Jill Robinson, founder of animal welfare organisation Animals Asia, works with authorities and the wider community to create long lasting changes for animals. Since 1998, she has made it her mission to protect moon bears by rescuing them from the bear bile industry and rehabilitating them in their animal rescue sanctuaries in Chengdu and Vietnam. Since then, she has rescued over 580 bears, now that’s something.
Read on to learn more about what Animals Asia does, and support the cause by attending their Blue Moon Gala fundraiser on December 3rd at the Grand Hyatt.
Hi Jill, thank you so much for your time today. Can you share with the Shanghaiist readers a bit about your experience in China and how that is transformed over the years? How was it like for you to arrive in a country with no animal welfare organisation?
I arrived into Hong Kong SAR in 1985 and immediately felt drawn to helping animals in China. I was lucky enough to get a job with IFAW almost straight away and felt privileged to work on a great many projects that would see a growth in animal welfare. At that time there was one animal NGO in China, but over the past years that number has shot up to over 150. Since founding Animals Asia in 1998 we have been proud to work with and support these incredible groups that have seen a massive shift in attitudes and respect for all species of animals here. This movement has also seen greater understanding from the international community that the groups here really are getting things done!
I always appeal to audiences in presentations across the world, please don’t believe the awful sweeping statements that everyone in China is cruel – having lived here for nearly 30 years and seen so much progress I am utterly convinced that the welfare movement here is increasingly robust, and seeing better lives for so many animal species. Things take time – look at the campaign against the seal industry in Canada that is now in its 47th year, the decades long fur and whaling industries that are being contested, and years of campaigning against bull fighting in Spain that at last has seen it banned in certain towns.
Here in China local groups have successfully lobbied against the import of both seal parts and bull fighting, against the development of a foiegras factory, and against a myriad of local issues – including dog and cat consumption and, of course, bear bile farming.
It’s sobering to acknowledge that bear bile farming was recently officially amongst the top ten most discussed issues in China, and to see the overwhelming public support in protecting this country’s endangered species of bears that compels schools, universities, traditional Chinese medicine doctors, celebrities like Yao Ming, Karen Mok, Sun Li, and companies like Alibaba, Microsoft, and Hello Kitty joining us in collaborative programmes to create a better world for them all.
All this has really only touched the surface of how we all find our inner strength in this rather wonderful team of Animals Asia. Of course there is still a long long way to go – so much cruelty exists here and in countries across the world, but the debate on animal cruelty and welfare is now well and truly in the public arena. With our other campaigns of seeing dogs and cats respected as companion animals, rather than food for the table, and enhancing the lives of all animals in zoos in this region, and working with the most phenomenal animal advocates in Asia, we’re increasingly inspired to do more!
Who is your personal hero and what inspired you to go down this path? What are your thoughts on Peter Singer?
I fell in love with the actress who starred in the most inspirational film, Born Free, when I was 6 years old, and years later I met her and fell in love with the real person – Virginia McKenna. Born Free saw Virginia and her husband Bill Travers (sadly since passed away) starting the Born Free Foundation and leading a worldwide mission of ending cruel captivity for animals. Since then, Virginia has become my very special friend and mentor and is the Patron of Animals Asia in the UK. I share Virginia’s mission – and, like the Born Free Foundation, Animals Asia works to help the individual animal, and to keep all wild animals where they belong, in the wild.
Having met him too, I also admire Peter Singer greatly. He is of course a controversial figure, and has rightly earned his title of the father of the animal liberation movement.
My favourite quote of Peter’s would have to be:
“All the arguments to prove man’s superiority cannot shatter this hard fact: in suffering the animals are our equals.”
We must, must, must live by this adage and consider the “one life” of every creature around us whose lives are affected by our actions. I urge everyone to read his book Animal Liberation – a profound and hard hitting summary of animal injustice that changed so many people’s minds about our treatment of other sentient creatures.
What do you think are the biggest challenges faced for Animal Welfare in general in China?
