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Jun 162013
 

Without heroic conservationists many of today’s most beloved species would be extinct: think of pandas, tigers, and elephants. By single-mindly focused on saving a particular species, these conservation champions bring much-needed research, publicity, and, most importantly, targeted actions to keep an imperiled animal from the brink. Through their own exuberance, these heroes also gather others to their cause. But, many of the world’s heroic conservationists are little-known to the broader public. To address this a new book, Wildlife Heroes: 40 Leading Conservationists and the Animals They Are Committed to Saving, strives to introduce the public to some of the world’s most devoted conservationists.

Jaguar coming up for air in the Brazilian Pantanal. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

“It tells the story of forty professional wildlife conservationists who have devoted their lives to saving an individual species or addressing a broader threat to wildlife such as climate change or unexplained pollinator declines,” co-author and the North American Regional Director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), Jeff Flocken told mongabay.com in a recent interview. “[Co-author Julie Scardina] and I are giving 100% of our profits from the book to the conservationists we feature in it, and I’m happy to say it has been a success: Wildlife Heroes is currently on its’ third printing since it came out in May 2012, and it has won two awards.”

However, the extinction crisis has gone well-beyond the big, charismatic species. Today, the IUCN Red List categorizes over 20,000 species as threatened with extinction, the majority of which do not have a conservation hero. More alarming still, the IUCN Red List has only evaluated about 4 percent of the world’s known species.

“Unfortunately, the less charismatic species tend to lack heroes with conservation strategies. It seems like many animals at this point have people studying them, but finding true conservation heroes for the less charismatic species can be tough. For example, I would have loved to have done a chapter on saving paddlefish or freshwater mussels, but we weren’t able to find a hero that met our criteria. [...] Hopefully newly graduated scientists, economists, lawyers etc will start to spread-out a little more and work on some of the lesser known species that need help,” says Flocken.

Jeff Flocken will be presenting on his work at WAZA at the 2013 Zoos and Aquariums: Committing to Conservation (ZACC) conference on Tuesday, July 9th in Des Moines, Iowa.

AN INTERVIEW WITH JEFF FLOCKEN

African elephant orphans in Kenya. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

Mongabay: What’s your background?

Jeff Flocken: I have a law degree, but I’ve never litigated—straight out of law school I started doing environmental policy work, including working for a number of the big groups like National Wildlife Federation and Conservation International, as well as for the US government doing international species conservation. Currently, I am the North American Regional Director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). I’ve been very lucky, and have been part of some really exciting conservation efforts—such as working with eBay to get them to voluntarily ban the sale of elephant ivory on their websites globally, or being part of the team that drafted the technical petition to list African lions as Endangered under the US Endangered Species Act. I’ve also witnessed some big disappointments, such as the inability of the Big Cats and Rare Canids Act to pass the US Congress after seven years working on it, and the unsuccessful efforts to gain greater protections for polar bears under CITES in Doha 2010 and more recently in Bangkok 2013. Overall though, it has been a tremendously exciting twenty years working to help animals, and I’m very proud of every minute of it.

Mongabay: What initially drew you to wildlife?

 

Jeff Flocken with tamandua. Photo courtesy of Jeff Flocken.

Jeff Flocken: I’ve always loved wildlife and planned to make it my career for as long as I can remember. When I got a scholarship to do research on giraffes in Africa during my undergraduate at the University of Michigan, this sealed the deal and put me on the right track for where I wanted to go. After that, it was just a matter of continuing to adjust my career to get the right position in the right organization—doing international wildlife conservation for an organization that is philosophically aligned with my own values. I’ve been fortunate enough to find that with IFAW, which not only works to conserve entire species, but also cares about saving individual animals as well.

Mongabay: Will you tell us about your new book: Wildlife Heroes?

Jeff Flocken: I coauthored the book with my longtime friend and fellow conservationist Julie Scardina. It tells the story of forty professional wildlife conservationists who have devoted their lives to saving an individual species or addressing a broader threat to wildlife such as climate change or unexplained pollinator declines. Julie and I are giving 100% of our profits from the book to the conservationists we feature in it, and I’m happy to say it has been a success: Wildlife Heroes is currently on its’ third printing since it came out in May 2012, and it has won two awards.

