Fighter for wildlife, award-winning lecturer, passionate animal activist, prolific published writer and volunteer Board Director of the Jane Goodall Institute Australia. Zara wears many complimentary, and connected, hats.
Born in Western Sydney, Zara is the dedicated, deeply knowledgeable lead of the Jane Institute’s global Forever Wild campaign – fighting wildlife trafficking worldwide of all species. An award-winning lecturer and associate at the Centre for Environmental Law at Macquarie University, Zara’s biggest passion is protecting wildlife. A recognised expert on illegal wildlife trade, Zara serves in criminal proceedings, parliamentary inquiries, campaigning and activism – to stop our fellow earthlings be commodified, hunted to extinction and abused.
What does International Women’s Day mean to you? And why do you think it’s still important?
International Women’s Day is an opportunity for women and our allies to acknowledge all we have achieved towards gender equality, despite near insurmountable odds and just how far we still need to push. For me it comes down to celebrating three R’s: resilience, resistance and representation.
How did you get involved with JGIA?
I joined the JGIA Board in 2015 and now also work with JGI-Global as an expert on illegal wildlife trade. What stood out for me was how strongly inclusion featured in the position advert. Once joining, one of the first things I worked on was formalising our Equal Employment Opportunity Policy with then CEO Nancy Moloney.
What qualities and attributes of Jane keep you motivated?
Jane is many things to many people, but for me it’s her work ethic, compassion for all life on Earth, intellect (I still get butterflies when I see her track changes on a document!) and ability to move people to action that keeps me on-task.
For you, what are the most vital issues facing women – and our entire planet – today?
So many of the ills facing our planet could be solved if we promote women’s autonomy and self-determination: reproductive health and rights, equal access to education and employment, freedom from gender-based violence – including forced marriage. Women are disproportionately impacted by climate change, economic downturn and all the existential crises bearing down on our species.
What advice would you give 10-year-old you with hindsight?
If you want to be successful in anything, failing is part of the process (or, ‘first attempt’ as we say in learning). Be brave, learn from your mistakes, be kind to others and yourself, and when you fail, just try to fail forwards, not backwards.
What is your key message to other women with similar goals?
Our planet, and all the various forms of life with whom we share it, requires more from us to survive – let alone thrive. When 50% of our species are arbitrarily and systemically disenfranchised, we deny everyone the chance at a future with less suffering and greater prosperity. The fight for gender equality is a fight for our collective future. So, anytime the world taunts you to “fight like a girl”, take the invitation and show them. #ChooseToChallenge.
Robyn Hittmann is an absolutely treasure for the Jane Goodall Institute Australia (JGIA), as the fantastic communicator who looks after supporter services and much more as our Admin Coordinator.
A former Executive Assistant in Oncology, Robyn has focused recent years on her deep love of wildlife. She’s volunteered in sanctuaries in Thailand, Cambodia and Laos, plus wildlife rescue in NSW. She’s studied Animal Care Biology (Zookeepers Elective) and currently working through Captive Vertebrate Management via the Charles Sturt University. As well as volunteering with JGIA, Robyn also works part time with a veterinary consultancy.
The first point of contact often at JGIA, Robyn manages your queries with polite, swift aplomb – from donors to volunteers, teachers to TV stations, complaints to glowing praise. The team are incredibly thankful for her ongoing support and professionalism, driven by her deep love for animals, so want to show our gratitude with some words about our bear champion!
What would you say to someone thinking about volunteering, but doesn’t know how to start?
“Take time to think about what you are able to offer an organisation with the skills you have. These skills could vary greatly from person to person, but all are valuable. One person may be accomplished in connecting with people. Another best at operational tasks. Also take into account the possible need of an organisation, where your skills could be used to their best advantage. Think about where your passion in life lies. If you follow your passion you will be greatly motivated to continue your volunteer work.
“Once you are clear on what you would like to do, then contact an organisation where you would like to volunteer. Put your details on their mailing list and check regularly for updates for when they may be looking for volunteers for a specific reason. The skills learnt while volunteering can also open up avenues of employment in the future.
“If accepted as a volunteer in any capacity, it is good to remember that you must be as reliable as a paid employee. Reliability to the tasks you may be allocated is important as the organisation will be relying on you to complete work requested of you.”
How did you first find out about JGIA and what made you want to volunteer
“I have followed the work of Jane Goodall for many years and also received email updates on the work carried out by the Jane Goodall Institute. As my passion for many years has been working for animals, I felt I could offer my administrative skills to JGIA. With my background knowledge following previous study in the areas of captive vertebrate management and zoo-keeping, I also believed I could be of benefit. Although not working directly with animals, volunteering in a clerical capacity has allowed me to still feel I am making a difference.”
