February 25, 2013
Q&A with Rebecca Regnery
Meet HSI's Deputy Director of Wildlife, and learn about the upcoming CITES meeting
Q: What drew you to the field of animal welfare, and more specifically, international wildlife protection?
A: It is hard to pinpoint one thing or one event that drew me to this work. I have always been concerned with the welfare of animals and dismayed that, for a variety of reasons, it is so often a low-priority social issue. Working to improve the welfare of animals and consequently the welfare of the people who depend on animals is very rewarding. Compassion has no limits and no boundaries and it is contagious.
I just had my 17-year anniversary at Humane Society International and I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to help HSI spread compassion and make the world better for wild animals around the globe.
Q: Can you explain the role that CITES plays in the protection of wildlife internationally?
A: CITES regulates international trade in wildlife, which drives the overexploitation of wild animals and often goes hand-in-hand with animal welfare issues and the spread of disease. CITES is a political organization, so while proposals are based on scientific evidence, the adoption or rejection of these proposals is often based on political factors.
Those who profit from the wildlife trade are often well-financed and well-connected. After drugs and arms, illegal wildlife trade is the most lucrative type of international trade. The 177 members of CITES are required to abide by CITES regulations through the implementation of domestic legislation to regulate this trade.
Q: Can you briefly explain HSI's work related to CITES?
A: We are an official observer, which means we can attend the meetings and give advice to governments—but only the countries can vote. We are founding members of the Species Survival Network (SSN), a coalition of more than 90 nonprofit groups around the world that work together to secure CITES protection for animals and plants.
We serve as expert advisors to the member countries (CITES Parties) and advocate for stronger protections for species that are threatened by international trade. We also help to increase transparency by bringing these issues to the attention of the public. People who have a stake in protecting rather than exploiting wild animals should have a say in how their government votes at CITES, and we help to give them that voice.
Q: How many CITES Conference of the Parties (CoP) have you attended, and what was the most exciting thing that you’ve experienced at a CoP?
A: This will be my fifth time attending a CITES Conference of the Parties (CoP). My first was the 2002 CITES CoP in Santiago, Chile. They are held every two to three years in countries around the world. This will be the second one I have been to in Bangkok, Thailand.
The meetings are a little bit surreal, listening to some countries that want to facilitate trade regardless of the cost. The CITES meeting in Chile was the first of many international meetings I have attended where the public organized a rally outside of the meeting. Seeing all the people who are passionate about animals is a good reminder that we are not alone in our efforts at these meetings, although sometimes it feels like it.
Q: What are your hopes for the 2013 CoP? How will the outcome of this meeting impact wildlife, specifically?
A: HSI’s efforts at this CoP are focused on polar bears, manatees, sharks and rays. We would like to see a ban on the trade in polar bears, which are still being killed and exported from Canada for their skins and as trophies, in spite of the grave threats they are facing from their melting habitat and being forced to come in closer contact with humans as a result of this.
West African countries are seeking a ban on the trade in African manatees. These vulnerable creatures are decreasing in numbers due to growing demand for live animals for display and for their meat and skins, which has resulted in a spike in illegal trade.
In addition, a record number of 11 species of fish including sharks, sawfish and manta rays are being considered for increased protection from international trade. This would help to regulate the trade in shark fins and meat, in manta ray gill plates which are "medicinal," and would ban the trade in sawfish for display. If the proposals for sharks and rays are adopted, we expect to see a reduction in shark finning and manta ray gilling, which involves cutting off the most valuable parts of these species and throwing the mutilated animals back in to the ocean.
Q: You have traveled quite a bit in your work to protect wildlife. What place or places did you find particularly interesting or exciting to visit?
A: Thailand comes to mind, though that could be because I am headed there in a few days for the CITES CoP. Thailand is a vibrant and wonderful country with kind people, beautiful Buddhist temples, and amazing food.
Q: Do you have any recommendations for people out there who want to help wildlife?
A: HSI has a campaign called Don’t Buy Wild that provides tips on how to avoid unintentionally supporting the cruel and destructive wildlife trade. You can also sign up to receive news and action alerts from HSI about wildlife trade and other animal protection issues. Finally, never underestimate the effect of contacting your local and national government to call for and support legislation to increase protection for animals.
Take the pledge: Don't Buy Wild!
Q: What is your favorite animal and why?
A: Can I have more than one? I love cats because they are so nice to cuddle with and they are so smart. I also think pigs are exceptionally cute and intelligent, but it is not so easy to bring one to bed with you to snuggle up with at night! A lot of my work involves marine animals, which fascinate me —and they can suffer so much out of the sight of any human from things like marine debris and being hit by boat propellers. I love them all, but if I had to choose one, it would be the manatee, with hammerhead sharks and sea turtles as close runners-up.
Q: Do you have any pets at home?
A: I have two cats that I adopted from a Siamese cat rescue group, whom I miss terribly when I travel. My cats love each other and always stick closely together. They follow each other around and sleep curled up next to each other. It is possible that they barely even notice that I am away. Or at least that’s what I tell myself when I start to feel guilty!
Q: What do you like to do when you aren't fighting for the protection of wildlife?
A: I moonlight as a group fitness (aerobics) instructor. I love to exercise. It is so much fun and a great way to relieve stress. While rewarding, working to address animal abuse and suffering can be very stressful. Helping people to get and stay fit is also very rewarding and does not come with any added baggage.
Q: If you could work on any other animal protection issue, what would it be?
A: I used to work on HSI’s street dog program and I miss seeing tangible results of the animals we help. Although I have worked to protect marine animals including sharks and whales for so many years, unfortunately I have seen very few of them in the wild. I cannot go scuba diving due to a problem with one of my ears. I went whale watching for my very first (and so far last) time in 2008 off the coast of Baja California. I have never seen a shark in the wild and, yes, I want to!