Rescuing Ladybugs: Inspirational Encounters with Animals That Changed the World

Rescuing Ladybugs: Inspirational Encounters with Animals That Changed the World

by Jennifer Skiff


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Countless times throughout our lives, we’re presented with a choice to help another soul. Rescuing Ladybugs highlights the true stories of remarkable people who didn’t look away from seemingly impossible-to-change situations and instead worked to save animals. Prepare to be transported to Borneo to release orangutans, Brazil to protect jaguars, Africa to connect with chimpanzees and elephants, the Maldives to free mantas, and Indonesia, the only place where dragons still exist in the wild.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781608685028
Publisher: New World Library
Publication date: 09/10/2018
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 276,589
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Jennifer Skiff is an award-winning journalist who traveled the globe as a correspondent for CNN for more than a decade. Passionate about animals and their welfare, she serves as a trustee, adviser, and spokesperson for charities around the world while working with lawmakers to create positive change.

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The Joy in Compassion-Driven Intervention

There are times in your life when you're presented with a choice: You can help another soul or you can look away. Such moments are pivotal — the decision you make changes lives forever, including yours. My game-changing moment came in March 1998 in Vientiane, Laos.

* * *

Vientiane, Laos

I stepped off a plane in Vientiane with my Australian boyfriend, Jon, and into another world. A rush of warm, humid air welcomed us, and instantly, the tension that came with entering a communist country seemed to dissipate.

Laos is landlocked by China, Vietnam, Myanmar, Thailand, and Cambodia. Poor and underdeveloped by Western standards, it's rich with people who choose, because of their religion, not to strive for monetary gains. The majority of people are Buddhists and are raised to cultivate wisdom and kindness while practicing compassion for all living beings.

Despite its peaceful population, or perhaps because of it, Laos has been the center of political battles for centuries. The most recent conflict had brought me here: the communist takeover after the Vietnam War and the subsequent mass murders of up to one hundred thousand Hmong people by the Lao People's Democratic Republic (LPDR).

I knew some of the refugees who'd made it out alive. They'd immigrated to the United States; many had opened nail salons, small grocery stores, and Vietnamese and Thai restaurants. While escaping, they'd lost family, friends, and even children. Moved by their bravery, I wanted to write a book that would lift the veil on Asian immigration to the United States while highlighting the human rights injustices in postwar Laos.

Thavisack Vixathep greeted us at the airport with a repeating handshake and toothy grin; he asked us to call him Tom. He was slim, around five feet tall, with short, shiny black hair. Tom was my government minder, an escort to make sure that as a journalist I didn't overstay or overstep my welcome.

Tom led us to a blue Mercedes-Benz sedan. As we climbed inside, he warned me I was not permitted to ask questions about the Vietnam War, reeducation camps, forced repatriation, the former Royal Lao family (many of whom had been murdered), genocide, or refugee camps. I tensed. Jon rested his hand on mine.

The first stop on our guided tour was Pha That Luang, a Buddhist temple described in tour books as the most important monument in Laos. On the outside, the reflection of the sun on the temple's gold-covered stupa and pillars was blinding. The feeling on the inside was just the opposite, calming and cool. In an alcove, the base of a gold leaf–covered statue of the sitting Buddha was adorned with fresh flowers and burning candles. In a far corner, a group of Buddhist monks with shaved heads, their bodies wrapped in orange cloth, sat on the floor in meditation.

I already felt a connection with Buddhism. Its teachings make sense to me, as they do to the nearly 500 million people around the world who consider themselves Buddhists. Followers of Buddhism, often called the religion of compassion, commit to a life of nonviolence toward all animals and to eliminating greed from their lives. As I watched the monks, I was excited to be in a country where so many people were leading conscious lives.

Away from the main attractions of government buildings and temples, the real Vientiane felt like a small town. Motorbikes carrying entire families sped past our car while little girls in school uniforms of white shirts and navy blue skirts gathered together on street corners, eating pineapple skewered on sticks like it was ice cream. Shuttered apartments — reminders of the French occupation of Laos in the early 1900s — looked out over brightly colored fruit stands at every turn. Electricity poles and wires littered the horizon, while open sewers and dirt roads were a reminder that little had changed for decades.

