Juliana Castañeda

Juliana Castañeda

“Once we fully understand that we are all equals, just with a different body, we will find the solution to all our problems.”

Castañeda and her son with sanctuary residents. All photos in this story taken by Julie O’Neill for the Unbound Project.

The first rescue Juliana Castañeda remembers was a little white dog she found on the streets of Colombia when she was seven. He was hungry and dirty, so Castañeda scooped him up and carried him home. She named him Copito, or Q-tip.

More rescues soon followed, including dogs, cats, birds and rodents. Castañeda even once brought home an abandoned little boy—street children are not uncommon in Colombia—whom she fed in her room for days before her mother discovered him.

To Castañeda, it was all the same: If someone needed help, you helped, regardless of species.

Hundreds of rescues later, her feelings haven’t changed.

Once we fully understand that we are all equals, just with a different body, we will find the solution to all our problems.

Warm, sincere and endlessly nurturing, Castañeda is founding director of Juliana’s Animal Sanctuary, which she officially opened in 2008, although most of her life had been dedicated to the idea. Within a few years of finding Copito, she was selling chocolates and veggie burgers at school, saving all of her profits for her “dream.”

“I told my mother, ‘When I grow up, I want to buy a big house, and I am going to help all the animals in the world,’” she recalls.

As much as Castañeda is a dreamer, she is even more of a doer. It is perhaps the best way to describe her: always doing.

Her recent pregnancy was no exception. She says the hardest part was the last week, when her belly got so big that she finally had to leave her animals’ care to volunteers. But after 20-plus hours of labor and the 10 p.m. home birth of her son, Bhimal, her belly was no longer in her way, so she was up feeding animals the next morning.

“I can’t remember the last time I sat down and relaxed,” Castañeda, who has dark reddish-brown hair and a bright smile, says laughing. “My body does get tired, but I love my work so much.”

Castañeda with her son Bhimal and rabbits at the sanctuary

That work includes far more than taking care of the sanctuary’s 80 or so animals, among them cows, pigs, horses, dogs, cats, rabbits, chickens, roosters and more—all of whom Castañeda considers her children. She also hosts sanctuary visitors, gives talks at local schools, fundraises, and promotes veganism through education, a meat-free Monday campaign and cooking workshops in Colombia and beyond.

And that is just one of her jobs. With only about a fifth of the sanctuary’s costs covered by donations, Castañeda helps make up the rest through online work as a Spanish language translator. She brings in additional money selling handmade jewelry.

On top of all that, she runs a robust local project as part of Food for Life, a global relief organization that provides vegan meals for the poor. Her husband, Australian Paul Turner, whom she met through Food for Life in 2013, helped start the nonprofit decades ago.

Turner’s experience and help have been instrumental in boosting support for the sanctuary from overseas; nearly all of its volunteers and donations come from outside Colombia.

“Colombia is not a rich country and is still very ignorant when it comes to animal protection,” she says, describing the country as an extremely challenging place to help animals.

We have a huge responsibility. We are literally the only hope and haven for animals in this country.

She says she can’t imagine doing anything else with her life, and it is the animals who keep her going.

“They give me all the energy to never stop.”

She offers the story of one in particular, a cow named Gita, who Castañeda rescued from a slaughterhouse 10 years ago. When Castañeda first saw her, workers were trying force Gita into submission by electrocuting her.

“They were trying everything to break her spirit, but she was determined to maintain her dignity,” Castañeda remembers. “I named her Gita, which means ‘song.’ Gita is an example for everyone. The animals are my inspiration. Even after so much pain has been inflicted on them, they still come to you with love. They know everything about forgiveness.”

It is by rediscovering our connection with animals, by meeting and spending time with them, that Castañeda believes we will learn to stop harming them.

Sanctuary resident Balarama

She offers another example, a 1,300-pound bull named Balarama who came to the sanctuary as a calf and whose face is tattooed on Castañeda’s left arm.

