To Protect and Conserve

Conservationist Monica Medina thinks that for animals, “the biggest threat is probably us.” By Sarah Parsons

Last year, former environmental lawyer Monica Medina helped found the U.S. office for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), an international organization with offices in 15 countries. Lions, tigers, and bears are just a few of the many species IFAW works to protect—some recent campaigns include ending commercial whale hunting and curbing the illegal sale of animal products like ivory and tiger skins. Plenty spoke with Medina, IFAW’s Deputy Director for the U.S. office, about some of the organization’s latest endeavors.

In addition to whales, what are some of the other species of animals you work to protect?

We’re starting a bear campaign here in the US to get Congress to close a loophole in current law.  Right now, it’s illegal to hunt a polar bear in the US, but if you’re a trophy hunter and want to go to Canada, you can get a permit there, hunt your polar bear, and bring it home and put it on your mantle. We’re trying to close that loophole. We also do a lot of work with companion animals all over the world. We go into poor communities in places like South Africa and help them provide basic veterinary care for their animals.  Now we’re starting in the US on a Navajo reservation. 

How do you think climate change will affect arctic animals as well as species globally?

I think everyone’s vaguely aware of climate change, but only recently has it become clear that the rapid rate of warming is going to put a lot of these species at the risk of extinction much sooner than we could have ever imagined, by the end of this century. One of the things that we’ve recognized is the link between greater natural disasters and greater harm to animals, so we’ve spent a lot of time doing rescue work. We have a report coming out next month that’s a survey on the impacts of climate change on arctic animals in the US—whales, seals, walruses, and polar bears. It will document some of the potential harms to these species that are caused by climate change. Walruses can’t feed as well, whales are migrating farther north in order to find food, and polar bears have been floating off on ice chunks that have broken apart and they can’t swim back and are starving. 

The federal Endangered Species Act has often been seen as an endangered piece of legislation, especially when Congressman Pombo was in office. So now that there’s a democrat-controlled Congress, what does this mean for the ESA?

I think it means it’s less likely to be weakened significantly. But you have to remember that the ESA is still in the hands of a very conservative Bush administration that isn’t as protective of species. Everyone is glad they decided to look hard at the polar bear and consider listing it, but listing is only the beginning. Then you have to do the real hard work of putting in place conservation measures that will make it possible for a species to come back. You look at the bald eagle and the gray wolf and it’s clear that if there’s a political will and a good administration of the law, it can work.

Do you think that proposing to list the polar bear on the ESA is a sign that the Bush administration will start taking climate change and how it affects animals seriously?

I think they read the polling data and saw the results of the election and know they can’t keep the same line they had before. But I don’t feel confident that they’re really the great stewards of the land they claim to be. I know they’ve said that the president is interested in conservation and they’ve likened him to Teddy Roosevelt, but I really don’t see an analogy. I will say they’ve done some good work in the area of ocean conservation, but I wish they would do more on whales.

What do you think is the biggest threat animals face today?

The biggest threat is probably us. Without animals, we impact the balance of our ecosystem and our world. Little things like conserving energy can help those polar bears. And if we can connect those two for people, that’s a huge step forward. 

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This is a great piece -- great interview. Go IFAW!

This is a great piece -- great interview. Go IFAW!

There is no more forceful and articulate voice among participants in this great cause than that of Monica Medina. Keep the faith; spread the word.

IFAW also does great work in helping to end the commercial harp seal slaughter in Canada. Germany just announced a ban on the importation and sale of seal fur- hooray!

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