Mongabay: How did you select the book’s heroes?

Jeff Flocken: It was not easy. Julie and I started with probably over 400 different species and heroes that we had to narrow down to a handful. We tried really hard to show diversity in the species (mammals, birds, insects, fish, etc) as well as in the heroes (men, women, young, old, different races and backgrounds) and their work (lawyers, scientists, photographers, veterinarians, etc). And they had to have shown real success in their efforts. The hardest part was cutting heroes out. Our editor pointed out that we were very heavy on big cat heroes (probably my fault since I’m obsessed with big cats), so we had to cut a really remarkable snow leopard conservationist, Rodney Jackson. If we do a sequel, he’ll be right at the front of the line of heroes to feature. There are also some species that we weren’t able to feature that are favorites for both Julie and I—like anteaters, giraffes, hippos, cassowaries, tasmanian devils, and so on. There are so many amazing conservationists doing great work, and so many species with compelling stories, but there just wasn’t enough room to include them all. Again, maybe in the next book.

Mongabay: Is there one wildlife hero that particularly sticks out for you?

Jeff Flocken: I worked for a while with a number of Brazilian conservationists who just never cease to amaze me: Leandro Silveira and his wife Anah Jacomo are doing some great work on jaguars, and Rogerio Cunha de Paula has done some exciting things benefitting maned wolves. And of course, Patricia Medici who works on tapirs in Brazil is one of my all-time wildlife idols, and she’s working on a little known but very cool critter, which just adds to her star-factor for me.

Mongabay: Many endangered species still lack champions or targeted conservation plans. How do we fix this?


Jeff Flocken: Unfortunately, the less charismatic species tend to lack heroes with conservation strategies. It seems like many animals at this point have people studying them, but finding true conservation heroes for the less charismatic species can be tough. For example, I would have loved to have done a chapter on saving paddlefish or freshwater mussels, but we weren’t able to find a hero that met our criteria. On the other hand, the big sexy critters like tigers, rhinos, great apes, whales, bears and lions, all had more really impressive conservation heroes helping them than we could fit in the book. Elephants in particular have some incredibly devoted conservationists like Cynthia Moss, Joyce Poole and Lucy King, but we ended up going with Iain Douglas Hamilton who Julie and I both knew personally and respected tremendously. Hopefully newly graduated scientists, economists, lawyers etc will start to spread-out a little more and work on some of the lesser known species that need help. And there certainly is no lack of need unfortunately, as animals everywhere can use all the help they can get these days.

Mongabay: What do you see as the biggest threats to the world’s biodiversity?

Jeff Flocken: Ten years ago I would have definitively said habitat loss due to human population growth. And while that threat has not abated or even lessened, unfortunately there are new threats growing on the horizon, such as habitat loss linked to human-caused climate change, and the illegal wildlife trade that is growing to meet swelling demand for luxury items (such as goods made from ivory, sport-hunted trophies, animal skin rugs and clothing) and other items (ingredients for traditional Asian medicines, bushmeat, etc). Unfortunately, all this also can all be linked back to human expansion too—both in number and in occupation of all corners of the globe. Until we can address the issue of human population growth and our seemingly inexhaustible appetite to consume natural resources, animals will continue to be in jeopardy.

Mongabay: What can people do to help save the world’s vanishing species?

Jeff Flocken: As I mentioned earlier, the field of wildlife conservation needs talented professionals from a wide range of backgrounds. Because of this, I cofounded the Emerging Wildlife Conservation Leaders initiative, which has provided training and career guidance for over 100 of the best up-and-coming wildlife conservationists in our field. But not everyone needs to go into a wildlife conservation career to help animals. All the conservationists featured in the Wildlife Heroes book have organizations that need support to keep going, and many of them take volunteer help as well. For more information on how to support wildlife conservation efforts, go to www.WildlifeHeroesBook.com.

This article was written for Mongabay.com and re-posted on Focusing on Wildlife.

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