“He is a huge animal, but he is like a kitten. He purrs and everything,” she says. Castañeda has seen him change nearly everyone who has met him.

“They’ve told me, they write to me, ‘He is my friend. I cannot eat animals again.’ He is connecting people to all the bulls in the world.”

Castañeda sees mothers and children as another key. Kids are naturally inclined to be kind to animals, but many have told her they couldn’t go vegan because of their families. So Castañeda decided to begin targeting moms.

“The mother is the boss of the table,” in much of South America, she says, “so we have to teach the bosses.”

Castañeda always imagined that she would become a mom herself, but it was her efforts to reach others that made her want to have her son when she did.

“Before, many mothers were upset with me because their kids were turning vegan thanks to visiting the sanctuary or a vegan food workshop. They told me, ‘You don’t understand! You don’t have kids!’” Castañeda says.

“Now I can say to these mothers, ‘Yes, I really do understand.’”

In addition to moms, she hopes animal activists can learn from her example.

“I live in a poor, crazy country, and I am doing this,” she says.

“Anything is possible.”

Learn more and support Juliana’s Animal Sanctuary.
Photos and interview for this story by Julie O’Neill. Text by Corrine Benedict.

Smaragda Louw

Smaragda Louw

“We want animals to have rights because of who they are.”

L-R: Kathy Watson, Smaragda Louw, Prathna Singh, Kathy Raffray. All photopgraphs for this story by Jo-Anne McArthur/The Unbound Project.

On Fridays in South Africa, animals on sale for weekend sacrifices are everywhere. For those who follow local indigenous traditions, births, deaths, weddings, and cleansing ceremonies are all reasons to end animals’ lives, often painfully.

Traditional healers here peddle tea made from pangolins. Endangered species are sold openly in busy markets. Tigers can be kept legally as backyard pets, and South Africa is ground zero for canned hunting.

This is a tough place to be an animal rights activist.

It’s a good thing Smaragda Louw is tough too.

A mother of two grown children who spent decades as a child psychologist, Louw is chairperson of Ban Animal Trading, or BAT, a South African non-profit that she co-founded with a handful of friends in 2013. Through education, investigations, protests, petitions, media campaigns and more, the organization is working to turn the tide for all sorts of animals here, from cats and dogs sold online and in pet shops to those used in circuses, for their fur, and for experiments.

“We don’t want South Africans to see animals as commodities,” says Louw, whose petite stature belies nearly everything about her. “We want animals to have rights because of who they are.”

BAT is only a few years old and has no formal office or paid staff. But already it has made a name for itself as a formidable force that doesn’t back down.

I’ve just always had a connection with animals, since I was small.

Louw’s reputation is much the same, and she looms especially large in the minds of South Africans who profit from animal exploitation. Energetic and engaging, she is the kind of person who is willing to go anywhere to help those who can’t speak for themselves, including places she knows she isn’t wanted, like chummy closed-door meetings between hunters’ groups and the government officials who are supposed to regulate them. Or to a crocodile farm where she’s recognized and told to leave before somehow getting in anyway. Or to a municipal rabbit park accused of massive neglect, where she chats up a manager until she is sitting behind his desk, dictating what must improve.

Says friend Liane Craigie, “She is not afraid of anything when it concerns animals.”

Nor is Louw willing to apologize for what she knows is right. Recalling her answer when someone asked her recently to justify her efforts in a country with its share of human suffering, she says, “Because people can actually talk, and because there are other people doing this for people, so I prefer to do it for animals. I don’t have a problem if you work for people. That’s absolutely fine. But don’t criticize what we do.”

It’s a passion whose beginning Louw can’t exactly pinpoint, but it started when she was young. “I’ve just always had a connection with animals, since I was small,” she says.