That evening, as the sting of the heat disappeared with the sun, Jon and I were left alone to stroll a few blocks from our hotel to the banks of the Mekong River. Pretty young women with long, shiny jet-black hair and tiny frames beckoned us to their food stalls. We walked on, arm in arm, until an old man approached, offering two plastic chairs in a secluded spot under a tree. Jon ordered two Lao beers and we settled in, enjoying a view of Thailand, thirty-five hundred feet away on the other side of the glistening Mekong. Music filtered from a window on the nearby street, children laughed at the river's edge, and sparrows swarmed, welcoming the end of the day. The sunset was crimson red, created by a haze of smoke from cooking fires.

I was happy, swept into the moment with a cold beer and a new relationship. I'd met Jon eighteen months before, in Casablanca, Morocco, while on assignment for CNN, during a party at the US consulate's residence. Two days later he unexpectedly burst into my life again.

At the time, I was scouting a location to shoot video of food markets. Local women in brightly colored robes with head scarves were perusing the outdoor stalls, shopping for their families' dinner. But what most intrigued me were the homeless street dogs, who followed at a safe distance. They looked up, eager to make eye contact with any person who might provide a scrap of sustenance, but it was as if they were invisible. No one took notice of them.

I'd witnessed this same street dog problem in other countries and gotten into the habit of packing boxes of dog biscuits when I traveled internationally. I reached into my bag, crouched to the ground, and one by one the market dogs cautiously approached and gently took a biscuit from my hand.

I was so caught up in the moment that I hardly noticed the man standing behind me until he said in an Australian accent: "If you were my girlfriend, I'd charter a plane so you could take these dogs home with you."

I turned and there was Jon, haloed by the sun, with a golden head of curls, freckled skin, and a contagious smile.

Now he and I were sitting together in Asia, contemplating the mighty Mekong, the source of life for billions of animals, sixty million of them human, and a silent witness to some of the world's greatest crimes against humanity. From where I was sitting, it was easy to visualize the tens of thousands of people who'd swum across the river to Thailand in 1975, while fleeing the communist regime. As I imagined the terror of that crossing, I wondered if writing about their experiences could actually prevent future wars, as I'd hoped. The world's knowledge of the Holocaust hadn't put a halt to mass killings. Genocide had occurred in Bosnia from 1992 to 1995, and it was currently happening in Rwanda. As I watched a large tree being swept downstream by the current, I wondered what power I had, if any, to create change.

* * *

The next day, Tom picked us up at 9 AM to take us to the National Ethnic Cultural Park, twelve miles south of Vientiane. I'd expressed an interest in learning about the history of the country, and he'd assured me I'd find what I was looking for there. Since the communist government still controlled Laos, I didn't expect to find what I was seeking — information on the Vietnam War and the mass exodus of refugees that followed. But I was eager to see what the government made public.

As we walked through the gates, it was apparent we'd entered a forgotten place. Kiosks were shuttered, footpaths were overgrown, and there were no signs of staff. Tom quickly apologized that it appeared closed and invited us to walk the grounds.

It was oppressively hot and the jungle was alive with the wing-snapping rattle of millions of cicadas. The noise was loud and yet simultaneously calming. I sauntered down a dark path that led to a moss-covered statue of an elephant. As I admired it, a bird landed on the elephant's trunk. It was a bright green parakeet, with a red beak and matching neck ring.

"Hello," I said, hoping he'd mimic. "Hello," I repeated. He nodded and extended his wings, ruffling them with a shake. He nodded again, let out a screech, and flew down the path. I followed, pushing past a patch of hanging vines to find him bouncing on a palm frond. As soon as I approached, he screeched and flew farther down the trail, out of sight. Then Jon yelled from that direction.

"Jenny, don't come down this path!"

"What is it?" I asked.

He didn't reply.

I proceeded cautiously until I reached a clearing. In the middle was a ten-foot- high statue of a smiling Buddha head surrounded by a circular dirt pathway. Jon was off to one side, standing in front of a six-foot-high bell-shaped cage with thick iron bars.

"Don't look," he warned.

The parakeet let out a screech and I looked up. He was on top of the cage, nodding as I walked closer. My eyes dropped.

