By Jewelle Saunders
2018 YLAI Fellow Rondell Hamilton is the founder of Rennie’s Orphanage and Animal Rescue (ROAR) in Trinidad, a nonprofit organization managing the rehabilitation, repopulation, and rescue of wild animals.
Rondell was trying to become a medical missionary when he was diagnosed with brain tumors. When doctors recommended he reassess his plans after surgery affected his coordination, he changed course.
The YLAI Network team asked Rondell a few questions about his unique path to conservation and his role in his community, ensuring that all species are living in a healthy environment.
Can you tell us a bit more about what led to you starting ROAR?
While completing my undergrad studies, a group of friends and I started a wildlife rescue organization, Endangered Species Treatment, Rehabilitation, and Education Centre (ESTREC). Sadly, in 2014, when I relapsed for the second time since my initial surgery, the board of directors made the decision to terminate my tenure at ESTREC. However, prior to the termination, I was in negotiations with another facility to house two brown pelicans from an oil spill that occurred off the west coast of Trinidad in December 2013.
Due to permit negotiation, I needed to decide whether to take these birds or let them be euthanized. It was out of the need to house these two birds that Rennie’s Orphanage and Animal Rescue was born as a wildlife sanctuary. Since its inception in 2014, ROAR has morphed into a wildlife rescue and rehabilitation organization, together with sanctuary services for nonreleasable animals.
What are your aspirations with ROAR?
The ultimate goal of ROAR is to mitigate the impact of anthropogenic factors on wildlife through public education campaigns while being the premier wildlife rescue and rehabilitation organization in the Caribbean.
The need for education on biodiversity, as well as the care of injured animals, also drove me to create ROAR. ROAR seeks to ensure each member of the community understands the correlation of a balanced ecosystem and human health. As such, it is crucial that we protect each species to ensure that we are living in a healthy environment.
What is your role in your community?
I serve as a resource within my community. I provide insights into animal care and engage farmers and homeowners alike in terms of care and mitigation measures with regards to human-wildlife conflicts for space and food.
Animal care is the most rewarding part of my work at ROAR. Interacting with the different personalities and understanding certain behavioral cues indicates to me the true value of catering to both an individual animal’s needs as well as the species as a whole.
How are you working to educate the public about the importance of biodiversity?
ROAR is in partnership with the National Library and Information Services to provide public education services in three of its libraries. ROAR also assists in events to promote biodiversity. ROAR partners with the South Caribbean Conference of Seventh-day Adventists’ Youth Department to facilitate the Nature Honor section of the Adventurer, Pathfinder, and Master Guide curriculum, which focuses on youth development.
What are some challenges you’ve faced?
As a nonprofit entrepreneur, funding streams are difficult to generate, especially since I’m more of an introvert. However, to ensure the success of any venture, one must be willing to leave their comfort zone. As such, though challenging, I’m finding innovative ways of engaging stakeholders and donors to fund the cause.
I see ROAR growing to be a valuable resource in the country, providing insights to improved wildlife husbandry and even aiding in the reduction of species lost through captive breeding. ROAR will always need financial support since our clientele will only pay us in bites and scratches, but the reward of successfully reintegrating animals back into our ecosystem is second to none.
How has YLAI helped you achieve your mission?
During my YLAI experience in 2018 at San Diego Zoo Global, I learned about managing all the moving parts of a conservation facility. This experience has provided me with insight and resource material for the use of advancing ROAR into being the premier rehab facility.
Additionally, the friendships you forge with the cohort members are second to none. I have resource personnel from across the cohorts who help whenever I need and vice versa. Special mention to my San Diego group, who has been a source of strength throughout the global pandemic, providing both emotional support and insights during this trying time.
Any advice to YLAI Network members?
Take the risk. Despite what others may think of your venture, if you see the niche you can work in, go for it.
Thanks, Rondell, for all of your hard work in the face of adversity!
The views and opinions expressed here belong to the author or interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of the YLAI Network or the U.S. government.