A native of South Africa and a vegan, she has long been deeply disheartened by prevailing attitudes toward animals here, including the notion that animal rights is a movement only for privileged whites. For years while working as a psychologist, she dedicated whatever time she could to helping animals. She quit her job in 2010 to make activism her full-time purpose, co-founding BAT about three years later. The organization became an officially registered non-profit in 2015.

“Dealing with human problems and animal problems eventually becomes too much,” Louw says of leaving her first profession. “So, I chose to fight for animals.”

Of that choice, she says, “I’ve often thought there’s something in you that just tells you, ‘This is what you do.’”

By all accounts, Louw and BAT—now with a core team of eight women—do it well.

While the organization has embraced its menacing image to an extent, it has also been deliberate about not putting off potential supporters.

“Individually we may see things differently, but when we talk as Ban Animal Trading, we reach for middle ground,” Louw says. “We don’t want people to think we’re a fringe group. We want people to see us as something they can be a part of.”

That inclusive approach has served BAT well, with support for the organization—volunteers, media interest, online hits—exploding.

I’ve often thought there’s something in you that just tells you, ‘This is what you do.’

Indeed, Louw and some of BAT’s other core members have become so well known that they can no longer conduct undercover investigations themselves.

“She draws people in,” Cora Bailey, of Community Led Animal Welfare, says of Louw. “Smaragda has done so much for the profile of animal rights in South Africa. She’s been what people have needed.”

Another big part of BAT’s success has simply been how hard the team works. Some days Louw and her teammates are organizing marches and answering calls and blowing up social media with posts about the horrors of live-animal export. Other days they’re in the field, checking on cruelty and neglect reports, following up on cases and carrying out investigations.

“I think it’s really important to have new stuff coming out, to show people what is really happening,” Louw says. “I think it gives us a little more clout to get stuff done. We’re not just an organization regurgitating what everybody else gives us.”

Adds Prathna Singh, a core BAT activist, “We’re using stuff that we’ve actually seen ourselves, so when we try to fight something, it’s because we know exactly what’s happening, and we’re bringing that to the public.”

While Louw has no qualms about going head to head with animal abusers and officials who protect them, she also recognizes the importance of working with the system where it is beneficial. BAT produces meticulously researched reports on animal welfare issues, such as pet sales and wildlife trafficking, and submits them to authorities with petitions and recommendations for change. Last year, BAT successfully persuaded three of South Africa’s biggest online classified companies to stop certain animal sales, and it is now working for a total ban.

“It’s a long road that we’re walking and we know that,” Louw says. But, she adds, “We’re making progress.”

She admits the need surrounding her can be overwhelming: The calls are constant; Louw is always on the phone. There are far more issues to tackle than there is time. There are always more animals to help.

People and society are always the reason why policies change, so we have to start by showing people that the commoditization of animals is wrong.

It’s why she’s had to learn to let some losses go, and to pace herself.

“It’s OK to have duvet days and pajama days,” she says.

It’s also why BAT has made education and changing minds a top focus. While working case by case and issue by issue is valuable, Louw is convinced that real change will only come when there is a true groundswell of compassionate action for animals—which she says is BAT’s ultimate goal.

“People and society are always the reason why policies change, so we have to start by showing people that the commoditization of animals is wrong.”

Among the less conventional tools BAT is trying is a soon-to-be-published children’s book covering milk, leather, wool and more.

Even though Louw describes the status quo in South Africa as a “free-for-all” where “anything goes,” she says she also sees reason for hope.

She sees it in the pro bono lawyers who donate their time to help BAT and in the local thrift shop and comedy club that contribute some of their profits.

She sees it in the activists who turn up for BAT’s events and in the animals for whom they’ve made a difference.

L-R: Prathna Singh, Kathy Raffray, Smaragda Louw

Yes, she says, BAT has garnered strong opposition from animal traders and exploiters. But that just means she and her teammates are finding cracks in the system, prying them open and getting somewhere.

And with most people Louw meets, she says, she finds no opposition at all.

