We've partnered up with The Big Cat Sanctuary as part of our Win a Roaring Family Adventure Bundle competition this Spring! To give you a little sneak peek of what they do to look after our feline friends, we've caught up with James Hanaway to chat about all things BIG CATS!
Please could you tell us a little about yourself?
My name is James Hanaway, I’m the Head of Partnerships at The Big Cat Sanctuary, I have passions for conservation, theatre, family and friends. With 20+ years’ experience working for charities from Children’s Hospices to Education in Africa, I’ve spent the last 4 years working at raising funds and awareness for the sanctuary.
How did you get involved with The Big Cat Sanctuary and how has the challenges of lockdown affected the park? What does 2021 look like for the park?
I got involved with the sanctuary through a connection with one of its Trustees and family owners, Lynn Whitnall, who used to donate auction prizes to my work with Children’s Hospices. Lockdown has been hard for the sanctuary as our income from exclusive experience has dropped dramatically, but we still have to care, feed and house all of our amazing cats, so we have become much more reliant on donations and fundraising to keep us going.
2021 has not started well, as we lost two of our older cats Kafara the African Lion and Martin the Cheetah and we still remain closed to guests, but our amazing Members and Supporters have rallied round to help keep us going and we are looking forward to a Spring and Summer when we can open up to experiences and events again.
Why do we need places like The Big Cat Sanctuary in the UK?
We have four pillars of ethos at the Sanctuary that guide all of our work. Welfare, Breeding, Education and Conservation.
In our Welfare programme, we look to provide the best care, enrichment and environments for our cats, whether they are here from places like circuses or other organisations that can no longer look after them, retired from or an active part of a European Endangered Breeding programme.
The Breeding programme aims to conserve healthy populations of animals in captivity while safeguarding the genetic health of the animals under our care.
These programmes act to provide a future for some of the world’s most vulnerable species, especially where education and in situ conservation work are able to stabilize natural habitats and change destructive behaviours, like the Amur leopard where we hope to be able to add to the wild population in the future.
Through Education we’re ensuring a future for cats big & small by educating generations to come about our interdependence with animals and the ecosystem of planet earth. And underneath all of this our Conservation programme is looking to make substantial contributions to global cat conservation projects at home and through trusted, regional based in-situ & ex-situ.
Can you tell us about a typical day in the life of working at The Big Cat Sanctuary for you?
The truth is that there isn’t a typical day at the Big Cat Sanctuary and that’s what makes it an exciting and special place to work! One day I could be going live on Facebook to all our supporters, hand feeding a Tiger! Or filming with one of our Ambassadors like Paul Hollywood, and the next I could be talking to our Keepers about recycling our Lion poo and generating sustainable funding for the charity. It’s never dull!
Can you elaborate on what type of programmes The Big Cat Sanctuary is involved in to help big cats recover and thrive in the wild?
The sanctuary works with trusted partners, people we have a good connection with and a thorough understanding of how their projects work on the ground. Where possible, we visit the projects that we fund to find out more and add practical help where we can. We are growing our funding but like to work with conservation organisations where we can make a significant impact and provide long term support.
Projects tend to be holistic, so whilst there is always the protection of a cat at the centre of the work, there is also education, alternative livelihoods and whole ecosystem elements that give a wider impact. Our partners work across the globe from Jaguar protection in Costa Rica, Lion Collaring in Kenya to re-wilding of Fishing Cat habitats in India.
How can the UK general public become more involved with conservation of big cats?
There are many ways that people can become involved in our work, from booking an experience with us, to just following our posts on social media, but the best way is to become a Member of The Big Cat Sanctuary family, giving us sustainable funding to continue and grow our support of conservation and giving you regular updates on all of our programmes and the impact they are having.
On a wider note individuals can have a huge impact on cat conservation just by making good choices when buying things they need! First we can all cut down on our consumption and then whether it’s finding organic and sustainably sourced products, moving to a more plant based diet or travelling by plane and car less, if we all do these together we can reduce our overall negative environmental impact on the planet and help it sustain itself.
What has been your favourite moment/memory while working in wildlife Conservation?
This has to be spotting a wild Fishing Cat in the mangroves off the coast of East India whilst out in a villagers fishing boat at 3am in the morning! And knowing that through our funding the Fishing Cat Conservancy we had helped, even in a small way, to protect that very land that we were seeing him in…
Do you have a favourite animal at The Big Cat Sanctuary?
I’ll use our Keeper’s stock answer here and say it’s the cat I’m standing in front of at the moment! Although, I do have a soft spot for Nias the Sumatran Tiger who was the first to give me a cheerful “chuff”.
Do you have any role models in the natural world and why?
I could pick a few environmentalists and stand out leaders like Sir David Attenborough of course, but having met James Mwenda, a Kenyan who has dedicated his life to caring for and protecting the last white rhino in Africa and Vencat a farmer in India who has allowed the FCC to adopt his land, re-wild with Mangrove plants and bring a whole village along the journey to protect the animals that live alongside them, I think it’s always going to be these people who are taking direct action in their own backyard.
Who do you think has had greatest influence in wildlife conservation in recent years?
I would think this has to be Sir David Attenborough, who without a doubt has a voice that has made people listen, change their habits and wake up to the need to act now to ensure a sustainable future for all life on the planet.
Do you have any advice for aspiring, young wildlife conservationists?
Get involved, take action, volunteer, don’t be daunted by how big a challenge it looks like. But research as much as you can before you do and make sure it’s about something you are passionate about as this will be the driving force that keeps you going.
To learn more about The Big Cat Sanctuary head over to their website and social pages!
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DON'T FORGET TO ENTER OUR ROARSOME GIVEAWAY BELOW!
The winning family will receive a Family Adventure Bundle – ready for those much-needed half term and summer holiday escapes! Whether you set up camp in your back garden, or pitch up on a picturesque site, this is the perfect prize for a staycation this summer! Simply click here and fill out the form to enter!