Abu Dhabi: Eleven-year-old Lee Caplen was inspired to help start a friend's organisation to encourage the conservation of wild animals in the UAE after reading a Gulf News article about a two-year-old lioness.

'Roots recovers fast from operation' was a follow-up article on the lioness' condition after undergoing an eight-hour root canal surgery performed by a team of South African veterinarians, at the privately-owned Abu Dhabi Wildlife Centre (ADWC) last December.

The African lioness inspired the 11-year-old to dedicate a school project on wild animals and help encourage people volunteer in adopting the animals by performing on-site work, building, moving, raking, planting, painting and helping ADWC in any other way.

Conservation efforts

Lee, a South African, has been exposed to conservation areas for wild animals since she was a baby.

She has visited game reserves in South Africa with her family on several occasions.

"The minute I read about Roots' story in Gulf News I asked my mother to connect me to ADWC. I related to the wild animals in South Africa and was surprised to know that there are illegal wild animals being imported to the UAE. They can be adopted and saved, and that is my exact mission," said Lee.

Caplen is in grade 5 at Al Raha School and was asked to pick out a school project. She chose helping ADWC raise funds and spread the conservation message among friends who are interested in volunteering.

"My mission is to gather support in my local community for ADWC. The centre provides sanctuary for orphaned and sick animals and many of the wild cats are illegally smuggled in the country with no home for them. I want to encourage school children to be involved with the animals and start loving them," said the 11-year-old.

Ronel Smuts, manager, ADWC, said this is the first time a child has approached the centre. Smuts explained that the awareness drive was inspired by Gulf News coverage.

As a token of support and gratitude, Ronel donated 40 books to Lee - The Cheetah's Tale - in both Arabic and English to help her in her efforts towards wildlife awareness in her upcoming exhibition at school, which is due to take place from April 6 to 11.

Lee will stand alone at her booth in school exhibition, representing ADWC. Her plan is to market the centre among schools, businesses, concerned adults and other centres to spread the awareness.

Her next step will be to reach individuals through raffles and let them have their photos taken with one of the animals at ADWC.

She will also ask child volunteers to name the new animals who come to the centre.

Lee has designed her own website about the animals at ADWC - http://www.freewebs.com/adwcfriends/.

She has also designed stickers and three posters. One of them talks about Roots' missing teeth and being saved while another has the picture of a tiger saying: "I am in a small cage, who will help me". The third poster shows a a Cheetah saying "I'm an orphan, I'm scared, who will help me".

"The posters have been [put up] all over the school ... I'll have a new set of three large posters up during the exhibition," said Lee.

She has plans to try to stop illegal imports of wild animals with help from ADWC and help generate funds for the centre.

When she grows up, Lee wants to be a wildlife vet. She told Gulf News: "My aim will be to save [the wild animals in pain], regardless of the outcome. At least I will try."

Lilian Caplen, Lee's mother, said when Lee sees cruelty among animals in the streets she literally squeaks.

"I can't tolerate cruelty and when I see any child torturing a cat in the street I ask them what they would feel like had they had those stones thrown at them instead," Lee said.