Jan Creamer: Fierce Defender of Animal Rights

By Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi

With her twinkling eyes and wide smile, Jan Creamer may seem like a laid-back nature lover. And in some ways, she is. But when it comes to defending animals, this lady turns ferocious. Her passion for animal rights led her to form  Animal Defenders International  (ADI) in the mid-70s, which is now an exemplary world-renowned group committed to animal protection across the globe. Creamer and her husband Tim Phillips continue to fight for animals by investigating the worst kinds of animal cruelty, and have amassed an excellent legal team to help them push for legislation to end it.

The achievements that Jan Creamer and her team have collected so far are extraordinary, serving as an inspiration for all animal lovers: for example, it’s thanks to ADI that  the use of chimpanzees and wild monkeys is now forbidden in experiments in Europe. Furthermore, the ADI has secured bans on animal circuses in 20 countries, ended cosmetics testing on animals throughout Europe, and developed and promoted human computer simulations in university laboratories, saving hundreds of thousands of animals around the world from  the horrors of vivisection.

Here in this exclusive interview, I talk to Jan about how art can make a difference, the problems facing wildlife today, and why we’re such bad neighbors.

How does your idea of ethical animal treatment differ from what we see in practice today?

The fundamental problem with the way that other animals are treated today is that humans do not respect the intelligence, emotions, ability to communicate and the capacity for suffering pain, fear and distress of the other species that share our planet. Their dignity is not respected, neither is their right to life and desire to live as they should. This planet is their home, too. We are not good neighbors.

What’s a typical day in your life?

It’s many years since I had a typical day. What I love about this work is that every day is different; events change constantly, affected by media, governments and industry. We must respond to a constantly changing and evolving field. The shape of my day depends upon what projects or campaigns we are pursuing, what is happening with media, governments and officials and the effect on animals – whether captive or in the wild. We work internationally and so ADI is open 24 hours a day. Some days I can be working in the London office on publications or campaigns, or taking media interviews, speaking in public, managing the organization or writing or talking to legislators. Then, I can be doing similar work in Los Angeles, or Peru or Colombia.

For example, with our VP Tim Phillips, I have just returned from Peru on the rescue of Dominga, a bald female spectacled bear. We built her transport crate, we worked with the zoo where she was living and organized transport and carried her 500 miles across the Andes, back to a specially-built protected habitat in the rainforest where she has the company of other bears we have rescued. Then I left Peru for the US and Tim and I screened our movie, Lion Ark in North Carolina and Georgia, followed by a Q&A. We returned to London to talk to legislators in the UK about a ban on animal circuses. In the next few weeks, we will be screening Lion Ark in the Italian Parliament and then return to the US Congress.

How do you and your husband, Tim Phillips, share tasks at ADI?

We work quite closely as a team, juggling tasks between us. For example if we’re writing, we take turns writing and editing; whether it is publications, media, management or finances, we divide up the tasks between us. We both write, do graphic design, photograph and film.

Our best film achievement has been our multi-award winning movie Lion Ark, which Tim directed and I produced. Lion Ark tells the story of the rescue and relocation of 25 lions from circuses in Bolivia, rehomed to the US. The film is informative, but also uplifting and inspires our audiences to take action for animals. During our tour of the international film festivals, we reached many different audiences and some commented that they had never imagined they would make a connection with a lion.

The film gave them a deeper understanding than they had thought possible. This rescue work continues – in the last 18 months, we performed a similar law enforcement operation with the Government of Peru, where we rescued and relocated 109 animals from illegal circuses and from wildlife traffickers.

How did you manage to ban the use of animals in circuses in Bolivia, Peru, Paraguay and Ecuador?

The work in Latin America has brought a whole new dimension to what we can achieve for animals. During a trip to Chile to attend a meeting of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species), Tim and I came across a chimpanzee in a circus. He was covered in cigarette burns, his teeth broken and he had lived in a packing crate for twenty years. Toto inspired us. We contacted wildlife officials and eventually rescued Toto and took him back to Africa. We realized that there was a lot of work to be done in Latin America and so we set about gathering together a team of undercover investigators to work in Latin American circuses. Two years later, we launched the findings of the investigation in Bolivia, Colombia, Peru and Ecuador. As a result of public outcry, all of these countries quickly followed with bans on either all animals in circuses, or wild animals in circuses. Since then, other countries have followed.  

We have worked with local partner groups all over the world, educating public, media and officials about the suffering of animals for entertainment and now, 34 countries have outlawed animal circuses in one way or another.

You were a graphic designer, magazine editor and photographer. Coming fields of creativity, how do you feel those in the arts can help bring awareness on animal rights?

Creative individuals in the art world, those who can write, draw, paint, photograph, film or use any other skills or talent to illustrate, describe and convey the life experiences of animals held in captivity, or in the wild and at peril from human attack and environmental degradation, carry a special responsibility. I believe that we all need to apply our talents to making the world a better place, for people and animals. When we protect and defend the most vulnerable, we raise ourselves up, too.

Which high profile people do you think are best advocating animal rights?

Many high profile people speak out for animals and draw attention to what is happening, that’s essential. At the end of the day, we all need to make a difference, at the level we are ready to make it. Everyone contributes something and everyone has a role to play. The animals need people to just be active, at whatever level they feel is right for them.

What advice would you give  younger women who want to achieve what you have?  

Focus. Work hard, try hard, learn your subject and never stop learning; develop your skills. Don’t let anyone tell you what you can or cannot achieve. You can do whatever you need to do to protect animals. The only measure is yourself; what have you done today, to make a difference for animals? Some days it will be a small thing, other days something more significant. Every day is an opportunity to make a difference.

You’ve done so much! What are some of the accomplishments that make you proudest?

The end of certain animal experiments such as cosmetics testing in Europe and certain other tests; the replacement of animals with advanced scientific techniques; restrictions on use of wild primates in research and similar measures. Hundreds of towns and cities around the world have ended the suffering in traveling shows; the 34 countries that have introduced national legislation. Of all the publications and videos we have made, the movie Lion Ark has been our most complete, and satisfying. Closest to my heart and the most emotional are seeing animals I have rescued go into the wild, or live in peace in their native land – Toto the chimpanzee to Africa; thirty-three lions returned to Africa; four bears, about forty monkeys of various species, birds and others. I love to see them walk away from us and never need us again. We have now emptied two countries of all circus animals.

What is in the ADI pipeline to defend animals internationally?

The use of animals in entertainment – film, advertising, performances, sport or leisure such as hunting is a key focus, because so many people have experienced it in their lives, but never thought about the animal providing the few minutes of fun. Once educated, people see things very differently and it leads them to thinking about the way that our species treats the other species that have no option, but to share their world with us. It is an important educational tool.

Another key focus is the replacement of the use of animals in scientific and medical research. We fund and promote advanced non-animal technologies and methods to replace animals and we have been able to show that they are more effective and produce results that are more relevant to humans.

Please click here  to help ADI’s efforts. Animal images: Pixabay

Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi
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