A black Asiatic bear was imprisoned in a cage he'd physically outgrown. The cream-colored half-moon marking across his chest — a hallmark of Asiatic black bears — was broken in the center by a line of dark brown hair. He had a long snout and rounded ears that stood upright, each the size of a man's hand. One arm dangled outside the five-inch space between the bars, while the whole paw on his other arm was stuffed into his mouth. His eyes and the fur below them were wet, and he was rocking on his feet. When he saw me, a muffled cry erupted from his throat and his free arm reached for me. I moved closer, inches from his reach, and looked into his eyes. He was sobbing, trying to catch his breath like a child after a long tantrum. His eyes held mine. In that moment, telepathically, he conveyed his suffering to me.

I looked around his feet for signs of food or excrement, proof he'd been eating, but saw neither. A plastic pail of stagnant green water was behind him, but I couldn't tell if it was within reach. My eyes went to his again, and he lifted the arm that was outside the bars, turning it over for me to see the palm of his paw. There were five circular blisters, bubbled and red, on the pads, along with other spots of scar tissue. He cried out as I looked from the blisters back to him.

"You like bear?" Tom asked in his pidgin English.

"This is an unacceptable situation for any animal," Jon answered.

"Bear happy. Nice bear," Tom said, grinning.

"No. Bear not happy. Bad water," I said. "Bear is sick," I said, pointing to the blistered paw. "Who takes care of this bear?"

Tom's smile vanished. "I find man," he said, and walked away.

My eyes followed Tom, and it was only then that I saw the other four cages, all circling the Buddha, all imprisoning bears. I must have been so focused on the first bear that I shut out everything around me. Now it was as if someone had turned up the volume and all I heard were the sounds of despair. I turned in a circle, my heart racing, feeling anguished and desperate. The sun was unforgiving, burning. My knees buckled and I grabbed a handrail.

At that moment, Tom arrived with a man wearing a conical straw hat, a light brown long-sleeved shirt, and sarong pants. He was carrying a handmade wide- bottomed whisk broom. "This man is keeper of bears. He's friend to bears," Tom said.

I asked whether he spoke English, and Tom shook his head.

"Will you translate for me?" I asked.

Tom nodded.

"To keep bears in this small cage is not good. This water is bad water. Where is the food? And what is wrong with his paw?" I said, pointing to the blisters.

Tom interpreted the questions, and the two men launched into a discussion. The bear stopped crying and focused on their conversation, his eyes on them, his ears turned in their direction, one paw still in his mouth. I wondered if he understood their language. I couldn't. I could only read their expressions, and they were serious.

After a couple of minutes, the bear's keeper scurried away, and Tom turned to me and Jon.

"This bear has been here since baby. Some other bears," he said, pointing to cages nearby, "brought here by people who keep for pet, like dog, until they grow too big. They ask park to take care of them, and people pay money to see them. Man who take care of bear likes bear very much but say, never enough food for them."

As Tom talked, the keeper returned with a bucket of fresh water. He poured it into the green water, only serving to stir the algae. He looked at me and smiled, clearly hoping for praise. I wanted to thank him but held back. The least he could do was to give the animals fresh water, and he hadn't. Not today and clearly not before.

"What about his paw?" I asked the keeper, pointing to the blisters.

We may not have spoken the same language, but he knew what I was asking. He answered and Tom cringed.

"This is where people burn bear with cigarettes," Tom said, mimicking the way a person would crush a cigarette butt in an ashtray.

My throat swelled and my eyes welled with tears. I turned to the bear and our eyes locked. With a despair that permeated my being, I physically felt his suffering.

Jon's voice interrupted. "Let's go, Jenny. There's nothing you can do. You can't save every mistreated animal in the world."

"No," I whispered, my eyes still connected with the bear. "But I can help the ones I come across."

In that moment, locking eyes with the bear, I experienced an epiphany, a profound spiritual realization that not only could I do something, but that I must. Fate had brought me here for a reason. I turned back to the bear. Wordlessly, I promised I'd help and asked him not to give up.

As I walked toward the exit, I stopped at each cage, took a photograph, and gave each bear my promise. When I looked back, the keeper was pushing a wheelbarrow, half-filled with vegetables, in the direction of the bears, and I experienced a moment of satisfaction. Yet I knew the gesture was meant to appease me; it wasn't based on any lasting compassion for the imprisoned animals.

As we walked toward the car, Tom suggested the bears were probably poached as cubs — victims of the illegal wildlife trade — and had been "saved" by the park. I didn't buy his story. The way the cages had been positioned around the Buddha statue was intentional; these animals were an attraction.

