From the concrete jungles of Seventh Avenue to the steamy jungles of the Amazon, Wendy Stuart Kaplan, the Model With a Mission, is determined to take you off your living room couch to join her as she travels the world, exploring cultures so different yet so similar to ours, meeting all kinds of exotic animals and sharing her experiences, all in the spirit of giving back.
Adventure travel and EcoTourism is big business and makes a hugh financial difference in developing countries around the world. “For me, I’d rather go on a camel safari, work in an Amazonian monkey rescue center or take care of abandoned elephants in Thailand sooner than lying on a beach drinking Pina Colodas in the Caribbean,” explains Kaplan. In addition to her own experiences, she shares stories of local pioneers making a hugh difference in the world.
Why did Kaplan become a Model With A Mission?
As an anthropology major who didn’t get into veterinary school, she always felt it was her mission to make a difference in the world, but how? Kaplan had this idea that there was nothing stopping her from going anywhere she wanted to go in the world, as long as she had a plane ticket and a guide.
“A few years ago I was trolling the internet at 2:00 a.m. and I put in Indian Guides Peru, and this site comes up with this guy that runs amazing South American trips where he can get you into the ‘meat’ of the culture or the wildlife, just tell him what you want to do,” she explains excitedly. “I wanted to meet Indians in the Amazon still living traditionally, as well as individuals with their own personal zoos, taking care of wildlife, when the parents had been poached and killed or sold into illegal animal trade. I found people you would never read about doing what they could to save the environment.”
These pioneers are everywhere, from a rescue sanctuary in Amazonian Ecuador called AmaZOOnico, where local wildlife such as Howler and Woolley monkeys are rehabilitated and released – or kept if they have health issues and could never survive in the wild. There is Elephantstay in Thailand, a volunteer program run by two Australian women where Kaplan was able to take care of elephants who are no longer needed for logging and have an uncertain future. Where do they go? What will they eat? How do you keep them from ransacking villages or killing the people in them?
These women take care of more than 80 elephants and babies, and rely on volunteers to help. “When you help, you are helping the economies of the surrounding villages, by the small amounts of money you give as a volunteer, the food you buy and the tips you give to the elephant mahouts that show you how to ride and care for these majestic creatures,” Kaplan emphasizes. Even now the elephants are not out of peril, with Elephantstay temporarily closed due to the flood situation in Ayutthaya. The program has been canceled until December 18th, 2011.
From the glamour of New York City modeling to the jungles of the world
Kaplan’s “real” job is working as a model in New York City, doing fittings for designers so that everything they make is the industry standard, which is an eight. “From my comments they make things larger or smaller but designed to fit most people. I also am the face that sells business products, pharmaceuticals, hand cream, anything that will improve your lifestyle. I represent women in their 30s to 50s that have too much to do and too little time to do it with,” adds Kaplan.
The Model With a Mission is a “family affair.” Kaplan travels worldwide, capturing it all on video which she shares on Youtube, with her daughter who is in college and assists in videography and direction, and her husband who handles the shooting.
For Kaplan, the glamorous life of a top New York City model was fun and rewarding, but it just couldn’t fulfill her passionate desire to make a difference in the world for people and animals struggling for a better life.