Updated: 2012-03-16 07:31
By Li Aoxue (China Daily)
Gabriel says issues concerning animal welfare in China remain very close to her heart. Provided to China Daily
Activist gave up a promising tv career to fend for those who are unable to fend for themselves
In 1996, when Grace Ge Gabriel was working as a news producer at a US TV station, she was invited to document nine Asiatic black bears being rescued from bile extractors in Panyu in Guangdong province.
The bears had been locked up in tiny cages for 13 years and had forgotten their natural habitat, Gabriel says.
"They were afraid of the soil ... they were even afraid of putting their foot onto the grass," Gabriel says.
After seeing the scars on the animals, Gabriel could not hold back her tears. She decided to give up a promising career at the TV station and work instead at the organization responsible for rescuing the bears, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).
"I just wanted a full-time job to help animals. I wanted to let people know that animals have feelings; they can suffer pain, and it is our responsibility to make the world a better place for them," Gabriel says.
The 49-year-old Chinese American is now the fund's Asian regional director and has been intimately involved with improving the welfare of wild and domestic animals by reducing their commercial exploitation, protecting wildlife habitats and assisting animals in distress.
During her time at the IFAW, Gabriel set up the first raptor rescue center in China, initiated anti-poaching operations to protect the Tibetan antelope and took part in the formulation of China's first Animal Welfare Law, among other achievements.
"I like the Asian profile, as I understand this environment much better, I feel I can make a bigger contribution to IFAW's work," says Gabriel, who was born in Zhejiang province. She did her undergraduate degree at Communication University of China in Beijing and majored in mass communications at the University of Utah.
Gabriel, who lives with her husband in Massachusetts, now spends one-third of her time in Asia, another third in the US and the rest traveling around the world. As expected, issues concerning the welfare of animals in China remain very close to her heart.
During Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper's visit to China last month, Gabriel and her colleagues decided to send a briefing document to the authorities to detail the safety hazards of seal meat, which Canadian sellers were pushing to the Chinese market.
"Canada lost the market of selling seal products in the EU, US, Mexico and Russia after these countries banned importing seal products from Canada, and Harper is pushing the sale of seal products which nobody is going to eat and use in Canada," Gabriel says.
"Harper and the Canadian fishing ministry make a presumption that Chinese people eat everything, and China is going to be their largest market for their seal products, but we need to inform the Chinese government of the danger of having seal meat as there are heavy-metal contents in seals' body, which is not healthy for human beings to eat," Gabriel says.
The Chinese authorities have not yet given them a response.
This year is the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the Beijing Raptor Rescue Center (BRRC), and Gabriel is looking forward to it next month.
In 2001, before the center was established, Gabriel recalls, six owls fell to their death because there was a lack of knowledge regarding the rescue of raptors.
Several Chinese celebrities were invited to a ceremony where the six owls were going to be released into the wild. But the birds were not fully recovered and fell while they were being freed.
"It made me consider setting up a raptor rescue center, to provide a place for injured raptors to heal adequately as well as an educational function to let people know how to free raptors properly," Gabriel says.
In 1998 Gabriel and the IFAW held what was considered the first campaign to protect the Tibetan antelope from commercial exploration by exploring alternatives to shahtoosh wool from the animals.
"Reducing the commercial demand is the key to saving these animals, the Tibetan antelope is a Chinese animal but the commercial demand comes from Western countries. We therefore call on Western countries to cooperate with us in reducing commercial exploration of the Tibetan antelope," Gabriel says.
Last month Gabriel took part in the Interpol 23rd Wildlife Crime Working Group meeting, where she showed her latest findings concerning a list of animal products that she says were falsely claimed as being used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).
"Less than 1 percent of the list of animal contents is used in TCM, while the majority of them are actually bought for investment," Gabriel says.
"As a native of China, I have this sense of mission, that I should let people know that these listings are not used in TCM and that the animal contents of TCM can also be replaced by other elements," Gabriel says.
That sense of mission is just part of the drive that comes from doing what she loves, she says.
"I think I am lucky ... if a person's dream is the work she does, she can devote all of her time to her work and most of that time, it will not feel like work."