The story of John Walsh


Thanks to you, our disaster response team are always ready to deploy when needed, to help the animal victims of natural disasters.

Our disaster response work began in 1964 with John Walsh, and his first rescue expedition. Operation Gwamba (which means jungle animal) was the result of a man-made disaster, when the construction of a dam in Suriname caused rapidly rising water levels.

Entire islands and roughly 560 miles of tropical rainforest were submerged. Local people were able to evacuate -- but animals were left behind. The Suriname Government contacted World Animal Protection, then known as the International Society for the Protection of Animals. John, a trained animal protection officer, sprang into action.

John bravely agreed to spearhead rescue efforts for animals. He assembled local teams to assist with rescues and went to work, assessing the various obstacles and devising strategies to overcome them.

Over 18 months nearly 10,000 animals were saved – including deer, monkeys, armadillos, tortoises, sloths, anteaters, opossums, giant snakes, kinkajous, tapirs, ocelots, and dozens of other species. 

John says “One of our rules of thumb in picking projects in those days was doing the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of animals for the longest period of time.” That spirit drives our rescue work to this day.

John worked for World Animal Protection for 45 years and spent his entire career helping animals. He waded into flood waters to rescue stranded sloths and fearlessly trekked to war zones to provide food for abandoned zoo animals. He was there to end animal cruelty and suffering wherever he could. 

Take a look at some of the wonderful images of John’s life and work, and of our history.