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As part of celebrating the 10th anniversary of Fauna & Flora International’s turtle programme in Nicaragua, we’d like to introduce you to some of the people without whom we’d never have got so far. Orna Bird is one such person.
Orna Bird is a longstanding supporter of Fauna & Flora International (FFI), having given specifically to our marine turtle, amphibian, Flower Valley and Iberian lynx projects. Orna received an MA in Sociology from the Sorbonne in Paris and then worked in research for several years in different countries. She came to England in 1973 to become a creative artist. Pottery is therefore her second career. Orna trained at the Kensington and Chelsea College and obtained a qualification in Ceramics.
How did your involvement with Fauna & Flora International’s turtle programme begin?
I have always been very interested in wildlife and a keen follower of Sir David Attenborough’s programmes. As time went by, wildlife programmes grew more and more depressing and I felt helpless and unable to do anything about the worsening global situation. And then Sir David had a programme called Survival, and it depicted small projects for saving specific species. I was fascinated by it, and it so happened that at that moment I received a small legacy from an aunt who passed away. I felt that the best use I could have for the money would be to support a project such as I saw on Sir David’s programme. I wrote to him care of the BBC and explained my purpose. Sir David answered very kindly and referred me to Mark Rose at FFI. Mark came to my house and presented me with a whole list of potential projects which I could support. I looked through them all very thoroughly and then decided on the leatherback turtles project.
Did you have a particular passion or interest in turtles before your introduction to FFI?
No, I knew very little about turtles until that moment, although I admit having enjoyed swimming with them in a beautiful lagoon, when visiting Mexico as a young student. But FFI revealed to me the amazing survival of the species which existed on our planet even before the dinosaurs. That really touched my heart and I decided that I had to try and help saving them from extinction.
We understand your daughter is carving a career for herself in conservation. How instrumental do you feel you’ve been in her choices?
My daughter Tania is a very keen conservationist. She is a true idealist dedicated to the cause of trying to save wildlife on this planet. Currently she is in Africa, about to start a PhD. I believe she got her love for animals at home, from a very young age. And perhaps my involvement with FFI further encouraged her in that direction. She however has taken her interest in the field much further than I have, and has devoted her life to it.
What aspect of the programme do you feel most proud of?
I am very proud of the way in which the project, which started as a very small project with very limited resources, has developed into a much bigger project with wider environmental implications. I am saddened by the fact that the turtles are still extremely endangered but am proud of the way in which the local population became involved in the efforts to try and save the turtles. Doing that helped them as well. I am particularly grateful to José Urteaga and all his team for their splendid tireless and ingenious efforts.
What made you choose FFI and continue to support them over the last 10 years?
I chose FFI because I was particularly impressed by the efficiency of your organisation. You are relatively small but that is the key to your success. The money you raise really does go towards your wildlife projects, and is not spent on a huge bureaucratic structure.
Do you have any plans to return to Nicaragua?
I had the best of time in Nicaragua. My experiences on the beach at Chacocente were truly unforgettable. Again I must stress the wonderful welcome I received from José and his team. I would love to repeat the experience and I am sure that one day I will be able to go there again.
❝FFI revealed to me the amazing survival of the species which existed on our planet even before the dinosaurs. That really touched my heart and I decided that I had to try and help saving them from extinction.❞