July in animal news: Five questions with International Fund for Animal Welfare leader Fred O'Regan
We're asking experts in the animal-protection community to offer their insights on the latest animal news and fill us in on what their organizations are working on. Here, International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) President and Chief Executive Fred O'Regan shares his take on protecting wild tigers, helping Haiti's companion animals and addressing the threats facing whales, wild cats and wolf species. O'Regan's responses represent his own views and not necessarily ours.
Fred O'Regan: During July, officials from 13 nations that are home to the world’s last wild tigers met in Bali, Indonesia, along with the World Bank's Global Tiger Initiative and partner organizations including IFAW, to develop a concrete plan to reinvigorate the tiger population, pledging to double it by 2022. The plan is expected to serve as a road map for tiger conservation to be adopted by world leaders at the first global summit on tigers this September in St. Petersburg, Russia.
In a global assessment of transnational organized crime, including wildlife trade, the U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime reported last month that tigers are on the verge of being poached into extinction in the wild. Fueled by an international black market in tiger body parts, poaching threatens to eliminate 5% of the remaining wild tiger population each year. Tigers have experienced a 97% decline in population since 1900, when 100,000 roamed the earth. As few as 3,000 wild tigers survive today. The pledge by these governments to crack down on poaching and wildlife trafficking will help us make strides in tiger conservation.
Also, just because the International Whaling Commission annual meeting is over, doesn't mean the whale issue has gone away. It's imperative that we're still remaining vigilant about this cruel practice and ensuring the moratorium remains intact.
Unleashed: What were IFAW's biggest projects in July?
O'Regan: July was largely about cats and dogs for IFAW. In addition to our work on tigers, our D.C. office was quite busy putting together a new report, “The Fading Call of the Wild: A Status Update on the 15 Species of Disappearing Wild Cats & Canids” (PDF), which details the increasing threats and plunging populations of big cats and rare canids living in the wild. The report, which includes a foreword by actress and conservationist Glenn Close, calls for increasing conservation resources and swift policy changes, specifically passage of the Great Cats and Rare Canids Conservation Act that would provide conservation assistance to the species highlighted in the report.
Additionally, our Companion Animals team has been hard at work with rescue efforts in Cozumel and Northern Canada. The team first traveled to Cozumel to rescue dogs and cats evicted from a rubbish dump that was their home. The dogs and cats were brought to the Humane Society of Cozumel shelter. In order to alleviate overcrowding, we arranged for Cloud Nine Rescue Flights to fly some of the cats and dogs to Colorado and up the East Coast of the U.S. to loving new homes.
Meanwhile, IFAW's Northern Dogs Project team was hard at work in a remote Canadian community rescuing 36 dogs from a “dog shoot” meant to control the local dog population. IFAW worked with rescues and shelters across eastern Canada to find homes for 29 of the dogs. The remaining seven were transported to the North Shore Animal League America (NSALA) in Port Washington, N.Y., where they'll be available for adoption.
Unleashed: What will IFAW be working on in August?
O'Regan: It's been six months since IFAW's response to the devastating earthquake in Haiti. IFAW's Emergency Relief Manager Dick Green will be making another of his regular visits to the grief-stricken area in August to coordinate a more than $1-million long-term animal welfare and recovery plan. As a co-founder of the Animal Relief Coalition for Haiti, IFAW has treated more than 25,000 animals in the hardest-hit areas of the country, we've trained local veterinarians and improved their capacity for animal care into the future.
In the United States, IFAW is a founding member of NARSC, the National Animal Rescue and Sheltering Coalition, and we focus on improving emergency preparedness and training people to help animals impacted by disasters. In August, we'll deliver an animal rescue mobile unit to the Texas State Animal Resource Team (TXSART) and train local responders.
Unleashed: How can interested animal lovers help in August?
O'Regan: Our recent dog rescues are a clear indication of the numbers of dogs and cats in need of homes. I really hope anyone with a pet gets them spayed and neutered, and anyone considering getting a pet will go to their local shelters and adopt. As always, you can visit our website IFAW.org for a list of ways to get involved in all animal welfare causes.
Unleashed: What animal has had the biggest impact on your own life?
O'Regan: While I have had a lot of really dramatic encounters with whales, elephants and other wildlife, like most people, for me the animal that makes the most impact on my life is my dog, Zeke. He's a Rhodesian ridgeback, now 13 years old, and he's my best friend. He and I love to walk the beaches and cranberry bogs of Cape Cod. Our kids have grown up with him since grade school and he's a vital part of our family.
[Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly referred to IFAW as the International Foundation for Animal Welfare rather than the International Fund for Animal Welfare. We've corrected the error.]
The International Fund for Animal Welfare saves animals in crisis around the world. With offices in 15 countries, IFAW rescues and provides veterinary care to individual animals and advocates for the protection of entire populations.
Photo: Fred O'Regan with his Rhodesian ridgeback, Zeke