Home People Interviews Meet Andrea Heydlauff

Meet Andrea Heydlauff

Meet Andrea Heydlauff

Andrea Heydlauff, an animal-lover since her early youth, has dedicated her life and talents to saving the wild cats of the world.
Photo: Steve Winter.

Recently Julia Worcester, the U.S. Youth Conservation Contact for Sanctuary Asia and Sanctuary Cub interviewed Andrea Heydlauff, Vice President of Panthera. Panthera is a wild cat conservation organisation, based in New York City, dedicated to conserving the 37 species of wild cats that exist around the globe. Its core focus is on range-wide conservation strategies for the largest, and some of the most imperiled cats on the planet – tigers, lions, jaguars and snow leopards.

Julia Worcester:You’ve had an incredible career in wildlife conservation. When did you first know you were passionate about animals?

Andrea Heydlauff: That’s kind of you to say but I feel like I’m just getting started! I knew I was passionate about animals as long as I can remember. I grew up in the English countryside where I’d see foxes, hedgehogs, badgers and other wildlife. Our home was always full of dogs, hamsters, fish and turtles and since the age of four, I wanted to be a veterinarian. Wildlife conservation came to me quite a bit later – when I first went to India at the age of 21 and began learning about tigers, and the many champions involved, including Ullas Karanth, George Schaller, Belinda Wright, Bittu Sahgal, and others.

JW: Can you tell me about your travels and any exciting experiences you’ve had with animals in the wild, especially in India?

AH: For my job, I get to travel to some pretty amazing and remote places like the Russia-China border, the Brazilian Pantanal and last November I visited Kaziranga in Assam – a highlight for me. But one of my most exciting, or memorable wildlife experiences was my first, and what has been my best, tiger sighting in the Bandipur Tiger Reserve, in south west India. It was an incredible experience with the sun rising, the forest coming alive with the sounds of birds, chital barking, and this escalating series of alarm calls, and then it all just went silent. Seconds later, this gorgeous tigress walked out from the bush – onto the road right in front of our vehicle. Luckily we were the only car around, it was literally just a group of four of us, and this female tiger. She walked across the path, stopped to look at us, and then she began to chuff, which is this lovely vocalisation that sort of sounds like peacock feathers rustling; she was communicating with her cubs whom we didn’t see. It was such a beautiful, stunning moment, a perfect sighting that I think about often, and how lucky I was to see her in that way. She serves as a reminder to me about what we’re fighting to protect.

A majestic snow leopard walking in the mountains of Ladakh, India. Photo: Steve Winter/Panthera.

JW: What do you think the role of kids is in wildlife conservation? 

AH: I think kids play a vital role in wildlife conservation. They are incredible influencers, filled with passion and big ideas and optimism. They can be quite successful in educating and persuading their parents and other adults to make choices, smart decisions and to pay attention. I think many children in today’s world are lucky because there is so much information at their fingertips, more than ever before, and there’s a growing conscience, and consciousness, of the state of our world today, our limited resources, and why this matters, why you, we, all of us should care – and I think because of this, when today’s kids become adults, they’ll make better decisions than we have so far.

JW: Tell me about your experience as a woman in this field. Do you have any words of encouragement for young women interested in wildlife conservation?

AH: I’ve been in wildlife conservation now for almost 15 years – I’ve had incredible support along the way (in my graduate advisor Dr. Paul Krausman, to my current CEO Dr. Alan Rabinowitz, and Chairman Dr. Thomas Kaplan). Looking back on it, my experience has been in a mainly male-dominated field, but that’s changing, I think, as women move into and are advancing into so many sectors, and I’m now seeing more and more incredible young and passionate female field scientists and conservationists coming into this field from around the globe. I see this directly in our Kaplan Scholars programme, as well as with our joint diploma programme with Wild CRU at Oxford. But we need more – both men and women, from all walks of life, stepping up and being champions for wildlife, and being supported in any way they can. 

The Brazilian Pantanal has the highest density of jaguars and Panthera fights for their safety. Photo: Steve Winter/ Panthera.

My advice for other young women coming into this field is probably the same as for any field – be persistent, be flexible, show rather than tell people how good you are, see opportunities where they might not always exist, and be willing to take something even if it’s not your ideal, but never lose sight of what you think that ideal is. And find what you love, what you’re good at, and know that there’s no straight path. I started out cleaning horse stalls at the University of Arizona, to training seals at Brookfield Zoo in Chicago, then writing about tiger biologists in India to working with WCS and now Panthera. It’s been, and continues to be, a winding path!

JW: Are you optimistic about the future of big cats?

AH: I am optimistic but at times it does feel dire, especially when you look at what we’re fighting against – shrinking wild habitats, clashes between people and wildlife, a booming illegal trade eating wildlife to extinction, and the selling of wildlife parts which supports some of the worst criminal activity on the planet. But I see signs of success that show me that people and big cats can share landscapes, and that these cats can be protected – which fills me with hope: villagers in Ladakh who are able to live with snow leopards because they get help with vaccination programmes for their cattle; or Maasai warriors who have stopped lion hunts and are now protecting their lions; to local river guides in the Pantanal wanting to protect jaguars because tourists come from all over the world to see them along the river banks. I see and hear these real examples and these are the stories we need to tell and show the world – that solutions exist! That there are people who live on the front lines with these cats who are making the changes needed, and in some cases in just a few years, to protect these large predators who either eat their livestock or invoke a certain level of real fear. Now that’s hopeful! We just need to engage as many people as possible – who are living and working in these landscapes, as well as supporters around the globe, to ensure a real future for these cats and other wildlife around the world.

Explorers from ‘My Pantanal’, a film directed by Andrea Heydlauff, about a boy who lives in the world’s largest wetland in Brazil. Courtesy: Panthera.
First appeared in Sanctuary Cub, November 2012.
 
 
 

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Jennifer Scarlott

 Fascinating interview, of a young woman, by a young woman. May there be many, many more young women coming into the conservation field in all possible ways: teachers, scientists, photographers, journalists, activists, government officials etc etc.