So much progress in awareness and so many people criticising acts of cruelty, but so many new examples of animal exploitation. Tragically, many of them evolving from the West. Examples such as the fur industry comes to mind, the intensive farming and dairy industries – exploding into mainstream Chinese culture and responsible for so much suffering and so much environmental degradation. We just aren’t thinking ahead of all the negative consequences of our actions – and to sit back without question is the very worst thing we can do. Other countries have seen the tragic results of factory farming and the fur industry, so the best thing we can do is learn from previous mistakes and prevent those industries from growing here.The animal welfare movement here in China is strong, and facing new challenges which it will need to adjust to address.
What are the best ways for people with limited time and resources to help animals in general, especially in China?
Thank you so much for asking such a productive question! This is such a good opportunity to discuss how the smallest changes in our lives can have the most profound effect on the lives of all animals. Be a compassionate shopper and consumer. Consider your purchases wisely and don’t buy fur, ivory, reptile skin, or indulge in food such as sharks fin soup. Ladies please buy your animal friendly cosmetics at Lush internationally or Eco & More and myLOHAS Organic Beauty here in Shanghai, and check in every shop that your purchases are “cruelty free”. Don’t visit circuses or zoos that have performing wild animals – all you will learn from such cruel and demeaning performances are the size, shape and colour of the animals as they are led out for the only exercise they will see in the day. Once you leave, majestic tigers, elephants, bears and primates are caged and chained and prevented from engaging in any of the natural characteristics and behaviour they would exhibit in the wild. Think of where they would rather be – whipped and beaten into performing degrading tricks, or leading their natural lives in the wild.
Try going vegetarian or vegan for one or even several days each week. Eating less meat and dairy benefits your health, your wallet, the environment and, of course, the animals themselves.
I also urge everyone to watch the film Earthlings – you can see it online – a life changer about different ways that animals are abused and exploited by industries around the globe, more here: http://www.nationearth.com/earthlings-1/
Finally, please tell everyone you know about our work and direct them to our website and Facebook page – this would be an enormous help.
What are some of the other goals in life that you want to achieve in the future?
Basically running along our key campaigns – seeing plant and synthetic alternatives replacing bear bile and helping as many bears as possible in China and Vietnam, ending the consumption of dogs and cats in China and Vietnam, the end of animal performances and the conditions in zoos enhanced. Our “clients” the animals give obvious signs when they are not being treated properly – the problem is that the signals can be missed and the cycle of cruelty continues. For example, so many zoos could be genuine rescue centres – taking animals caught up and confiscated in trade – but the zoos want their animals to be “perfect”. Actually, what we’ve found with our bears – is that people love an animal with a story and don’t care if they have a disability – what they see is an individual that has triumphed over exploitation and is now living a happy and contented life. That is such a powerful message that could be used to significantly end animal suffering in zoos that are bleak animal prisons.
If you could sum up the meaning and purpose of your life in one sentence, what would it be? What do you think is the purpose of your life?
To leave this world’s animals in a better, safer and more humane place than when I arrived. Until every cage is empty, until the cruelty ends.
Let’s talk a bit about what you like to do in your spare time other than saving the world! Working in this field can be very mentally taxing and the importance of self-care is essential. How do you manage that? Do you or have you ever struggled with balancing work and life?
I’m not very good at the balance – but to be honest neither do I look on this work as a job. It’s my lifestyle and I love it. My doctor friend always advised that everyone should have two hours of the day as their own to do something outside of work that made one happy or content. I save my two hours to the end of the day and look forward to dinner, to something interesting on TV, or going out with friends. Outside of that I enjoy reading, going on long walks with my dogs and have also begun going on breaks to Africa every couple of years to remind me of the wonders of animals born and living free.
For those that want to better the world like your dedicated volunteers and or people behind this computer screen that wants to help, what would you tell them?
The same thing that Virginia told me – “just do it”. Follow the dreams you have because, if you don’t, the worst thing would be to regret that you didn’t “do it” years later. It’s exactly why and how Animals Asia was founded.
For more on the ground help, please follow our website, our Facebook pages and Weibo and WeChat and help us to spread the word. Help is so much appreciated for all our programme areas at this critical time, and a few clicks of support and sharing our messages sees the ripples spreading and leads to success for so many animal issues.
To help support the cause, you can attend the Blue Moon Gala and buy your tickets here: