Dionne Slagter | Animal Welfare Manager
Have you ever met someone whose energy exudes from them so powerfully that you cannot help but be affected? Well that is Dionne. I first met Dionne Slagter – Animal Welfare Manager – in Hanoi, Vietnam. She was to be my supervisor for three months on an animal welfare project we were working on. I was confronted with a beaming smile, strong Dutch accent and eyes so alive and excited that I quickly became oblivious to the rest of my surroundings.
She had just taken a job with Animals Asia, sold her house in the Netherlands and was relocating to the Vietnamese jungle permanently. Within minutes of us meeting we were talking rapidly, exchanging ideas as if we had known each other for years and making lots of plans as to how we could improve the welfare of the animals we had come to help. We have barely stopped talking since!
Dionne is one of those people that make you believe that every little thing you have to offer is intensely important. Within seconds of you meeting her she has you believing you can change the world. It is that kind of positivity and charisma that solicits the changes she has been able to achieve in Vietnam. I caught up with her recently to discuss her career so far…
She told me that she always knew she wanted to work with animals, even as a child. She was the person that tried to help orphaned birds and ended up giving them a proper burial if they didn’t make it. Her two pet rabbits were a massive fascination for her but she didnʼt realise that she actually could make a career out of working with animals until she went to a college open day. Whilst working towards her animal management degree, Dionne also managed to gain an internship working at a local veterinary practice. This turned out to be work that she adored and resulted in a part time position being offered to her.
“I loved it, including the cleaning, which I learned then, is the biggest part of any practical animal related job.”
From those humble beginnings through to her career working in zoos, she finally landed in Vietnam and skidded to a halt in front of me.
Dionneʼs current role is the Animal Welfare Manager for Animals Asiaʼs Vietnam sector where she is surrounded by the hum of the jungle and the sizzle of the heat. Animals Asia is an international organisation working towards a better future for the often exploited animals, both wild and captive, found within Asia’s borders.
Dionneʼs biggest focus within her role is to advise and support a move within Vietnamʼs Elephant tourism industry into the realms of a more ethical standpoint. Eventually she hopes to eradicate the demand for elephant riding overall and ensure that all other forms of elephant based tourism put the needs of the animals as the priority. The idea is to encourage all shareholders in elephant tourism to want to make the change to a more ethical model and Dionne has to utilise all her people skills as well as her extensive knowledge of animal welfare in order to do this.
“Making sure the local community benefits (from the new model) by including them in job opportunities and providing training is so important. It is very exciting to hear the traditional elephant owners actually speak up and say that elephant riding is not a tradition (as it is commonly marketed). It is just a way for the families to make a living.”
Animals Asia’s ethical elephant tourism model ensures that elephants can BE elephants. They can roam and forage in their natural habitat without having to carry people on their backs. Visitors are able to walk with them through the jungle, safe in the knowledge that their experience is benefiting both the elephants and the local community. Dionneʼs passion for these creatures shines through, especially when talking me through the progressive steps they have already taken.
Her enthusiastic attitude and determination to keep smiling has certainly helped her get this far in changing such an integral part of Asiaʼs tourism industry and staying positive is crucial. When we worked together we would frequently chant “baby steps” to each other because these kind of changes never happen overnight. A great deal of patience is needed. There are days when the reality of animal welfare work in Asia can lead to some very upsetting scenes but Dionne refuses to let it drag her down.
She tells me “I try to see positivity in every challenge or situation and work from there.” Her advice to others wanting to work in a similar career is actually a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson:
“The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be. You decide where you want to go and what passion you want to follow.”
Itʼs a very good thing for the animals of Asia that she did just that. Dionne has been out in Vietnam for nearly two years now, continually making a difference and changing lives, one elephant at a time…