These prisoners have an amazing love for animals – the way they respond to the plight of the moon bears made our day

20 November 2015

Over her 22 years of bear campaigning, Animals Asia founder Jill Robinson has taken the crusade against the bear bile trade to almost every corner of the world.

This month she took the fight to the Boulder County Jail in Colorado, USA.

Jill had just given a lecture at the University of Denver’s Graduate School of Social Work with animal welfare expert Marc Bekoff, when he invited her to present to the class he’s taught at the Boulder County Jail for the past 15 years. It’s a course on animal behaviour and conservation biology, run through the Jane Goodall Institute’s Roots & Shoots Program.

Mr Bekoff believes that the classes he’s been teaching have inspired an unlikely generation of animal advocates. He said:

“My fellow teachers and I are all pleasantly surprised at how science connects the inmates to various aspects of nature, and that many find it easier to connect with animals than with people. Animals don’t judge them, and many of the inmates had lived with dogs, cats and other companions who were their best friends.

“Many of the students see the class as a way to build community with animals and with people. My students yearn to build healthy relationships. I use examples of the social behaviour of group-living animals such as wolves as a model for developing and maintaining long-term friendships among individuals – who must work together not only for their own good, but also for the good of the group.

“I’ve been told that because of the class, some of the students’ kids are more likely to go into science. I know some students have gone back to school while others have made contributions in time and money to conservation organisations. Some have gone on to work for humane societies. One student went on to receive a master’s degree in nature writing. It’s clear that science inspires my students, and gives them hope.”

Bear drawing by Josh in the Boulder County Jail Roots & Shoots Program

Jill’s presentation was especially well received by the inmates – many of whom had been involved in animal advocacy in the past. She said:

“I was amazed at how engaged they all were with the plight of the animals we help in China and Vietnam. They asked about ways to help, showed me art and poetry that they’d created – connected to an obvious love of animals – and told me about some of their work on the ground, training and working with assistance animals. Marc Bekoff began something so incredibly special all those years ago, and his role of creating compassion towards all living things has no boundaries at all.

“Connecting the inmates to forgiving bears like Jasper and our two-legged ambassador dog Lelly was a unique experience, and a reminder that the welfare of animals is – and should be – a concern for all of us. There’s much for us all to learn about animals – but they can also teach us a lot about ourselves.”

Jasper drawing by Michael in the Boulder County Jail Roots & Shoots Program (L)

Jasper drawing by Victor in the Boulder County Jail Roots & Shoots Program (R)

The inmates later sent Jill a thank you card, which showed the impact Jill’s talk made on them. The quotes that follow are all from these inmates – people who are making a positive difference for animals even before they’re permitted to rejoin society:

“Jill, I have an enormous amount of respect for you and all that your organisation has done. Keep giving ‘em hell and I look forward to supporting this movement.”

“It is with great pleasure that I had the opportunity to be a part of your presentation, your work is so heartfelt. It is amazing what you have done for these beautiful creatures we humans take for granted. That hour you spent has definitely left an impact on my soul.”

“Thank you! You make the world a better place. Tell Jasper I’m a fan as well.”

Poem by Robb in the Boulder County Jail Roots & Shoots Program