“When we start talking to people and giving them information—they watch our videos and see our Facebook page—most people are actually really grateful, because they say they didn’t know.”

She sees it often when BAT hands out flyers outside of zoos and circuses and other places where animals suffer.

“People turn around and leave,” she says.

“Because they didn’t know.”

Thanks to Louw and her team, more people than ever know the truth, and one flyer and one rescued animal at a time, their work is changing the fate of animals in South Africa.

Learn more about Ban Animal Trading and support their work.

Jean Gilchrist

Jean Gilchrist

“We’re still just scratching the surface.”

Jean Gilchrist with rescued donkeys. All photos by Jo-Anne McArthur/Unbound Project

A life spent dedicated to animals yields a lot of lessons. The first that comes to mind for Jean Gilchrist is that you have to take the bad with the good.


Among the bad: The horrific slaughter methods that she has been documenting in Kenya for decades in an effort to change them. Studying a recent photo of roped camels about to be killed, she notes, “Some of them are crying.”

Next: The public’s indifference. “In a developing country where there are an awful lot of human problems, people are apt to think that animals and their welfare aren’t important.”

And then there is her organization’s bank account balance – a drop in a sea of need. “It’s very hand to mouth, this place,” Gilchrist says of the Kenya Society for the Protection and Care of Animals in Nairobi, where she began as a volunteer in the late 1970s.

But there is also so much good, like the transformations she’s seen among the KSPCA’s rescues, several of whom are asleep in her office. “These are my dogs,” she says as she goes around the room introducing them. Charlie, who is curled up under a desk, was found on the side of the road. He had been adopted but the family brought him back, terrified and shaking. Gilchrist had just lost a similar looking companion whom she’d loved dearly.

“I took it as a sort of omen,” she says, so she kept him. “It only took him a few days to feel he was OK, but he’s still a nervous dog.”

A native of Scotland, Gilchrist has spent the past four-plus decades in Africa. With cropped grey hair and wire-framed glasses, she is humble, unassuming, friendly and soft-spoken – at least until her cause is better served by raising her voice.

When the topic is the treatment of animals, Gilchrist admits that her normally quiet demeanour is quickly forgotten.

“I do get attention,” she says.

Her title at the KSPCA is director of animal welfare, but in practice she does a bit of everything, as does the organization. Most of its funding – all from donations – goes to its rescue and sheltering operation, which includes dogs, cats, donkeys, goats, and pigs, with an average of about 200 individuals in residence at any given time. Some come from abusive owners while others come off the streets. The KSPCA also runs spay/neuter campaigns, investigates and responds to cruelty and abandonment cases, and educates school children about animal welfare, along with its efforts in Kenyan slaughterhouses.

At the center of it all is Gilchrist, who embraces the moniker her work has earned her here: the madwoman of animals.

She says her interest in animal welfare has always been there, ingrained like an instinct. She recalls her first rescue, an injured mouse who she tried to save from a cat when she was a little girl. She took it home and nursed it, but it died the next day.

“I’ve always had this – taking in things that needed help.”

She first came to Africa with her husband, who was a surgeon and “bush doctor,” initially in Tanzania. Eventually they moved with their two young children to Kenya, where Gilchrist’s husband served as a flying doctor aboard air ambulances.

Gilchrist found her own place after a feral cat who’d been living on the roof of their rental house had kittens. Afraid the babies would fall, Gilchrist looked to the KSPCA, started around 1910 by women who gave water to oxen carrying goods into Nairobi.

The KSPCA loaned Gilchrist a trap so she could bring in the cat family. She soon started volunteering, and after about a decade, in 1986, when a field officer position opened, Gilchrist took it.

She quickly began going to slaughterhouses, using advocacy, training, and what she calls her Scottish temper to promote less horrific killing methods.

Despite her inclinations, it’s work she says she’d never imagined for herself, and 30 years later, she’s seen both exciting progress and heartbreaking regression.

