Resilience & Hope
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Resilience & Hope

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Resilience and Hope

I hope this message finds you well and enjoying your day. I would like to share a few thoughts and feelings with you. For almost 2 years this mailing list was silent, and I would like to share with those of you who are still with me my story of what happened and to say sorry.

First, let me say that I should never have gone silent, I am sorry for that. For many years many of you were attending my seminars and other events, sharing your stories and concerns; I have always so much enjoyed it. I am grateful that you are in my community, I appreciate your support and commitment to animals and nature around the world.

In August 2017 I accepted a position with the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) and worked as the Director for Animal Welfare. At first, I was not sure what would happen with AnimalConcepts, I was thinking of thanking you all for 13 wonderful years and closing the company, but that was too sad and difficult – my community and AnimalConcepts are too close to my heart. Then a friend and colleague of mine, Martina Schiestl, and I decided to partner, keeping AnimalConcepts active, and with opportunities for the future.

Apart from some small announcements, blogs, and posts on social media AnimalConcepts was almost static in the background. With a more than full-time job traveling around the world for WAZA there were not enough hours in the day for me to do anything else, and Martina is studying to become a veterinarian.
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Why did I move from AnimalConcepts to WAZA & what did I learn as the first WAZA Director for Animal Welfare?

The position had the possibility to collaborate, to connect, and to effect change. Associations, facilities, and external stakeholders, among many others, working together, in our common effort to promote optimal animal welfare and positive wellbeing for animals in human care across the globe. It was a position that approached animal welfare relevant topics from a strategic perspective. With a focus on understanding and distinguishing systems and symptoms, and while working to make a difference for animals today, we were thinking and working towards system changes in the long-term to mitigate many of the current symptoms resulting from these suboptimal systems. Systems could be internal processes and procedures, but also at an association, multi-association, political, legal or other level. Working to promote optimal welfare now is important, at the same time we should be working to change systems which are not working, or working sub-optimally. If we don't we will continue to deal with symptoms following from these systems.
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For almost 2 years I served WAZA and its members, external partners and representatives, and closely collaborating with the WAZA Animal Welfare Committee and many of its committed members. Did I make mistakes during my job, and did I learn from them? I am sure. Was it easy, was it without challenges, different points of views, different ways of working? No job or collaboration will ever be easy or without mistakes or challenges, but it is on the positive and the changes we focus. It is from mistakes we learn; it is from all the actions, conversations, and listening that we learn and change and meet where we can make a real difference together.

I loved working in a team with people from around the world – learning from different languages, cultures, and other diversities – and what motivated and kept us close was our common goal to make things better for the animals in our care, while also working on other goals such as conservation, education, research and recreation. We worked on animal welfare assessment processes, a dedicated animal care and welfare module, animal welfare capacity building and visits of WAZA members. We developed new projects addressing language barriers and access to animal welfare information and training, working with management and care staff, veterinarians and other specialists. So many different projects were completed and set in motion.
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Then, out of the blue on the 16th of April 2019, I was told that my position would no longer exist come May 1st. I was told that WAZA’s financial position was in dire straits and animal welfare was considered ‘not a main focus’. I can’t tell you what shock it was. A shock on many levels, from an organisational and job level – how is this possible and how can animal welfare ‘not be a main focus’ for this global organisation – to being in shock on a personal level – I had moved to Barcelona for the job less than a year prior, and my partner had arrived just 2 months before, early February. Two people without a job in a city as expensive as Barcelona, and me with a big blow to my heart and head. Never in my life have I faced such a hefty professional situation.

News spread quickly, without me necessarily actively involved, and many people reached out to me in support, kindness and love, including many messages of disbelieve, outrage, and sadness. All messages resonated with me and made me feel supported and cared for. Thank you for those who reached out to me then, I much appreciate it.

The months that followed were very difficult. I felt so many different things, from anger to disbelieve, to sadness and doubt. I also felt loved, cared for, and supported by so many of you, listening to me, giving advice, a nice meal, and a fun comic in my email box. As a pragmatic optimist I believe in action and practice, and whether you like it or not, you have to believe that everything happens for a reason, that this too will pass, and to keep hope. Slowly, AnimalConcepts came back into action, with the generous help of many of my friends and colleagues, including the amazing collaborators, partners and people on my team. I will forever be grateful for all you gave and keep giving.

I learned a lot during my time at WAZA and I am pleased and honoured to have served this organisation, its members, and all the animals. Still today I meet colleagues in the field, or people who write to me saying how sad they are that ‘I left WAZA’. I did not leave WAZA. And importantly, I have never left the commitment I have towards animals and the people who care for them: my dedication and passion for the last 28 years. Still working with organisations like the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance and many others, wonderful global collaborations for animals and nature conservation.
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I am delighted to work through AnimalConcepts again with many longterm friends, colleagues and amazing organisations, with so many interesting and exciting projects in the coming years. I am also happy to have new friends and colleagues, new coaches and mentors!

On this last day of 2019 I look back at a year packed with ups and downs. There was so much to think about and lots to feel. A year with joys, laughs, and happiness, and a year with tears, anger, and feelings of doubts.

What this year has taught and shown me is the importance of resilience. To keep breathing, to put one foot in front of the other, to float when you are in a storm, and above all to focus on small steps every day, and to have hope, loads of it.

I learned even more to be a hummingbird and practice small actions. Some days are great, many are hard, but most importantly, to keep showing up every day and give it your best, serving with integrity, passion, kindness and joy.

Thank you for reading this, I am grateful for you.

I wish you a wonderful 2020 and thank you for your support.

With love,
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