In 5th grade, my classmates and I were assigned to write a paper. I don't remember all the details of the assignment, other than we had to pick a subject, research it, write a minimum of so many pages and in good, neat handwriting, submit it for grading. Gosh, does anyone handwrite their assignments anymore?? I don't know if the subject had to be an animal, but I chose the Giant Panda.
I read several books and quickly learned that this cuddly stuffed toy like creature was endangered. Because of deforestation and population growth in China, their habitat was dwindling. Coupled with a low birthrate (female pandas come into estrus once a year and only for 2 or 3 days), the number of pandas in the wild dropped to dangerously low numbers in order for the species to continue to survive. Thus, they became the symbol of the World Wildlife Fund, an organization dedicated to saving wild animals from extinction.
In the mind of this 10 year girl, I devised the perfect solution to save the pandas from this ill fated future. It was simple really. Since pandas live in the mountains, all I had to do was set up a table at the bottom and educate everyone why this mountain was now closed to anyone and everyone except the pandas. I would put a stop to growth, deforestation and human encroachment on the pandas' territory. It was their mountain after all. And if they were to survive, as is their right, my message would be respected and honored.
Don't you live the naiveness of children? I truly believed this would work. And I couldn't wait to grow up, move to China and begin my life mission of saving the panda. Needless to say, I have since learned, it is complicated, much much more complicated than setting up a table at the bottom of a mountain as a barricade. But there's no denying this paper is what set me on the path of realizing my purpose in life - to work with animals.
Over the years, I wanted to be all kinds of things when I grew up. But one thing did not change. From a veterinarian, to animal behaviorist, marine biologist, zoo keeper, circus trainer, dog trainer, to becoming the next Jane Goodall, I never ever wavered from wanting to somehow make a difference in the lives of animals.
I've been to China, I've been to zoos, but I've never seen a live panda. This has been on my bucket list for most of my life. And finally, after this past weekend, I can check it off. Not only did I see 1, I saw 4! It will be one of the most memorable moments of my life. To be so close to something that made such an impression on me, as I stood there with my camera snapping away, it felt as though my life had come full circle. I was once again reminded of the dreams of my 10 year old self and why I truly believe I am who I am - compassionate, caring and protective of those who cannot speak for themselves. Animals matter. That has been and always will be my life's motto.