How and when do you feel most connected to nature?
“When working to improve the lives of animals in sanctuaries. These animals, through no fault of their own are not able to return to the wild – because of interference by man. We owe animals a good life – as close as possible to what would be their normal lifestyle.”
What are the most valuable lessons and skills volunteering has given you?
“Volunteering opens up a whole different world to the volunteer with diverse opportunities to learn and extend yourself. The volunteer is in a position to learn from the work they are doing. The volunteer is able to meet a diverse range of people with similar or the same interests.
“It is also great to feel part of a team and feel included in a like-minded group. This is something you can miss when not in a workplace setting. It really is a privilege to be accepted into an organisation on a voluntary basis and be able to use skills built up over years of experience to further the organisation’s cause. By giving, you also receive back ten fold.”
What drives you in your daily life?
“While taking time to ‘stop and smell the roses’ which is very important, I am always conscious of any animal welfare issues that arise and keep abreast of issues through membership of animal welfare organisations. I hope to stand up for animal welfare issues wherever possible. I also always hope to extend myself and continue to learn. I have worked with many high achievers and they have motivated me to never stop learning.”
How does Jane inspire you?
“Jane inspires me as she can analyse situations and work outside the square. Not only has Jane made incredible inroads with the study, rehabilitation and conservation of chimpanzees, Jane has also realised the importance of working with communities that will be impacted by the work to conserve chimp populations. By engaging the local communities this has led to a greater respect plus a completely different outlook for the environment and animals by these communities. Jane’s work has also contributed to employment of people in the local communities and assisted young women to further their education.
“Jane has also opened up and guaranteed the future by starting the Roots & Shoots movement which is now a global concept. This will ensure that the younger generation will appreciate and work towards conserving nature and the environment.
“Jane, with her quiet but determined attitude, can turn a problem around and tackle it from a different direction. With great knowledge and empathy she has been able to achieve so much.”
Why did you choose to volunteer for JGIA?
“Knowing the valuable work carried out by JGI throughout the world, and being impressed by the energy and passion of the work carried out by the organisation, I looked upon being accepted as a volunteer as a privilege.”
What is your favourite animal and why?
“I would have to say bears having worked with bears in Asia, and seeing their resilience, strength and tenacity to survive and thrive, even under the worst circumstances. These qualities shine through – something we could all learn from! They are also very forgiving animals after being treated so badly in so many ways by man. They show great resilience and determination to survive.”
Where is your favourite place?
“One of my favourite places is a sanctuary in Thailand where I worked as a volunteer. We were awoken before dawn by the calls of the gibbons filtering through the tree tops. The volunteers were all stiff and sore from working throughout the previous days, but in darkness just before the early morning light, there was never a complaint murmured. Everyone knew their allotted tasks and quietly went about assisting the animals in their care. It made me think that these true acts of kindness, so readily given, were like pieces of gold shining through the dust of hurt and despair that had once been placed upon the animals before finding safety in the sanctuary. A wonderful, inspiring place.”
How long have you been volunteering with JGIA.
“Just on 12 months. I commenced working in a clerical capacity around August 2019 after reading a shout out for volunteers during this time.”
What is your favourite part of volunteering?
“Learning and expanding my knowledge – and hopefully being of assistance. Volunteering with JGIA has opened a number of doors for me – not only the wonderful people I have been in contact with or e-met, but also being able to further my knowledge in so many areas by way of webinars etc.”
Why is conservation important to you?
“We have already lost many species of insects and animals due to the destruction of their habitat. We must keep areas of the environment for nature to thrive. The loss of even the smallest species of insect can reflect on nature in so many ways. Nature has evolved where one is dependent on the other for survival and we must strive to keep this balance. The environment must be kept for future generations to respect and enjoy.”
What would you like your legacy to be?
“For others to see, through me, the respect and love for all animal life. Not by what I say, but by what I do, my actions and how my day-to-day life is carried out. All forms of life should be respected – we cannot simply turn our backs when we see a wrong carried out or animals badly treated. We must have the courage to take a stand for animals that are not able to speak for themselves.
“Planting small seeds of thought in people’s minds can be very powerful and can help to change their course of thinking, way of life and beliefs.”
Jane is known for spreading her message of hope. What are you hopeful for?
“That the younger generation will appreciate the value of the environment and all nature and learn the true value of kindness.”
Are you interested in volunteering – even just an hour or two a week? JGIA always appreciate any skills you can share! For more information please tell us more about yourself and what you’d like to offer by emailing email@example.com – and our wonderful Robyn will get back to you.