What have the animals done for us? More than you might realise! Join your host, Olga from the mountains, as she uncovers the history of animals... and us.
200 Million Organic Trucks, Tractors and Taxis
Working animals. There are currently 200 million horses, donkeys, mules, camels and elephants serving us as trucks, tractors and taxis all over the world. Some are "owned" and some are "rented" by people who derive an income from their animals. The human depend on the animals for their livelihood and vice versa.
While many of us are thinking about whether our next car runs on petrol or electricity, hundreds of millions of people are still taking the "organic" option when it comes to their transport. Taking good care of working equines is the subject of this episode.
In this episode we speak with Melissa Liszewski. Melissa has spent her entire career helping to improve the living conditions of working animals across several continents.
While we were recording this episode, I must admit that I was quite emotional. The reason behind that was realising just how many animals are still working hard for us today, since it's not something I see often in my neck of the woods. I was also struck at the high number that are being helped by organisations like Brooke, IFAW and SPANA, which we discuss in the episode.
As they say, every cloud has a silver lining. During our conversation I found out how professionals are breaking down the issues into actionable steps that improve the conditions for working animals. Millions of them. For instance, Melissa tells us about a shelter for working equines at a market in Ethiopia, which started out as a place where animals could rest while their human families shopped. It now runs as a round the clock equine care centre, complete with an educational programme. This was the first time I have heard about something like this!
I think you’ll agree by the time you finish the episode that Melissa is someone who embodies what this podcast is designed to convey - that the human species depends so much on what other animals have done for us. In many ways, we would not have thrived without the help of working equines.
Further, I hope what you hear in this episode will help you to see the next working horse, donkey or mule that you pass in a little bit of a different light. Perhaps you might take on the advice that Melissa shares and do your part in making sure that animal is getting good care. As you know, all domesticated animals depend completely on humans, and so we are wholly responsible for their treatment.
Episode cover photo credit: Mae Tortajada-Suils
About Melissa LiszewskiMelissa is a Senior Program Manager in Stakeholder & Community Engagement. Her passion is delivering animal welfare, sustainability and social impact in the communities she works with.
Melissa is currently working at IFAW as a Senior Program Manager, Community Engagement. She is also a Board Trustee at SPANA. Before now, Melissa has worked at the Brooke and the Animal Welfare Institute, among other animal welfare organisations. It's a career that has seen Melissa help thousands of animals gain improved living conditions all over the world. In turn, Melissa's work has helped the humans working with those animals prosper.
This article by Melissa on donkey welfare in Kenya is an eye opener into her work and what she has learned during her studies and career, it's very much a worthwhile read.
Photos to accompany this episode
Melissa very kindly sent us photos from several trips around the world to illustrate what we discuss during the episode.
Melissa Liszewski working in Pakistan, 2014. Credit: Mae Tortajada-Suils.
Market shelter for working equines in Ethiopia. Credit: Melissa Liszewski.
Animal having a drink at the market shelter for working equines in Ethiopia. Credit: Melissa Liszewski.
A Gharry taxi horse in Ethiopia. Credit: Melissa Liszewski.
A donkey in Jordan. Credit: Melissa Liszewski.
Working at a brick kiln in India. Credit: Melissa Liszewski.
Working at a brick kiln in India. Credit: Melissa Liszewski.
A boy and horse taking a break at a brick kiln in India. Credit: Melissa
Chimpanzees as pets and wild animal souls. Life at AAP Primadomus in Spain.
In another episode dedicated to exploring the fate of chimpanzees, our closest cousin, we speak with Maria Blazques, a care giver at AAP Primadomus in Alicante, Spain.
Maria Blazques inside one of the chimpanzee enclosures at AAP Primadomus
We already know something about this organisation and their rescue centres. Two episodes ago we interviewed the Executive Director of AAP, David van Gennep. This time we get to hear from Maria who is working closely every day with the animals at the centre. We also speak about why people keep wild animals as pets and get philosophical about what this means for both us and the animals themselves.
