People and Places
24/06/2019
Animal activist meets mentor in Merricks

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When I first heard that English primatologist and anthropologist Dame Jane Goodall was going to be having dinner at Merricks General Wine Store on May 12, I flipped out. But there you have it — it happened, and animal activist Michelle Forrester was there. 

Michelle has been holidaying on Marine Drive in Safety Beach with her family since she was a kid and continues the tradition with her two sons today, albeit at a different property closer to the boat ramp. She remembers the big garage out back and the banging parties her brother Steven threw with the crew from the caravan park, Fleetwood Mac and Bowie blaring. She remembers getting stranded on Mud Island, the stingrays swaying into shore and her sister Karen, who has cerebral palsy, floating on a tube and watching the water lapping. She was always a nurturing and inquisitive kid who loved the water, her garden and the animals who lived there. She’s spent most of her life looking after them, and at 55 she has no intention of stopping. 

She explains: “It was a dream of a lifetime to meet Jane because I’ve always been drawn to looking after animals, especially ones in distress, and I’ve followed her career since I was at school. I was at an Orangutan Project seminar in Melbourne and met Balnarring local Sean from The Thin Green Line Foundation, who helps protect rangers worldwide, who asked me if I’d like to come along. As if! It was a low-key event with about 80 people enjoying a three-course vegetarian dinner with great wines. I was beyond excited. I sat opposite her on another table and just stared.  Watched her every move. She gave a speech about “not losing hope despite the bleak outlook for conservation and biodiversity” and talked about her Roots & Shoots program, which encourages people to work on environmental and conservation issues. I finally had the nerve to go up to her and told her that she’d been such an inspiration to me and we agreed that the only way forward was to continue to have hope for the future. You know, she’s 90 years old and still travels 300 days a year.”

Michelle’s commitment to rescuing and saving animals is unwavering. From picking up stray animals in the middle of the road to working with assistance dogs and supporting animal rights in South Africa, this is one busy woman. She’s organised donations for orphanages in Vietnam, has two adopted orphan elephants in Kenya and continues to be as philanthropic as her time allows. She explains: “There is a real human/wildlife conflict happening as we speak. One of my elephants’ trunk was nearly cut off with a snare and around 20,000 lions are being held captive. Cubs are being used for tourists to pay and pat, then go on to continual breeding and when redundant are sold to hunting lodges to be shot. It’s disgraceful.”

Yes it is. Thank goodness for people like Dame Jane Goodall and Michelle Forrester. Perhaps there is still hope. Fingers crossed.

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