Slaughterhouses are going up everywhere now and they’re not using humane killing. They’re bashing, stabbing, putting them down and cutting their throats. And it’s got to stop.

“It’s all dissolving,” Gilchrist laments. “Slaughterhouses are going up everywhere now and they’re not using humane killing. They’re bashing, stabbing, putting them down and cutting their throats. And it’s got to stop.”

She adds, “We’re still just scratching the surface.”

In addition to slaughterhouses, Gilchrist is a regular at animal-related conferences and workshops, always with her thermos of tea and often the only voice speaking for Kenya’s domestic animals, rather than wildlife, which receives far more attention.

Kate Chumo of Africa Network for Animal Welfare praises Gilchrist for the inroads she has made promoting adoption among Kenyans and changing people’s perceptions of dogs and cats. Chumo also notes that Gilchrist isn’t one to mince words.

“Kenyans are very practical people,” Gilchrist says. “It’s a matter of, ‘What can the animal do for me? And if it can’t and I have no use for it anymore, it’s not a big deal.’ So I have to keep saying, ‘We’ve got to consider the animals. They’re not just here for use and abuse.’ So I do get quite vocal.”

Rescued donkeys at the KSPCA

Sadly, it is often government veterinarians whom Gilchrist  finds herself reminding, prodding them to adhere to their Hippocratic Oath. Indeed, the KSPCA has been instrumental in progress against strychnine, a painful poison that the government’s veterinary department was using widely to control Kenya’s street dog population.

Gilchrist’s preferred tool for changing minds is the education of school children. The KSPCA both hosts groups and makes visits to schools, which Gilchrist believes is making slow but steady headway against the public indifference she spends so much time fighting.

In the meantime, there is the organization’s rescue work.

“So many animals need help,” Gilchrist says. “If you just concentrate on education, what happens to the 40 donkeys that were dumped in town?”

What gets her through? “Curry and beer,” she jokes.

The KSPCA is a “minimum-kill” operation, meaning it only euthanizes animals who are very old, very sick or whose “character has been too destroyed” by the trauma they’ve endured. The organization vets adopters and checks in on adoptees where it can.

And rather than small, individual cages, animals in its care are kept in groups, and are let out in rotation to romp and sniff during the day.

“We find they’re much happier running about and being free,” Gilchrist says. “The same with cats. People say cats can’t be together, but they can.”

As heartening as many of their rescues are, Gilchrist acknowledges that her life’s work is often wrenching.

“It’s not nice,” she says. What gets her through? “Curry and beer,” she jokes.

More seriously, she says photography and walks in the evenings with Charlie and her other dogs. And, of course, the progress she’s been a part of. During her time at the KSPCA, it has grown from three employees to today’s two dozen. “We have expanded a lot,” she says. “We’re doing a lot more work now.”

In recognition of her contributions, the queen of England in 2009 awarded Gilchrist an MBE, or Member of the British Empire.

“Completely out of my element,” she says of the Buckingham Palace ceremony.

That’s not to say that the award hasn’t been useful, especially with authorities. “When you’re writing letters to people and being official and you can write MBE, it does help.”

Jean Gilchrist with a rescued pig at the KSPCA

As for the KSPCA’s future, Gilchrist dreams of a fundraising committee that might generate reliable income for stronger education and investigative programs and some improvements at the shelter.

She also hopes to find someone to step into her shoes, as she knows she can’t work forever.

“We do our best with what we’ve got,” she says.

She also hopes to find someone to step into her shoes, as she knows she can’t work forever.

Although she’s never really wanted to leave Kenya, she sees Scotland as the prudent choice for retirement.

“I’ve still got enough energy, I think, to last another year.”

When Gilchrist does finally go, she knows this much: Her dogs will go with her.

“Everybody says I’m mad, but I can’t leave them behind,” she says.

“They’re family.”

Learn more about the KSPCA and support their work to protect animals.