Life & Style | People

Three women leading extraordinary lives

Anaesthetising lionesses, performing dangerous car stunts, waking up at 4am to give 90 children a bath... Samantha Dobson speaks to three women living extraordinary lives who say it’s all in a day’s work

  • By Samantha Dobson, Aquarius magazine
  • Published: 16:19 January 7, 2013
  • Aquarius

Anne-Lisa Chaber
  • Image Credit: Supplied picture
  • French expat Anne-Lisa Chaber is a wildlife vet based in Al Ain.
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“Life is an adventure”

French expat Anne-Lise Chaber, 30, is a wildlife vet based in Al Ain. Despite the odd brush with danger, she says that she loves her work and doesn’t mind getting her hands dirty.

“I’ve always wanted to be a vet; not so much to care for cats and dogs, but to focus on animals in the wild. From the age of four, my bedroom walls were plastered in animal pictures and I was always glued to Jacques Cousteau documentaries. I was brought up being active; our family holidays were always outdoors and nature orientated, instilling in me a life-long love of hiking, climbing, diving and horse riding.
 
“At 13, I went to a military boarding school on the outskirts of Paris, where I learned the importance of self-discipline and hard work. I also learned that gender is not a limitation.

“I completed my veterinary degree in Belgium, where I met my husband Louis, who is also a vet. We moved to the UK when I was 24, where I became a research associate for the Zoological Society of London. In 2007, a job came up with the Botswana Predator Conservation Trust and Louis and I lived in the Okavango Delta.

“Specialising in wildlife capture and anaesthesia, I worked mostly nights when the big cats were hunting. I travelled mainly on foot, with only my dart rifle and a local tracker. We darted the animals, took samples and collared them with a GPS monitor. For safety reasons, we had spotters with us when we worked, who saved my life on more than one occasion. I recall one night while I was collecting samples from a female hyena I had just darted when our spotter shouted, ‘Lion, 15 metres!’ I was so focused, I misheard the 15 for 50. The shouts became more urgent until I realised I was being charged. To this day, I don’t know where I got the strength from, but I lifted that 45kg hyena and threw her and myself into the safety of our nearby jeep.

“During this period, my husband and I travelled through Africa and beyond. My first introduction to the Middle East was a two-month internship with the Falcon Hospital in Dubai. I loved the region and the wildlife. When my Okavango research project finished, I applied and was accepted as wildlife vet at the Al Ain Zoo.

“We moved to the UAE in 2009, and became parents when our son Adrien was born in October 2011. I have since set up my own wildlife consultancy service. There are many rare and endangered species in this region to preserve, such as the Arabian leopard, which is endangered to the point that it is not in the wild anymore, and others that are critically endangered, such as the tahr (a type of wild goat) and the Arabian caracal. It is really important to save them, and
there is so much to be learned from them.

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 “I love my work – there is no routine and no two days are ever the same. One day I may be in the wadis surrounding Fujairah monitoring diseases in indigenous toads for WWF, the next I may be tagging sharks off the Abu Dhabi coast. I work closely with the UAE customs department identifying bush meat to stop trafficking from Western and Central Africa. I also often speak at local universities to raise awareness for animal welfare and conservation.

“As for juggling my work and motherhood, my husband and I are lucky in that we are able to share the childcare. When I am doing safe surveying, or research work here in the UAE, I can often take Adrien with me. But we wouldn’t take him on trips that require any physical contact with animals. In fact, if we were going to Africa, we would leave him behind, because a baby’s cry is like a magnet for predators and it would be very dangerous for him.

“In this industry, being a woman can be challenging at times – mainly because I specialise in large animals and people seem to confuse technical skills with strength. I sometimes feel I need to over-prove myself in knowledge to be seen as equal, which can be frustrating. That’s really the only issue though. Even though I travel to some remote places, I never feel isolated – my husband often accompanies me and, if Adrien can’t come, my mother is on hand to care for him. There are so many rare and endangered species in the region, but conservation efforts are rapidly making a big impact. It’s a great time to be working in wildlife here and it’s so exciting to be part of it.”
For more on Anne-Lise’s services, visit www.wildlifeconsultant.org.


“Being a woman never stopped me doing anything”

A Schumacher in heels, Scot Alix Capper-Murdoch lives life at full throttle. Pit-lane commentator, Dubai Autodrome’s first (and only) female racing instructor, stunt driver, radio presenter and part-time DJ, Alix’s eclectic career profiles a woman driven by passion.

“My first love was Second World War aircrafts, so at 15, I joined the Royal Air Force. While in the RAF, I discovered my true calling – driving. If it had a wheel, I wanted a licence to drive it, whether it was a motorbike or an articulated lorry.

