All crea­tures great and small

Personal commitment

Chari­ties focu­sed on impro­ving animal welfare are just as diverse as animals them­sel­ves. Orga­ni­sa­ti­ons opera­ting locally focus on one species of animal, while inter­na­tio­nally active orga­ni­sa­ti­ons cover a broad range of topics.

In the begin­ning was…an encoun­ter. A natu­ral swarm of bees landed in Stépha­nie Vuadens’s garden in 2013. The Geneva native was fasci­na­ted by the bee colony: it piqued her inte­rest and her enthu­si­asm, and she began to learn more about these insects. ‘Bees are hugely important and we need to protect them: they are the beating heart of our ecosys­tem,’ she says. She star­ted off with five swarms, and her passion then turned into a mission. While her work star­ted as a private project, it grew into a profes­sio­nal commit­ment to these endan­ge­red insects, with Stépha­nie Vuadens foun­ding the charity Arche des Abeil­les in Geneva in 2019.

A calling

A perso­nal expe­ri­ence also marked the start of Katha­rina Heyer’s phil­an­thro­pic jour­ney. The cause that’s close to her heart? Much bigger animals. She has found her life’s calling in protec­ting dolphins and whales. When she visi­ted Tarifa on the southern coast of Spain for the first time in late Decem­ber 1997, she was follo­wing a friend’s recom­men­da­tion. She couldn’t believe that whales lived in the Strait of Gibral­tar! On New Year’s Eve, she encoun­te­red these marine mammals in this busy stretch of water – and it chan­ged her life for good. Previously, the successful fashion desi­gner had spent her days jetting around the world. ‘I hardly spent longer than a week in Switz­er­land at a time,’ she explains. But this encoun­ter shifted her prio­ri­ties. Since then, she has commu­ted between Tarifa and Switz­er­land, with her work now focu­sed on protec­ting whales. She sold her company. And one year later, she foun­ded ‘firmm’ (a foun­da­tion for infor­ma­tion and rese­arch on marine mammals), which aims to protect whales and dolphins in the Strait of Gibral­tar. She deli­bera­tely chose to set up her orga­ni­sa­tion as a foun­da­tion. She said: ‘I’d previously set up the Gärt­ner­haus Meis­ter­schwan­den foun­da­tion with a friend so I knew what a foun­da­tion could achieve.’

A chal­len­ging start 

For the first few years, Katha­rina Heyer mainly finan­ced the foun­da­tion out of her own pocket. And it wasn’t just finan­ci­ally chal­len­ging. ‘I’d never want to do the first few years again,’ she explains, talking of the foundation’s begin­nings in Tarifa. In the town, she faced resis­tance and mistrust: a woman from a land­lo­cked coun­try, what could she know? But she also met with support and was able to put toge­ther a skil­led team. Now, the foun­da­tion prima­rily funds itself through respectful whale watching, but dona­ti­ons and, in parti­cu­lar, spon­sor­ships, also gene­rate addi­tio­nal funds. ‘I spend so much time at sea,’ says Katha­rina Heyer. ‘I know these animals.’ She imme­dia­tely adds that spon­sor­ships aren’t just about the money. ‘When someone spon­sors an animal, we can give them a sense of closen­ess, make them more aware of the issues and improve their under­stan­ding, above all.’ Arche des Abeil­les also lets people spon­sor a swarm. A spon­sor­ship means being respon­si­ble for the rein­tro­duc­tion of a beehive, or, in other words, around 40,000 bees that polli­nate the flowers across our land­scape. ‘It’s a hugely important ecolo­gi­cal gesture,’ says Stépha­nie Vuadens. Every spon­sor­ship repres­ents a small step towards the charity’s goal. ‘We want to have 1,000 bee colo­nies perma­nently estab­lished in the local area,’ says Stépha­nie Vuadens. To date, the charity has mana­ged to get 600 swarms.

Stépha­nie Vuadens (above), Chan­tal Bieri (left) and Katha­rina Heyer are commit­ted to the fauna of our planet.

