studies from the University of Victoria, as well as a Master's degree in Environmental Studies from Queen's University. She has worked at two of the busiest wildlife rehabilitation centres in Canada, serving as Assistant Manager at BC SPCA's Wild ARC, and staffing the emergency wildlife hotline at Toronto Wildlife Centre. Heather is on the Board of Directors for the Wildlife Rehabilitators’ Network of BC, and has furthered her knowledge of the wildlife rehabilitation field by attending numerous conferences and completing the Oiled Wildlife Society's First Responder training.
SUNDAY, APRIL 22
Rob Laidlaw, Executive Director, Zoocheck
This illustrated session will examine the status of wildlife captivity in Canada and some of the key issues, trends and challenges associated with captive animals, including those on public display in zoos and aquariums and wild animals held in private hands as pets. It will also examine several key housing and husbandry considerations for captive wildlife and provide an introduction to some quick assessment systems, including the ZEQAP and EMODE. The session will conclude by looking at future possibilities for wildlife in captivity by providing a number of recommendations for change at both a local and regional level.
- Obtain an understanding of the wildlife in captivity issue landscape in Canada.
- Learn about several wildlife in captivity assessment programs that can provide assistance and guidance when dealing with captivity issues.
- Get insight into strategies for addressing wildlife in captivity issues on a local and provincial level.
Rob Laidlaw is a Chartered Biologist, award-winning author of nine children’s books and Executive Director of the wildlife protection charity Zoocheck. His work throughout the years has taken him around the world and has involved almost every kind of advocacy initiative from lobbying governments to rescuing animals, including many successful initiatives to change laws, policies, practices and to improve conditions for wildlife in captivity.
Read our interview with Rob Laidlaw here.