At dawn Mary and I tumbled off the plane and into a different world. As soon as we turn the corner leaving customs, I spot a large, familiar, lion-looking head in the thick of the crowd. It can only be Alexis, Animal Defenders International’s (ADI) Latin American Manager and go-to guy on the ground. Jan and Tim are right there beside him laughing and waving.
It is Alexis bounding over to swoop each of us into a huge embrace of welcome that will forever be for me the door opening into this ADI experience. The size of that hug has been the measure of the warmth and thoughtful generosity that starts with Jan and Tim and moves through every aspect of this rescue.
We load into the car and get a mini briefing on the way to the hotel to unpack and get some rest. Tim and Jan encourage everyone to stay some place comfortable during this stage in a rescue when sleep becomes fuel for the clear thinking and intense emotional stamina that are required.
Things will begin to change quickly, a lesson we are about to learn first-hand. That’s just how it is when moving large dangerous animals, animals that have known years of violence and trauma, through multiple jurisdictions. Each has its own protocols. Permits, time-sensitive and slow to get, are always required. Lots and lots of permits. Rules change. Often without announcement or any apparent rationale. Every step is expensive. Politics are involved – always – local, national and certainly, international. Planes are grounded; routes suddenly shutdown.
Most importantly, with every consideration, comes the grim reality that there are people far more dangerous than any of these animals who are lying in wait for any opportunity to kill them.
The awful truth is: these animals are worth far more dead than alive. Poachers and illegal traffickers will kill them and anyone who gets in their way. Jan is a warrior. No one is messing with these animals! Not on her watch! No more. She has seen enough…way too much. Tim has documented most of it and used that documentation to develop strategies and gradually get laws in place all over the globe to end much of this terrible suffering.
The Guibord Center, through our Animals, Faith and Compassion initiative, has a role to play in raising awareness of the need for this work. That’s why Mary and I are here, to learn from the best teachers we can find. That’s also why I have been working so hard with ADI to name the educational center in the new wildlife center in South Africa after my mother. We must change our consciousness – starting with awakening and supporting children in their instinctive connection to nature.
Even before we get to the hotel, we get our first chance to be nimble and adapt to change. The flight out of here in less than four days has been cancelled. Our job right now is to unpack and rest while Jan and Tim explore the multiple layers of backups already falling into place.