Maria spends much of the episode telling us the stories of two chimpanzees who live at AAP Primadomus: Bingo and Antoine. Tune in to hear about their lives as they went from bad time to much better days with the help of the team at AAP and, of course, Maria. And, for now, enjoy the photos of these lifelong friends which have been kindly provided for the episode by the team at AAP:
Bingo & Antoine (Photography: Amy Atherton)
Our good friend, David van Gennep, AAP's Executive Director with Antoine during his journey to the AAP rescue centre.
Bingo enjoying fruit from an ice block.
Antoine with an orange - look at the tenderness with those huge fingers!
Antoine surveying the area (Photography: Amy Berta Alzaga)
Bingo's sincere eyes (Photography: Amy Atherton)
Find out more about AAP, their work and how you can visit their centres or offer support at their website.
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What happens to chimpanzee TV advert stars when the lights go down?
In the last episode we spoke with David van Gennep, the Executive Director of AAP – a rescue and rehabilitation centre, mainly known for helping chimpanzees, with a centre in the Netherlands and another one in Spain.
Today, we’re staying on a similar subject. In this episode we’re speaking with Olga Feliu who is the Director of the MONA Foundation – that’s a sanctuary for chimpanzees located near to the town of Girona in Catalunya, Spain. Yes, we have the same name, so for clarity whenever I speak about “Olga” from now on, it’s not about me, it’s about our guest!
The chimpanzees that live at the "MONA sanctuary" are mostly former TV advert and circus stars. Celebrities, really. Whichever country we live in, we've probably seen an advert for fast food or a brand of tea. How much fun they always seemed to be having in those situations, we all thought, including me when I was a child. It wasn't until I visited the MONA sanctuary that I found out that the fall from TV stardom for a chimpanzee is a sad and grave event which tends to see them sent to live in a (usually tiny and filthy) cage for the rest of their lives.
This is an episode where we explore the lives of some of the chimpanzees that Olga's amazing team has looked after over the years. We talk about the other situations where chimpanzees are kept as pets and, of course, what their journey looks like when they reach a place like the MONA sanctuary where they can experience at least a fraction of a "normal" life as a chimpanzee.
About our guest
OLGA FELIU, Co-founder, Board member and Director of MONA.
Brave, pragmatic and always optimistic. Olga always sees the bright side of things and that has made the MONA project a reality out of nothing.
Olga is a veterinary graduate who has worked with animals for the entirety of her career. She also has a Master´s Degree in Primatology and Doctorate in Primate Ethology at the University of Barcelona.
Olga founded and runs the Fundació MONA Sanctuary and Recuperation centre in the province of Girona, Catalunya, Spain.
Now, in the last episode with David from AAP we already learned that there’s a surprisingly large trade in wild animals across Europe. In fact, because Spain is a gateway from Africa into Europe, it’s often the entry point for animals like chimpanzees and macaques who are caught in the wild and then… through a chain… sold on to people who keep them as pets or as workers.
Olga is going to talk to us about the kind of things that she has seen over her career. In fact, she was a vet specialising in the health of baby cows. One day, the company she worked for got a call from someone who needed help with chimpanzees! Olga was the one sent to meet a British chap called Simon Templar (not many of her colleagues spoke English) who was privately rescuing chimpanzees from some terrible situations and giving them a safe home.
That was some 20 years ago, but that was the meeting which was to change the course of Olga’s life, as she’ll explain, and saw her becoming a go to person for the Customs department of the Spanish Government. So, whenever they had found an illegally kept chimpanzee and wanted to confiscate it, they’d call Olga to try find a home for it. Hence, she found out just how many of these poor chimpanzees were finding themselves far from home, working in circuses, as TV stars or living as pets in apartments. And so, as good people do, she decided to do something about it.