"Why does the government run the cultural park?" I asked.

"Government runs everything," Tom said. "But there is no money. We try to get tourists here because they bring money. I hope you might write story to bring people here and maybe that money help bears."

With those words, the path forward became clear, and I resolved to follow it. The key to unlocking the cages was to convince the communist government that there was a financial incentive in treating their native animals with compassion.

"Will you help me talk to the government about this situation with the bears? Will you work with me?" I asked.

Tom placed his hands together in prayer and bowed. When he lifted his head, he was smiling. "Yes. We work together. Thank you, Miss Jenny."

Before leaving Laos, I presented Tom with a handwritten letter of introduction to Nousay Phoummachanh, a minister secretary for the government and deputy director of the National Ethnic Cultural Park. It extended my gratitude for inviting me to visit. It included my credentials, a description of what I'd witnessed at the park, and a personal offer to provide advice on how to build the country's tourism trade.

* * *

Mount Desert Island, Maine, USA

I returned from Laos with a redirected purpose. Back home in Maine, I tacked a photo of the first bear I met on my office wall. His cries were embedded in my memory, and I decided to call him Fri, the Lao translation of "free." His rescue was now my priority.

Within days, a fax arrived from the Ministry of Information, Culture, and Tourism in Laos, a response to the letter Tom had delivered. It justified the condition in which the bears were found by stating that there were costs associated with the care of the animals but that money to feed them would be welcome. It also said the government would welcome help to increase tourism to Laos.

My thoughts raced. How could I help increase tourism to a communist country and also free the bears? Laos is naturally beautiful; it has a warm climate and is home to wild elephants, bears, and exotic birds. Those qualities attract tourists. Caged and tortured animals do not. Ultimately, I wanted the bears rehabilitated and released into the wild, but I knew that wasn't possible. There were no rehabilitation centers for large animals in Laos. There was only one solution.

That night I called Tom, whose role with me had changed from minder to government liaison. I told him that when people travel, they want to leave a country with a positive impression, yet the poor treatment of the bears went against everything Laos, and Buddhist culture, stood for. I suggested the creation of a sanctuary where the bears from the cultural park could live on several acres and where tourists could view them from a distance. Then I offered to build it.


Excerpted from "Rescuing Ladybugs"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Jennifer Skiff.
Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Buddha and Bear: The Joy in Compassion-Driven Intervention

~ Jennifer Skiff, Bears. Vientiane, Laos

Monkey and Porcupine: The Power of the Collective Voice

~ Jo-Anne McArthur, Monkey. Banos, Equador

~ Carole Tomko, Elephants. Botswana, Africa

~ Susan Rockefeller, Pteropods. New York, USA

Dragon, Orangutan, Manta: Preservation for the Good of All

~ Guy Stevens, Manta. North Male Atoll, Maldives

~ Willie Smits, Orangutan. Kalimantan, Borneo

Chimp and Dog: On the Path to do what’s Right, You’re Never Alone

~ Chris Mercer, Lynx. Northern Cape Province, South Africa

~ Emma Haswell, Greyhound. Ross, Tasmania

~ Jenny Desmond, Chimpanzee. Entebbe, Uganda

Rabbit, Chicken, Pig: The Rewards in Leading the Way

~ Josh Balk, Chicken. Howell, Maryland

~Peter Singer, Homo sapien. Oxford, England

~ Melanie Greensmith, Rabbit. Sydney, Australia

Pigeon and Cow: Connections that Drive Sweeping Change

~ Jill Robinson, Bear. Zhuhai, China

~ Temple Grandin, Cattle. Arizona, USA

Dolphin and Beaver: Enlightening Transformations

~ Dave Pauli, Beaver. Pasco, Washington

~ Ric O’Barry, Dolphin. Miami, Florida

Shark and Coyote: From Fear to Happiness

~ Shawn Heinrichs, Shark. Raja Ampat, West Papua New Guinea

~ Zoe Weil, Coyote. Adirondack Mountains, New York

Jaguar, Owl, Salamander: Answering the Call

~ Leandro Silveira, Jaguar. Goias, Brazil

~ Barbara Royal, DVM, Owl. Roslyn, Washington

~ Andrew Sabin, Salamander. Long Island, New York


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