A green wave

The charity Four Paws doesn’t focus on a single species or region. This inter­na­tio­nally active animal welfare orga­ni­sa­tion works to protect animals that are directly impac­ted by people, whether pets, farm animals or wild animals. ‘The suffe­ring expe­ri­en­ced by wild animals ranges from a drastic lack of space in poor condi­ti­ons, to being killed for their fur, through to cruel prac­ti­ces such as the extra­c­tion of bile from Hima­la­yan black bears in Asia,’ lists Chan­tal Bieri. She is respon­si­ble for phil­an­thropy and project part­ner­ships at Four Paws Switz­er­land. Four Paws points out one chall­enge shared by every coun­try in the world: the law regar­ding animal welfare needs to be impro­ved. In some count­ries, legis­la­tion on this topic is rudi­men­tary, at best. In turn, this makes the situa­tion worse for the animals there. In fact, the charity’s support­ers show that natio­nal boun­da­ries make no diffe­rence when it comes to empa­thi­sing with animals’ fates. ‘Animal suffe­ring moves donors, regard­less of whether it’s happe­ning in Switz­er­land or else­where,’ she says.

Projects that win people over

Setting up a foun­da­tion was a logi­cal step for Stépha­nie Vuadens: ‘The form it takes is important to me. A foun­da­tion under­pins my work’s chari­ta­ble commit­ment,’ she says. She hopes to use her charity to give indi­vi­du­als and compa­nies alike the oppor­tu­nity to work toge­ther to create a good initia­tive for the planet. Envi­ron­ment-rela­ted topics are curr­ently in the spot­light due to the climate move­ment – and animal welfare is also bene­fiting from this. That said, projects need to win people over if they are to attract dona­ti­ons. ‘It’s easier to gene­rate dona­ti­ons for tangi­ble projects or spon­sor­ships,’ says Chan­tal Bieri. People in Switz­er­land are parti­cu­larly moved by the suffe­ring of animals they are emotio­nally atta­ched to, such as dogs and cats. Stépha­nie Vuadens also belie­ves that crea­ting this rela­ti­onship is very important. Her charity works directly in Geneva, so people in the city can expe­ri­ence the impact of its efforts them­sel­ves. She considers this one of the major advan­ta­ges of her small charity with local roots: new donors prima­rily come across the orga­ni­sa­tion through direct cont­act. Their network is growing, but they need to share their know­ledge about animals if they want to have an effect in the long term. As a result, she sets store by making the youn­ger gene­ra­tion aware of these issues, with the charity offe­ring tours for school groups and educa­tio­nal obsta­cle cour­ses. ‘Because they’re the future,’ says Stépha­nie Vuadens, ‘they’re the people who’ll take over my job.’

Spre­a­ding the word

Katha­rina Heyer was also aware that know­ledge was an inte­gral part of persua­ding people to take an inte­rest in animal welfare. That’s why she sought support from David Senn, a profes­sor of marine biology, when she was setting up her foun­da­tion. firmm now works to protect animals with its respectful whale watching and its commit­ment to rese­arch. Four Paws opera­tes its own science unit, with its findings disse­mi­na­ted to employees and exter­nal stake­hol­ders. ‘This gives our campaigns and infor­ma­tio­nal work scien­ti­fic back­ing, crea­ting trans­pa­rency and incre­asing credi­bi­lity,’ says Chan­tal Bieri.

A diffi­cult year 

firmm puts toge­ther work­s­heets for teachers and publishes infor­ma­tion on their online blog to inform people about the issues at hand. Every whale watching tour starts with an intro­duc­tion: the atten­dees aren’t just there to look at the whales – the hope is that they will learn to under­stand them. firmm also offers entire week-long whale watching tours. Meeting the animals in their envi­ron­ment and gaining know­ledge about them leaves a lasting impres­sion and makes the protec­tion of animals tangi­ble. ‘It has an imme­diate impact on the people we work with,’ says Katha­rina Heyer. ‘That’s to our bene­fit. If we make someone aware of this, they will actively tell people about these issues in schools and within society at large,’ she says. But even though firmm is essen­ti­ally self-funded, it is facing an imme­diate chall­enge this summer­time, with Heyer only mana­ging to return to Tarifa from Switz­er­land in the summer. The charity has also been hit hard by the coro­na­vi­rus crisis. ‘This year is all about mini­mi­sing losses. Then we can hopefully return to our work as usual next year, if things are back to normal,’ says Katha­rina Heyer. In that case, she’d be able to share the plight of marine mammals with another 30,000 people in 2021. The crisis has also posed a chall­enge for Four Paws. The charity had to rethink how it coll­ects dona­ti­ons, expan­ding its digi­tal chan­nels and spen­ding more time cont­ac­ting donors via tele­phone. The work carried out as part of its projects was affec­ted and had to be adapted. Chan­tal Bieri gives an exam­ple of this: ‘We needed to re-orga­nise projects that were affec­ted by the situa­tion, such as the feeding programme for hungry strays, whether dogs or cats, in Southe­ast Asia.’

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