I have visited the MONA sanctuary several times, met many of the staff there and also got to know the stories of the chimpanzees and barbary macaques they have there. It’s not a huge place, and the setup is two separate enclosures for the chimpanzees where they live in their little groups, and then their connected bedrooms where they go at night. There’s also a sort of separate quarantine / introduction area which is where new chimps first live when they arrive.
The chimpanzees enjoying life in
Chimpanzees. The fate of our closest cousin. Interview with David van Gennep, AAP.
Chimpanzees are our closest relatives. That doesn’t mean we’ve made their lives are easy. Far from it.
According to our friends who monitor the species as part of the IUCN Red List, the Chimpanzee (or “pan troglodytes”) is an endangered species.
While the global human population is now 7.6 billion, the global chimpanzee population is less than a million.
What you might also not know is that there are actually many subspecies of the chimpanzee… and some of those sub-species are down to their last few hundred individuals.
Now, in this episode, we’re not going to talk much about the details of chimpanzee numbers in the wild. But it’s important to know that even though there are many, many efforts to counter the loss, it looks like their population is still declining. Unsurprisingly, that decline is because of human activity: poaching, loss of habitat as jungles get turned into agricultural land and infectious diseases (like the virus ebola which chimpanzees do get, just like humans). It’s actually thought that ebola alone has wiped out about a third of the chimpanzees population since the 1990s.
That backdrop means this episode coming up makes for some uncomfortable, but really important listening. For me, what I feel now that I’ve gotten to know more about chimpanzees in today’s world, is just how unfortunate they are to be so much like us. It’s our fascination and our exploitation of their likeness to us that has landed chimpanzees in some, frankly, bizarre situations. Some of which verge on science fiction.
Now, even ancient tribes used to take chimpanzees from the wild and keep them. But in the 20th century the trade in these animals has been on another scale. Many have been captured and trafficked out of Africa and ended up as circus entertainers and pets. Some (thousands of them, in fact) became laboratory animals who were infected with things like HIV, just as an example, for research purposes.
Thankfully, for some of these chimpanzees, there were happier times after they were rescued.
Here we see David van Gennep reaching out to a chimpanzee called Linda. Until then she had spent 30 years alone in a barred shed. This outreached hand rom David might have been one of the first acts of kindness that Linda had ever witnessed.
In this episode I speak with David van Gennep, the Executive Director of Stitchting AAP, to find out more about these Chimpanzees’ stories and what happened to them next.
David van Gennep kitted out in his AAP gear.
AAP is a rescue and rehabilitation organisation which has two centres: one in the Netherlands and another in Spain. Aside from working directly with chimpanzees and other “exotic” animals, the team at AAP also gets involved in influencing changes in public policy. They’ve been instrumental in getting a ban on the “use” of chimpanzees in laboratories in the Netherland (this ban has since been adopted by some other countries). And, right now, they’re campaigning to get the EU to implement a European ban on wild animal in circuses.
If you live in the European Union, please do consider reading and signing the petition that would go some way in proving that public opinion is against the use of wild animals in zoos:
Now, back to the interview. It’s fair to say that David is quite exceptional. He’s one of the most positive and, let’s say, entrepreneurial people I’ve met in the field of animal welfare and conservation. Imagine staying an optimist when you have spent your career seeing things like:
Chimpanzees locked up behind bars in pharmaceuticals laboratories who know exactly what is going to happen the next time a person in a white coat enters their space,
Lions, tigers and great apes in sorry states after “working” as entertainers in circuses,
All kinds of exotic animals that have been living in filthy cages in people’s homes, out the back of restaurants or in
Grasshoppers, Corals and Global Crisis. Full interview with Simon Stuart.
When you read the evermore worrying news about species extinction, climate change and rising sea levels, do you ever wonder how much you can believe?
In our busy and frenetic lives we often don’t know what to believe, or how serious some of this news might be. That’s why I wanted to speak to someone who knows a thing or two about species conservation. Well, not just a few things, actually, much more than that. I wanted to hear it from someone who lives and breathes conservation.
So, imagine what a delight it was when Simon Stuart, who effectively had the job of leading species conservation globally for eight years, agreed to join us for an interview.