“At 20, I left the armed forces to start a degree in media studies. A year in, I was offered a job as assistant producer at a local radio station. I bought my first motorbike and spent my spare time racing it at our local circuit. I was soon hired as a pit-lane commentator, becoming the only female in Scotland to do so. By 22, I was working seven days a week – by day at the track and by night as a DJ at our local nightclub. People would turn up at the club with car problems and I’d go out in my heels to fix them.

“I came to Dubai in 2004 to check out the new Dubai Autodrome and never left. It’s a world-class facility and I was so excited by its potential. When the race school opened, I joined as a motor racing instructor. Soon after, I became the motorsport specialist on Dubai Eye 103.8 and Radio 2, and started to commentate for national motorsports events, such as the Dubai Desert Rally.

“I was a television pit-lane commentator for the inaugural Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in 2009 and have been involved ever since. I’ve also done stunt and precision driving for local productions – I’ve smashed up cars for adverts, music videos and movies. Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to test many of the best road and race cars. I love pure driving even more than I love competitive racing.

“Motorsports can be a macho industry and as a woman, it isn’t always easy. I learnt early on that you have to work extra hard to prove yourself, but once you do, you shine. On the other hand, most of my closest friends are motorsports guys, so I often get to work with my best friends. The boys laugh when they realise I have more licences than them and they praise me when I do well, but I have to put up with a lot of mocking if I do something wrong. I haven’t really slipped up yet, but they all have.

“My days can be very long and if I’m DJing it can be dawn by the time I finally reach home. I flop on the couch with my two cats, Aston and Bugatti, and watch TV with the volume off. I stare at the pictures and try to silence the high-decibel music of the dance floor and the adrenaline-pumping sessions on the track. It’s the stillness I crave.

“Most people are supportive. I have no issue with being out of the ordinary; it’s the way I’ve always been.  I needn’t be singled out because of my gender, or even
my achievements. Motorsport is simply what I love.”

“I have 90 children in my care”

Dr Lina Owies, manager of the non-profit special needs residential care home, Senses, is more than a carer, she is a live-in mother for 90 severely disabled children.

“Jordanian born and now a Canadian national, I spent my childhood in Saudi Arabia, where anyone with special needs was hidden away in shame. The rare times I came across a disabled child, I recall not being struck so much by the child as saddened by the despair of the parents. My fascination became my career calling.

“I got married at 18 and by the time I was 23, I had three beautiful daughters. All the while I studied and eventually graduated from the University of Jordan with a double degree in education development assessment. As part of my doctorate, I built a standardised scale to diagnose autism, which is now widely used in the Arab world.

 “As soon as my girls were old enough, we travelled as volunteers. We helped out at special needs centres in more than 24 cities across the Gulf, Canada and Europe. It was on one of these trips to Dubai in 2003 that I met Emirati, Nadia Khalil Al Sayegh, who had taken in several severely disabled, abandoned children. I started volunteering at her centre. In January 2006, my research was over and I moved with my family to Dubai to volunteer full-time at Senses. By the end of the year, I was a member of staff.

“During that year, there was one night when I decided to stay over and sleep at the centre. One little boy was very upset about something, it was already late – past 11pm – and I used to get up at 4am to get all the children ready for breakfast at 6am anyway, so I decided to just stay. After that, I just kept on staying – it was easier and it made me happy to be there for the children if they needed me in the night.
“At first, I used to go home on Thursday evenings and come back on Friday evenings. But eventually, I would go home on Thursday and come back Thursday night to sleep. My daughter, who was grown up by then, said, ‘Stay at home and rest.’ But I said, ‘No, I feel lonely when I’m away from the children. And I like my hugs from them in the morning.’

“In 2010, His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, gave us the building in Umm Suqeim, where we have 90 residents, aged from three to 34 years old. Seven of these were abandoned, 21 orphaned and all are severely disabled. A further 280 are on our waiting list. We have the space for more, but we don’t have the money to pay for them.
“I have a beautiful family home in Dubai, but it lies empty. My husband is in Saudi, my daughters have all grown up – one is still living here in Dubai and she has a baby daughter. I see them often, but my family understands and respects my choice to be where I’m most needed – here with these children.
 “Through tireless fund-raising, we now have a support staff of 67 – nurses, occupational therapists, physiotherapists and teachers. Despite the help, I still prefer to stay close. I sleep next to them, care for them when they are sick, comfort, reassure and understand them. It’s a responsibility that never goes away. It isn’t possible for me to switch off.

“There have been very stressful times; moments where I thought I couldn’t go on. But these kids never asked to be born; it’s not their fault they are this way. Most are in wheelchairs, but still their eyes light up when they hear my voice. We watch TV, tidy up and read books. They deserve dignity and unconditional love like the rest of us. This is not a centre, this is their home. They need me, I need them and this is my home, too.”

For details of how to donate to Senses, find them on Facebook.

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