International Women’s Day: Paving the way for the next generation of animal heroines

Happy International Women’s Day! We are proud to say that we are the home of many amazing and talented women, who are essential in the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s (IFAW) mission to rescue and protect animals around the world.

We showcase a few of our heroines here including Grace Ge Gabriel, Faye Cuevas, Masha Vorontsova, Jennifer Gardner and the women of IFAW’s Marine Mammal Rescue and Research Team. Each woman clearly fits this year’s theme, ‘Be Bold For Change,’ but know that there are many, many more individuals making our work happen behind the scenes.

Grace Ge Gabriel is IFAW’s Asia Regional Director and the driving force behind IFAW’s tireless animal advocacy campaigns throughout the region. After covering the plight of moon bears suffering in bear bile farms as a journalist, she was immediately convinced to join the animal welfare movement with IFAW. She then established the first raptor rescue center in China and helped to develop the first animal welfare law in the country. Perhaps her greatest achievement is leading IFAW’s contribution to China’s decision to ban domestic ivory trade this year.

Born in the year of the tiger, Grace is tenacious, efficient and brave. These characteristics have allowed her to change the game when it comes to the fight against wildlife trade. Whether it is investigating illegal markets, convincing e-commerce giants to say no to wildlife crime, devising effective public education campaigns for the masses or testifying before parliaments and committees, Grace has become a leading voice in the fight to reduce demand for elephant ivory, tiger bone, rhino horn and bear bile, and stopping illegal wildlife trade online.

IFAW Chief of Staff Faye Cuevas was just recognized in Vice’s “Humans of the Year” for leading IFAW’s anti-poaching charge throughout eastern and southern Africa. A USAF Lieutenant Colonel Intelligence Officer, she is bringing a group of experts and analysts armed with technology and mountains of data to stop criminals before they poach elephants and other wildlife; to get "left of kill."

The project called “tenBoma” is making positive strides. Since June 2015, there have not been any poaching incidents in the primary operation area.  Three major operations have already been executed. Six additional targets are under development and tenBoma has already uncovered at least eighteen wildlife crime hotspots, which are being monitored and targeted. Details must remain confidential, but at least one major arrest has also yielded several hundred pages of information uncovering cross-border poaching operations and container shipments of ivory.  These leads are being aggressively pursued and we expect to be able to share further developments soon.

Twenty three years ago Dr. Masha Vorontsova first opened the doors to IFAW’s office in Moscow after meeting our founder Brian Davies as a young sea squirt researcher. As Regional Director, Russia & CIS she has led the charge to many important animal victories that would not have been possible without her pleasant persistence and pure determination.

Masha and her team saved the critically endangered western gray whale after convincing corporate giants to relocate their oil pipeline away from the whales’ feeding grounds, saved baby seals by encouraging Russia to become the first country to ban the harp seal hunt and reduced the number of orphaned bears by advocating for a complete ban on the winter den hunt for their mothers.

One of her biggest accomplishments is proving the success of endangered Amur (Siberian) tiger rehabilitation with the famed tiger Zolushka – the first of her kind to give birth to two cubs in the wild thus increasing the chance of survival for the entire species. She currently stars in the shocking, new documentary Born to Be Free revealing the cruel capture and trade of beluga whales for public display and entertainment.

IFAW’s Disaster Response Program Officer, Jennifer Gardner is calm, cool and collected. Constantly immersed in high stress situations, Jennifer deploys to any and all areas around the world where animals are in distress in the wake of fires, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and other natural disasters.

The variables are constantly changing, but Jennifer applies unflinching focus toward the mission at hand, never unsettled or distracted by the chaos around her.  In the face of dead carcasses, faulty equipment, security checkpoints, uncooperative locals, food poisoning, or blatant sexism, Jennifer remains composed acting as if it is just another day at the office. 

Strong, pragmatic, confident, assertive, and bold, she breaks every gender stereotype of women in the workplace. Jennifer is an inspiring leader that you can always trust and follow into the most precarious of situations knowing that the job will get done - that animals otherwise forgotten will be saved and protected. 

IFAW’s Marine Mammal Rescue & Research program would be nothing without the women who comprise the majority of the core team. With the likes of Katie Moore, Kristen Patchett, Jane Hoppe, Sarah Sharp, Misty Niemeyer, Kathryn Rose and an ever-rotating platoon of female interns and volunteers, this impressive roster of women is responsible for responding to marine mammals in crisis along 700 miles of coastline in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. They are a tough, gritty, well-oiled machine of teamwork and perseverance, and it is truly inspiring to watch these amazing women in action. 

Whether it is wading through frigid waters, trekking across ice and snow, or slogging through mud and sand - these ladies literally shed blood, sweat, and tears as they battle any and all elements to help animals in distress. And the diversity of their workload is truly remarkable. One day they could be meticulously disentangling a seal from life-threatening fishing gear in the Atlantic Ocean and the next they could spend 12 hours on the mudflats of Wellfleet, MA to rescue and release of a pod of stranded dolphins. And the day after, you might find them in the laboratory conducting a slimy and sticky necropsy (animal autopsy) on a washed-up whale to uncover clues to the cause of its mysterious death. 

Time after time, they are confronted with unsurmountable challenges and yet they are undeterred, always pushing forward with their ceaseless confidence, courage, and charisma. Because of their tenacity and girl power, IFAW has already saved the lives of 42 dolphins and porpoises in just the first ten weeks of 2017.

The women featured above are the epitome of fierce, female fortitude. They are heroic role models, who are an inspiration for the next generation of animal advocates, rescuers and conservationists and are paving the way for a more gender inclusive world for all women. To find out who inspires them, check out Facebook/IFAW #BeBoldForChange


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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
President and Chief Executive Officer
Beth Allgood, Country Director, United States
Country Director, United States
Cynthia Milburn, Director, Animal Welfare Outreach & Education
Senior Advisor, Policy Development
Faye Cuevas, Esq.
Senior Vice President
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
Jason Bell, Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Jimmiel Mandima at IFAW
Deputy Vice President of Conservation
Executive Vice President
Executive Vice President
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
Director, International Policy
Patrick Ramage, Program Director, Whales
Program Director, Marine Conservation
Rikkert Reijnen, Program Director, Wildlife Crime
Program Director, Wildlife Crime