Ensuring Animals Have Lives Worth Living

Before I met Georgina, I’d heard a lot about her. People were always talking about how determined she was to make a difference to the lives of animals around the world.

I spoke with her a lot before I met her too. She talked me through three gruelling months of practical welfare work in Vietnam. By the time I finally did meet her in person, I had an image built up in my head of this powerhouse of a woman.

What I was confronted with instead, was someone who was barely able to speak due to a massive throat infection. Despite travelling a lot with her work, jet lag always seems to cause her to get sick. Thankfully she recovered a few days later.

Georgina Groves is the Executive Director of a UK based, but international charity called “Wild Welfare.” The charity aims to improve captive wild animal welfare around the world.

Having previously gained experience by working for international animal welfare NGO’s and the Natural History Museum (amongst others), it’s safe to say she knows her stuff.

Wild Welfare was her passion project before it became her full-time job. She got involved through the power of networking. Whilst working in London, Georgina started chatting with two of the other co-founders about the initiative of Wild Welfare whilst it was still being set up. She jumped on board, became a third co-founder and the charity has been blossoming ever since.

Running an animal welfare charity is not quite as glorious as you might expect. There are a lot of frustrations, not only with the work being done but how it’s perceived as well.

“Bunny hugging” is a term thrown around a lot when working in the animal welfare sector but the reality is much different. Using the knowledge gained from her MSc in Wild Animal Biology, Georgina ensures the charity uses an evidence-based scientific approach that underwrites the decisions the charity takes at all times. “It’s important never to sensationalise our work” Georgina tells me. “It’s about providing a pragmatic solution to address the practical and political challenges we face.”

Wild Welfare works to unite the world’s leading zoos and animal welfare organisations. It’s a collaborative effort but one that has taken Georgina across the globe. She helps train, advise and support everyone from animal keepers to zoo directors in best practice animal management. Unfortunately, this means that she is also witness to acute animal suffering.

“There’s been a few times I’ve wanted to give up actually” she told me. “Being faced with deeply distressing situations can be difficult, and it’s hard not to get compassion fatigue sometimes. But I believe in what we are trying to do at Wild Welfare. Working with zoos and collaborating with the people within them, is the way forward and this belief keeps me going. Working against them is counterproductive because criticism only gets you so far”.

Georgina is determined to keep on trying to ensure that all zoos are good zoos and that the animals within them have lives that are worth living.

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An avid bear fan, her work has involved many ursine colleagues over the years, including four Japanese bears that she helped re-home from a museum in Hokkaido to a purpose-built rehabilitation facility in Yorkshire.

It took Georgina and the Wild Welfare team a long time to initiate and coordinate the entire move with the help of many other organisations. After two years, she managed to keep the promise that she made to the bears – she found them a better home where they are now thriving.

Georgina’s advice to those just starting out in a career working with animals is to jump into volunteering with great gusto. Not only does it show eagerness to get into the field but it helps you decide what career path you might want to take.

“It might be a specific species, or a particular issue that you find yourself drawn towards, and you can then use the opportunity through volunteering to cultivate your career in this area” Georgina advises.

She also highlights the importance of certain personality traits such as patience and diplomacy. “When we see an animal suffering, we inherently want to stop that suffering. But demanding change or assuming that we can end a practice overnight (often one that is culturally ingrained), is just not realistic. A heavy-handed approach may well prevent future conversations.”

Georgina is one of those level-headed people who is intelligent enough to work out a strategic approach to an animal welfare issue, and then determined enough to see it through to the finish. If her and her Wild Welfare team can help, then they will. And to me, that is the most inspiring way to spend your career.

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Footnote: The hands on aspect to this role depicted in the photographs is only out of necessity and not through a desire to humanise any of the animals. It is important to be as hands off as possible, particularly for animals that are due to be released.

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