Former SeaWorld Ambassador Works To Save Animals You’ve Never Heard Of


During her many years as Director of Animal Ambassador Programs for SeaWorld and Busch Gardens, Julie Scardina was the favorite guest on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” and “Today”. The energetic animal lover has brought adorable baby penguins, a baby gibbon wrapped in a blanket and a free-flying scarlet ibis to millions of homes across America.

For her second act, she wants to put pangolins on your radar. Also painted dogs, Grévy’s zebras and bonobos.

Scardina is the co-founder and president of Mission Wildlife, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting and conserving species through fundraising and education. And in the case of a species under the radar like the ant-eating pangolin, the organization wants to raise awareness about animals that might go extinct before many people even know they were here.

It’s hard work, and Scardina was born to do it.

“When I was young, I remember having a picture book of all these different animals, and it was horny and ripped because I was always flipping through it,” said Scardina, who started working at SeaWorld San Diego in as a coach in 1977, when she was 19. She retired in 2016.

“I just can’t remember a time when it wasn’t my main focus to be outside and be around animals, and that has never changed. It only got stronger as I got older.

Mission Wildlife was born in 2013, when Scardina organized a trip to Uganda and Kenya for herself and some colleagues from SeaWorld, including Heather Armentrout and Julie Byford. While there, the trio met with representatives from several animal conservation groups. When the three animal lovers returned to San Diego, they decided to turn their passion into action. Armentrout is now the organization’s treasurer, and Byford is its secretary.

“We were supporting all of these wonderful people through larger organizations, but we wanted to do something personally for them,” said Scardina. “After visiting these places in person, being part of that environment and realizing that you can make a difference by taking action, that’s when we really said, ‘We have to do it’. “

The all-volunteer Wildlife Mission hosted its first fundraising event in 2014. It attracted around 50 participants and raised $ 4000 for Save the Elephants and Ewaso Lions. So far, the organization has distributed $ 200,000 to a handful of beneficiaries, including Grevy’s Zebra Trust, Lola ya Bonobo and the Cheetah Conservation Fund.

The main beneficiaries of this year’s fundraiser are Save Pangolins and Painted Dog Conservation, and if you’re unsure of what a painted dog looks like or what a pangolin might be, Mission Wildlife will help you. help them.

Painted dogs are wild dogs that can only be found in Africa. Snares, traffic accidents and shootings have reduced the continent’s painted dog population to less than 7,000. Painted Dog Conservation in Zimbabwe is home to around 700.

Pangolins are like what would happen if you crossed an anteater with an artichoke, but their future is no joke. Pangolins are killed and trafficked for their meat and scales, which are used in traditional Asian medicine. Four of the eight species of pangolins are on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s list of critically endangered species.

“These animals have been around for about 70 million years, and the only reason they could go extinct is if humans consume them to death and poach them until they become extinct,” said Paul Thomson, co-founder and executive director by Save Pangolins.

“When an organization like Mission Wildlife comes in and gives us a platform and connects us with donors and people who want to support us, it gives us a huge boost. Education and awareness are so important. I always say you can’t save something if you don’t know it exists.

Thomson will be attending Mission Wildlife’s fundraiser, as will Painted Dog Conservation Director of Operations David Kuvawoga. In addition to chatting with the experts, attendees can interact with bird and animal ambassadors, bid on silent auction items, watch a painting performance by Stephen Fishwick, and watch a wildlife show.

And as they enjoy their day with the animals, Mission Wildlife supporters can be part of a larger, more optimistic picture. For pangolins, painted dogs and the planet.

Just a few decades ago, the American alligator and bald eagle were in danger of extinction. Thanks to protections put in place by the Endangered Species Act, both are off the endangered species list. It is a story of animals that Julie Scardina never tires of telling.

“These are two great successes that I don’t want people to forget. It is not impossible. We can’t give up just because an animal is in serious decline, ”said Scardina. “We had to be careful and we had to protect them and their environment for them to be successful. That’s what we’re trying to help these organizations accomplish.

For more information and to book Mission Wildlife fundraising events, visit

Karla Peterson is a columnist for The San Diego Union-Tribune.

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