Inspired by Dr. Jane Goodall at Crown Prince’s Abu Dhabi lecture series

Azzedine Downes and Jane Goodall at her 80th birthday celebration event in San Francisco, CA, April, 2014Travelling to Abu Dhabi in the month of July takes some mental preparation as temperatures can often reach 120 degrees Fahrenheit or more.

But an invitation by the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi to hear our honorary board member Dr. Jane Goodall present during a lecture series he sponsors throughout the month of Ramadan was not one to pass up.

Additionally, I looked forward to discussing IFAW’s ongoing partnership with the Jane Goodall Institute and exploring new opportunities in the UAE in discussions with our office in Dubai.

The UAE recently destroyed a stockpile of confiscated ivory. I view this as a huge leap forward in one nation’s commitment to end the ivory trade. While it may not seem like an important politic statement, destroying ivory remains controversial and, in this part of the world, there is already a supercharged atmosphere so the destruction was significant on a number of levels.

But with progress there is hope, and hope was the topic of Dr. Goodall’s lecture.

As we gathered in the large tent like room, it became apparent that I was one of a few foreigners in the room. But all of us found common ground when we began sharing our interests in conservation and love of animals.

In my travels, I am often asked if there are any animals in the Middle East and if people there really care. There are, and they do. It is rare not to find someone who will tell you of their love of birds, turtles, Arabian leopards, dugongs, camels, horses, and of course falcons. As in most parts of the world, I wind up having challenging discussions around love of animals and their animal welfare needs.

After Jane’s lecture, one of the most interesting questions came from a mother attending with her daughters. "Given how extreme our weather is, how can we keep our children connected to nature?"

IFAWs Animal Action Education programme has as one of its goals to do exactly that and we have been working closely with the schools in the UAE to create more awareness and more empathy amongst children.

The retreat inside during the extreme heat was a challenge few other regions face and it would take imagination and effort to overcome. I explored the question further with other guests during the breaking of the Ramadan fast and they agreed that, as children, they had indeed spent more time outside and that the detachment from nature was eroding important parts of their culture. Jane had answered the question saying that she remains hopeful as long as children remain engaged.

I left thinking about how important it is to keep people engaged. Knowing that most of the problems we face in our work are related to human behaviour, it is often tempting for people who love animals to retreat from interacting but I encourage all those striving for a better world for animals and people to stay engaged.

That is my reason for hope.

--AD

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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
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Peter LaFontaine, Campaigns Manager, IFAW Washington, D.C.
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