These days, Simon is the Director of Strategic Conservation at an organisation called Synchronicity Earth which is really quite innovative – you can find out why at their website synchronicityearth.org
He’s also very, very much involved in the IUCN, which is probably one of the biggest organisations out there you may not have heard of. IUCN stands for the International Union for Conservation of Nature. It’s been around since 1948, has 1,300 member organisations including governments, NGOs, indigenous people’s organisations, scientific institutions and business associations. It also has 13,000 experts who provide input (more details in the full episode). And that input then turns into information, research programmes and sets the agenda for congresses that take place every 4 years. Now, at this congress there’s a members’ assembly and here decisions made by the members that make a big difference to conservation and sustainability globally.
Now, why was it especially interesting to speak with Simon? Well, he was chair of what’s called the Species Survival Commission. That’s especially interesting because this is the institution that is responsible for the Red List of Threatened Species, a database of 93,000 species (and growing) that tracks their vulnerability status.
So, Simon is one of the people in this world who can tell us the most, and he did tell us a lot, about:
What is the reality of species conservation globally – how is it organized, what works, what we need to do better?
What can the story of a humble species of grasshopper in France teach us about how to do conservation better?
The threats that we do have solutions for and the threats that we don’t have solutions for. Like, what can we do about the fact that all corals look on course to die out over the next hundred years?
Why is it that species conservation is still seen as an act of charity rather than a necessity?
What has the existence of the Red List achieved?
And what a fascinating interview it turned out to be. Enjoy this very special episode and treat it as a reference point to the rest of the other5billion podcast series. What we discussed with Simon applies to every single species on the planet and that includes our own.
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Global Species Conservation with Simon Stuart, a preview
Just last week I was over in the UK, in a very pretty little town called Bath which is famous for its Roman-built Baths.
Unlike many of the people who stopped by for the day, I didn’t have time to sight see. There were far more important things to do. And it was a wonderful experience because I was very lucky to have an interview with Simon Stuart, someone who is a global authority in species conservation. Although he would probably be very humble and try tone it down a bit!
These days Simon is the Director of Strategic Conservation at an organisation called Synchronicity Earth which is really quite innovative – you can find out why at their website synchronicityearth.org
He’s also very, very much involved in the IUCN, which is probably one of the biggest organisations out there you may not have heard of.
IUCN stands for the International Union for Conservation of Nature. It’s been around since 1948, has 1,300 member organisations including governments, NGOs, indigenous people’s organisations, scientific institutions and business associations.
It also has 13,000 experts who provide input (more details in the full episode). And that input then turns into information, research programmes and sets the agenda for congresses that take place every 4 years. Now, at this congress there’s a members’ assembly and here decisions made by the members that make a big difference to conservation and sustainability globally.
Now, why was it especially interesting to speak with Simon? Well, he was chair of what’s called the Species Survival Commission. As he himself says in his biography, he had “in many senses the job of leading species conservation globally”.
And what a fascinating interview it turned out to be. It's really something to look forward to and so, I made this short trailer as we wait for the publication of the episode on 11 October 2018 because the perspectives Simon shared left me quite stunned during the interview!
So join us next week for the full episode but, for now, enjoy the words that Simon has shared.
About the people and the organisations mentioned in the episode
Simon Stuart, Director of Strategic Conservation at Synchronicity Earth and with over 30 year's involvement with IUCN on Twitter
IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature)
The IUCN Species Survival Commission
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
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Very interesting guests
I love what Olga is creating here. Working in the conservation field I always love to discover new and interesting people and some of the guests she has had already are inspiring and very interesting. Keep up the good work!
I am biased
I have watched Olga throughout the process of creating this podcast. I have seen the idea germinate in her mind, the planning, the learning and the organisation required to ensure that interviewees were available to share their knowledge and experience.
I have enjoyed the creation of this podcast. I truly hope you enjoy hearing it, and all the episodes to come.