It was a love for lions and the fear of their extinction in the wild that sparked Heather Mycoskie's brainchild, The TOMS Animal Initiative. Wife of TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie, Heather created the initiative, which partners with nonprofit animal conservation organisations, to help raise awareness and funds for the protection of wild animals. In combined efforts with National Geographic's Big Cats Initiative, TOMS launched its Big Cats Collection to draw critical attention to the dwindling big cat population worldwide. Mycoskie recently took her conservation efforts to Botswana with National Geographic's Big Cats Initiative, where she was able to get up close and personal with some of the majestic creatures she has been dedicating her time and effort into saving.
SUITCASE MAGAZINE: You've worked with the Virunga National Park, World Wildlife Fund and Wildlife Conservation Society, among others. Why did you choose to partner with National Geographic's Big Cats Initiative for the Big Cats Collection?
HEATHER MYCOSKIE: I built The TOMS Animal Initiative as an overarching platform to drive awareness for global animal conservation. We work with organisations that are doing innovative and amazing work to help endangered species. By highlighting these programs through the animal initiative we are able to bring all types of issues to the forefront. By aligning with the right partners, like National Geographic, we are making a significant step in helping to protect big cats.
SM: What part of your journey to Botwsana to meet National Geographic Explorers-in-Residence and big cat conservationists, Beverly and Dereck Joubert, made the biggest impact on you?
HM: I had the honour of fulfilling a lifelong dream of travelling to Botswana to meet Beverly and Dereck. Through my research for the Big Cats Collection I became infatuated with the work the Jouberts had accomplished to help save and protect big cats. It was truly an honour to experience first-hand the work that National Geographic and the Jouberts are doing.
SM: Why is helping animals important to you?
HM: It breaks my heart to think that animals I have known and loved all of my life will be a dying species as my son grows up. I have always had a passion for animals, but as a community we can bring attention to the threats endangered animals face and help ensure these creatures roam the earth for generations to come.
SM: Your favourite big cat?
HM: I was actually inspired to start the Big Cat Collection when I learned just how at risk lions are of becoming extinct. I'm so glad we were able to extend the collection to include other big cats, but lions hold a special place in my heart.
SM: Any scary moments?
HM: Not necessarily scary moments, but I did have some moments of deep reverence for the lions we saw in the wild. These animals truly are magnificent and witnessing them in their element, on the hunt, is something I can never forget.
SM: How will purchasing a pair of these TOMS Big Cats Collection shoes, eyewear and bags help save big cats?
HM: This limited edition TOMS + National Geographic Big Cats Collection supports National Geographic's critical non-profit work, including the Big Cats Initiative. Big Cats in the wild are disappearing at an alarming rate and this collection draws attention to the critical need to protect these majestic creatures for generations to come.
SM: What's next for The TOMS Animal Initiative?
HM: Each organisation brings expertise in their own field. By working together we are able to talk to all of our supporters collectively to bring awareness to a cause in a way that we have not been able to do in the past. Our next partnership is with Oceana, protecting Sea Turtles, and will launch in Spring 2016.
Introduction by Kate Radin