Those who watched television in the 1990s will know there was only one “medicine woman” and that is the British actor Jane Seymour, who as Dr Quinn healed the sick in a backwater Colorado town.
Now, however, she is attempting to treat the real-life sickness that risks being inflicted on the world by the rampant illegal wildlife trade and the ill-treatment of animals.
Over the last year, the 70-year-old actress has been working with conservation charity Freeland to raise awareness on their co-led campaign dubbed “Endpandemics”.
The campaign aims to reduce the risk of future pandemics by protecting and regenerating nature as well as implementing sustainable solutions.
It is also why she has now joined The Independent’s Stop the Illegal Wildlife Trade campaign in demanding that syndicates stop poaching, smuggling and consuming wildlife.
“I think it’s incredibly important for people to realise that whether you think Covid came from a laboratory, or wherever it is, it clearly came from animals. It is from human beings encroaching on animal space,” she tells The Independent.
And now her belief is that the most “important thing” for everyone to do is “to try to stop this illegal wildlife trafficking, and find a way for farmers to do sustainable farming.”
Speaking on Zoom from her home in California, Seymour tells me she came down with the virus at the start of last year – although she was not tested.
The effect was milder than most, she reassures, but nevertheless there were periods when she was shaking and had flu like symptoms.
She believes she contracted the virus while in Spain working on her latest film, which is yet to be announced.
Seymour was in Madrid at the start of 2020 when the virus first started to spread across Europe. Realising the risk, she tells me, she told her producers: “I shouldn’t be here, I should get out of here.
“And the day after I left Madrid, they closed down the whole country.”
It was, she knows, a lucky escape, one that meant she avoided being locked down in a foreign country miles away from her partner and children, who lived with her during the pandemic as part of her bubble.
In the following months, as lockdowns closed California as they did much of the rest of the world, it made her realise the work she had already been doing on stopping the illegal wildlife trade was now even more urgent as the consequences of our present relationship with nature was played out minute-by-minute on the 24-hour rolling news channels.
“All our school children around the world have had to stay home,” she says, “and all they see on TV is how many people are dead.
“Plus, they probably know people in their own families who have either died or been severely affected by Covid. No one’s come out unscathed.”
It is why she is insistent that people get vaccinated against the virus to help stop its spread.
Seymour, who has already received both her jabs, says: “I had a little dinner with a friend of mine last night, and another famous actor who just spoke to me on the phone this morning about something, and they’re all refusing the vaccine.
“And I’m going ‘why!’ I mean, I couldn’t wait to get my vaccine and I think it’s incredibly important. I think it’s really important for the community at large because it’s not just about protecting yourself, it’s about protecting other people.”
Her interest in wildlife causes began almost by accident. The actor started her own charity, the Open Hearts Foundation, 10 years ago to support and encourage emerging and growing non-profit organisations.
In 2019 this led her to be invited to a climate change conference in Aspen, Colorado, where she was joined a panel of campaigners, who were then asked to team up and raise awareness for different organisations.
“So I was put in the group with wildlife and animals and I just thought, well, that’s not normally where I end up. I’m usually somewhere near human trafficking, foster kids, or water,” she says.
But another organisation at the event was the Asia-based anti-wildlife trade charity Freeland, which along with the African conservation charity Space for Giants has partnered with The Independent on its Stop the Illegal Wildlife Trade campaign.
Through Freeland, she learned about wildlife trafficking and became determined to provide her support, she explains, adding that she is keen to do all she can to help avoid a future pandemic.
The possibility that the virus started from a laboratory leak is “extremely unlikely” and the closest relative of the virus that causes Covid-19 has been found in bats, according to a study conducted by the World Health Organisation alongside China.
In April last year, Freeland and 72 other organisations launched the Endpandemics campaign. Having already reached almost 2 million people on social media the campaign, supported by The Independent, is aiming in the coming months to release a pandemic roadmap translated into many languages.
It will be used to brief lawmakers, heads of state, corporate CEOs, and civil society organisations on steps to take to prevent another disastrous zoonotic outbreak.
Steve Galster, Freeland’s founder, says Seymour’s support is crucial in getting their message across to the public.
“After she appeared in our campaign launch in April last year and then voiced over our CNN spot months later, our campaign membership went from 10 organisations to 72,” he says. “We have to treat the root causes of pandemics by changing our relationship with nature,” he added.
With her daughter, Katherine Flynn, a fellow actor and producer who has acted alongside her mother, Seymour is now developing an app, currently dubbed the Young Hearts.
It will seek to link members of the public with organisations working hard to stop the illegal wildlife trade and future pandemics.
“The whole idea of the app is to connect volunteers with organisations that want volunteers, rather like a dating app,” she says.
Despite being busy preparing for a role in upcoming Irish film Harry Wild, Seymour is insistent she will remain an active part of the initiative, and thanked The Independent for its commitment to wildlife causes.
People, she stresses, need to know “how the virus is transmitted, where it came from, and why and how it can come again. I’m no doubt going to be continuing to work on it and I’m so glad you guys are too. I’m very proud to be part of the team”.
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