This is Part II of an interview by Julia Worcester, our MuttsComics.com Youth Correspondent, with Andrea Heydlauff, Vice President of Panthera. The wild cat conservation organization, based in New York City, is dedicated to conserving the 37 species of wild cats that exist around the globe. Its core focus is on range-wide conservation strategies for the largest, and some of the most imperiled cats on the planet—tigers, lions, jaguars, and snow leopards. Julia has shared her full interview with Andrea, a portion of which recently ran in Sanctuary Asia’s Cub Magazine.
We thank Julia for sharing this article and will be running it in two portions. You can start with Part I of the interview, also on our blog.
Julia Worcester: What is it like to work with some of the greatest field scientists of our time, like Drs. Rabinowitz, Schaller, Hunter, Quigley, and McCarthy?
Andrea Heydlauff (pictured right): It’s funny, I’ve worked with Alan, George and Luke for almost 10 years now, Tom and Howard for about 5 years. They are all extraordinary field scientists, and their contributions to the field have and continue to be extraordinary. But at the same time, they’re regular people in the sense that they’re my colleagues and partners here in doing what we do. They are passionate, intense, and challenging but also extremely collegiate. And they spend time on cultivating new talent, and bringing up the next crop of conservationists which frankly looks a lot different than their cohort – it’s a young international bunch of men and woman who are have a range of skills along the conservation spectrum – from technical skills, to research, policy, communications.
And once in a while I have these moments where, for example, I sat in a packed theatre in NYC and saw Alan Rabinowitz tell his personal story on the platform of The Moth, this live storytelling in New York City and he got a standing ovation, and I think, “Gosh, that’s my CEO,” and it’s hard not to feel proud. It’s wonderful working with these people. I couldn’t have a better team and I’m reminded of that, often.
JW: Can you describe your filmmaking? What was it like to make My Pantanal?
AH: It was a dream come true! I had been talking about ‘conservation media’ for 7 years, and at the end of 2009, I had this opportunity to go with a cinematographer Gabe DeLoach to Brazil to finally get to do what I had been jabbering on about for years. We were on the ground in the Pantanal for five days and we shot this short, 10 minute kids film, about a young boy, who lives on one of the ranches we do jaguar research on, whose father is a Pantaniero – a local cowboy raising cows – and who deals with the issues of living with jaguars. The story is told through the eyes of the 9-year old boy – Aerenilso – and his experience living in this wild wetland, with wildlife everywhere, including jaguars, and his family who is trying to make a living in this place. I wanted to make a wildlife conservation film for the people who live in this place, so put them in the film. It was fully produced by Panthera so I told the story I wanted to tell – too often I hear from networks that they don’t want to tell conservation or science stories because they don’t sell. Well, this wasn’t for sale – it’s now completed and it’s free content, online, schools are using it, and it’s rolling out in Brazil as we speak. You can find it on our website.
It was my first film. I believe it was Gabe’s first film as well, so it was the blind leading the blind, leading a truckload of twelve kids around the Pantanal. It was the perfect place to start and it was a project site I had spent a lot of time with, and I had been thinking about this story for several years. The shooting didn’t take very long but the actual producing took a long time. But I had a wonderful team. of five of us that really went above and beyond and believed in the project, and really did far more than I could ever pay them for.
My plan is to continue to make these types of films, that are locally relevant, creating stories with the people who live with wildlife, who see themselves in the conservation story. I think a lot of nature documentaries, as extraordinary and gorgeous as they are, don’t include the human element. And that’s the only way we’ll be able to be successful in conserving wildlife, by including the people who live with these animals.
JW: What do you think the role of kids is in wildlife conservation?
AH: I think kids play a vital role in wildlife conservation. They are incredible influencers, filled with passion and big ideas and optimism. They can be quite successful in educating and persuading their parents and other adults to make choices, smart decisions and to pay attention. I think many children in today’s world are lucky because there is so much information at our fingertips, more than ever before, and there’s a growing conscience, and consciousness, of the state of our world today, our limited resources, and why this matters, why you, we, all of us should care – and I think because of this, when today’s kids become adults, they’ll make better decisions than we have so far.
JW: Tell me about your experience as a woman in this field. Do you have any words of encouragement for young women interested in wildlife conservation?
AH: I’ve been in wildlife conservation now for almost 15 years – I’ve had incredible support along the way (in my graduate advisor Dr. Paul Krausman, to my current CEO Dr. Alan Rabinowitz, and Chairman Dr. Thomas Kaplan). Looking back on it, my experience has been in a mainly male-dominated field, but that’s changing I think, as women move into and are advancing into so many sectors, and I’m seeing now more and more incredible young and passionate female field scientists and conservationists coming into this field around the globe. I see this directly in our Kaplan Scholars program, as well as with our joint diploma program with WildCRU at Oxford. But we need more – both men and women, from all walks of life, stepping up and being champions for wildlife, and being supported in any way they can.
My advice for other young women coming into this field is probably the same as for any field — be persistent, be flexible, show rather than tell people how good you are, see opportunities where they might not always exist, and be willing to take something even if it’s not your ideal, but never lose sight of what you think that ideal is. And find what you love, what you’re good at, and know that there’s no straight path. I started out cleaning horse stalls at the University of Arizona, to training seals at Brookfield Zoo in Chicago, then writing about tiger biologists in India to working with WCS and now Panthera. It’s been, and continues to be, a winding path!
JW: Are you optimistic about the future of big cats?
AH: I am optimistic but at times it does feel dire, especially when you look at what we’re fighting against – shrinking wild places, clashes between people and wildlife, a booming illegal trade, eating wildlife to extinction, and the selling of wildlife parts which supports some of the worst criminal activity on the planet. But I see signs of success that show me that people and big cats can share landscapes, and that these cats can be protected – which fills me with hope: villagers in Ladahk who are able to live with snow leopards because they get help with vaccination programs for their cattle; or Maasai warriors who have stopped lion hunts and are now protecting their lions; to local river guides in the Pantanal wanting to protect jaguars because tourists come from all over the world to see them along the river banks. I see and hear these real examples and these are the stories we need to tell and show the world – that solutions exist! That there are people who live on the front lines with these cats who are making the changes needed, and in some cases in just a few years, to protect these large predators who either eat their livestock or invoke a certain level of real fear. Now that’s hopeful! We just need to engage as many people as possible – who are living and working in these landscapes, as well as supporters around the globe, to ensure a real future for these cats and other wildlife around the world.
Part I of Julia’s interview can be found here.