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Tuesday, 25 August 2015 22:48

Advocacy Spotlight: European Alliance of Rescue Centres and Sanctuaries (EARS)

Written by  Dave Eastham

This week we are excited to highlight the European Alliance of Rescue centres and Sanctuaries (EARS). EARS is a collaboration between sanctuary and rescue centres for wildlife across Europe. As the illegal wildlife trade affects more and more animals each year, EARS provides an opportunity for the organizations caring for the individual animals rescued from the trade to connect and learn from each other's experiences. Dave Eastham, EARS' executive director, took the time to answer our questions. 

gibbon1. When and why did the European Alliance of Rescue Centres and Sanctuaries (EARS) form?

In 2011 the AAP Rescue Centre for Exotic Animals in The Netherlands organised an inaugural meeting of Directors representing wild animal sanctuaries and rescue centres across Europe. The aim was to consider how best to support and build capacity across European facilities. At the end of this meeting it was unanimously agreed to create the European Alliance of Rescue centres and Sanctuaries (EARS) with the mission to: “Represent rescue centres and sanctuaries across Europe and enable them to work together to achieve mutual animal welfare and conservation goals”. The first annual meeting of EARS took place in the UK in May 2012.

2. What have been the biggest challenges to forming a regional alliance between rescue centres and sanctuaries, and how has EARS overcome these challenges?

As you might imagine there have been very few challenges in forming an alliance between our founding Partners as they were the rescue centres and sanctuaries that together formed EARS in the first place. There was a strong consensus that more collaboration and sharing of knowledge was needed as well as a co-ordination of projects and campaigns that crossed national borders. Despite this, however, there are always differences in approach between groups on issues of policy and practice. To date, EARS has been able to provide an opportunity to discuss these differences and, wherever possible, focus on mutual areas of interest – which are invariably far greater than any differences.

3. How does EARS work to foster collaboration among its partners and associates?

We host a meeting once a year that all Partners are invited to attend. The meeting consists of workshops on issues of common interest to the Partners as well as discussion sessions on important policy issues.

Starting in 2015, EARS also has a small amount of grant funding available to enable Partners to visit each other on-site, thus enabling more specialist exchanges of information. EARS also plays an increasingly important role in connecting rescue centres and sanctuaries with third parties looking for housing for confiscated or surrendered wildlife.

Finally, EARS is now beginning to lead on projects and campaigns that Partners can feed into, providing information and expertise from a national perspective that can feed into larger ‘Europe-wide’ initiatives.

4. What are the most pressing issues in wildlife rescue and rehabilitation in Europe currently and what is EARS’ role in addressing them?

Private ownership of exotic animals as pets is a key issue of importance to many of our Partners, with unwanted pets forming a significant part of animals coming into rescue centres and sanctuaries. EARS' Partner, AAP Rescue Centre for Exotic Animals, is leading a campaign with Eurogroup for Animals to convince governments in Europe to introduce a Positive List for the management of exotic animals being kept as pets (see here for more info). EARS has been supporting this campaign through attendance at relevant meetings where it provides information and perspectives on setting up rescue centres.

Another important issue is the relatively recent introduction of the EU Zoo Directive, which has led to many substandard zoos being closed and the animals needing rehousing. EARS works alongside its Partners and other NGOs to help find places for as many ex-zoo animals as possible.

Overall there is a change in attitude in Europe towards the use of wild animals in entertainment generally. While this is positive it can lead to an increase in the number of animals being confiscated by or surrendered to the authorities. The result can be rescue centres and sanctuaries being overloaded with animals. Through its detailed screening process, EARS strives to work with Partners to ensure that they are not overstretched and are able to continue to provide appropriate care for their animals in the long term.

5. How does EARS draw from the collective expertise of its partners and associates to provide a unified voice on policy issues affecting wildlife?

EARS has only recently started to turn its attention to policy issues affecting wildlife in Europe, having first focused on setting up structures and processes and ensuring all of its founding Partners have undergone a thorough screening process. Through this process we have together devised our own joining criteria for EARS, many of which are policy-based. These now form a common position for EARS and its Partners regarding the running of rescue centres and sanctuaries.

We are now beginning to consider external issues affecting wildlife in Europe and assessing how the EARS network can add its voice to existing calls for increased animal protection. We feel the best way we can do this is by providing on-the-ground information and data that support those seeking legislative change. By bringing hard evidence to the table, along with stories that convey the impact policy decisions have on individual animals, we can make the case to policy makers far stronger and more credible. We feel this is the best way for EARS to add value.

6. What victories for wildlife would not have been possible without collaboration between EARS and its partners?

I think it is rare for any one organisation to realistically claim sole credit for victories in animal protection and conservation. More often than not it is down to the hard work of a number of organisations and individuals collaborating to affect change. Indeed, we would see our role as contributing to a larger movement for wildlife protection in Europe - adding value wherever we can.

7. What fundraising channels does EARS utilize to support its work?

At the moment EARS is funded by a number of NGOs with a mutual interest in strengthening the wild animal rescue community in Europe, along with annual fees from our network of Partners. Moving forward we will be seeking to diversify this income through charitable trusts, major donors and EU funding opportunities.

8. How does EARS organize its personnel structure?

We have a Board, which includes Partner representatives as well as independent members. I am currently the only permanent staff member but this may change in the future. I report to the Board.

9. If you could offer just one piece of advice on successful collaborative working for animal protection, what would it be?

Too many times I have seen organisations fail to work together because they have focused on what they disagree on and not on what they both want to achieve. However, what you lose in compromise you more than make up for through collaboration. The quote below sums this up quite well:

“A partner's different perspective is valuable, but the very fact that it is different means that it will require work, humility, time, and resources to incorporate that perspective. At times, this will require checking one's pride at the door.” Ron Garan, The Orbital Perspective: Lessons in Seeing the Big Picture from a Journey of 71 Million Miles

You can learn more about EARS' work by visiting their website here.

Photo Credit: "Monkey" by Dave Stokes, used under CC BY 2.0

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