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Friday, October 9, 2015

Finding Heroes

Bindi Irwin, daughter of the late crocodile hunter Steve Irwin, recently did a dance as part of her participation in this season's Dancing with the Stars. It was a tribute to her father, who died at age 44 when his heart was pierced by the barb of a stingray.

That started me thinking about where we find heroes these days. I can't say I have any heroes, but there are several people I greatly admire. And no, they don't play baseball or box or act.

Steve Irwin definitely was one of the people I greatly admired for his unending enthusiasm and passion about the world's wildlife, especially the crocodiles and other frequently overlooked cold-blooded animals with which we share our planet.

Another person who has earned my admiration because of her decades of research and work to save Africa's endangered chimpanzees is Dr. Jane Goodall. In recent years, her focus has expanded from chimpanzees to other of the world's endangered animals and the environment. Dr. Goodall remains an ambassador for the nonhuman species of animals, traveling and giving presentations throughout the world despite being 81 years old.

Iain Douglas-Hamilton and his daughter Saba operate the Save the Elephants organization in northern Kenya. He has studied the elephants of Samburu for more than 45 years. STE focuses on sustaining elephant populations, habitat preservation, education and community involvement, using elephants outfitted with radio collars to track their movements.  I am thrilled to be able to visit Elephant Camp next year, to spend time watching the researchers and observing elephants close-up.

Malala Yousafzai is a young Pakistani girl who was shot in the head by the Taliban for daring to speak out and defend her belief that girls should have the opportunity to get an education. She not only survived the attack, but she has continued her outspoken advocacy for girls, even winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014.  She has addressed the United Nations on her 16th birthday, and she met with England's Queen Elizabeth II and with U.S. President Barack Obama. Malala continues to speak out in favor of children's rights and promoting her belief that education can, indeed, change the world.

I admire the first responders (police, firefighters, paramedics) and members of the military who make such huge sacrifices to save and/or protect people they don't know. They put their lives on the line with every call, with every patrol. Even if they don't do something 'heroic,' the fact they are willing to risk their lives in the service of others warrants my admiration.

Although I don't know their names, I greatly admire the rangers who every day put their lives on the line as they work to protect Africa's elephants, rhinoceros and other animals from the ravages of poaching. I am particularly in awe of the Black Mambas, a predominantly female anti-poaching unit in South Africa.

My deep admiration also goes to the keepers, the pilots, the veterinarians and all those who work with the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust to rescue, raise and release into the wild the endless stream of baby elephants orphaned by poachers in Kenya.  Although a few animals are rescued after they were separated from their herd or fell into a community well, the vast majority are orphaned by poachers that murdered the baby elephants' mothers.

I have nothing but admiration for the volunteers with National Mill Dog Rescue, a Colorado-based organization that takes unwanted dogs  that have outlived their usefulness to the heartless people that run puppy mills.  For those who don't know, puppy mills are commercial dog breeding operations that supply nearly all of the puppies sold online and in pet stores.  Dogs are kept in tiny, wire-floored cages, denied all human interaction and affection as well as medical care.  Once they are no longer capable of breeding, they are discarded and if they're lucky rescued by NMDR.  They are given health checks, grooming, good food and water, help with any medical, behavioral or socialization issues and rather than having just a number, each dog is given a name.

I don't see professional athletes, actors or other celebrities as heroes. These people may be very well-paid for what they do, and they may excel at what they do, but what they do is far from heroic. The people I admire, as described above, have devoted their lives to making the world a better place.

Who are your heroes or, if like me you don't have heroes, whom do you most admire for their work to make this world a better place?  I would love to see a time when our heroes are not people who can hit a golf ball or throw a football or act in a movie. Let's make people like the ones above, who have devoted their lives to a cause far greater than sports or movies, our real heroes.