Ian Somerhalder flies to the rescue for wildlife: 'It fuels me'

By Michael Killingsworth

When you hear Ian Somerhalder talk about wildlife, it’s easy to forget that he’s most famous for his work as an actor. The star – who returns to his day job as blood-thirsty Damon Salvatore on TV’s The Vampire Diaries this fall – is concerned, informed and passionate about the state of the planet, the plight of animals and the ways we can all make a difference. “Environmental and animal conservation protection is no joke,” says Ian, who in 2010 launched his eponymous foundation to put the spotlight on world problems and effect change. “It fuels me. It defines me.”

Which explains why Ian felt right at home earlier this month at the International Bird Rescue centre in San Pedro, Calif., where he spoke about the dangers that threaten wildlife and helped celebrate the nonprofit organization’s work caring for injured aquatic birds and its partnership with Dawn. (For nearly 40 years, the dish soap has been a key ingredient in the mission to save wildlife, particularly animals affected by oil spills.) “Dawn has helped save 75,000 animals [over the years]. That’s incredible. And you never think about it. Dish soap. Who knew? But it’s dish soap and a lot of passion and hard work from a lot people.”

Looking camera ready, the actor, who married actress and fellow animal lover Nikki Reed in April, toured the facility to get a firsthand look at some of the winged patients and thank dedicated volunteers for their hard work. “It’s actually really incredible to be here,” he said, acknowledging staff and graciously posing for photos with fans. “None of us would be here if this wasn’t a huge priority to us.”

On location, Ian spoke to Hello! about the work he supports before taking part in the highlight of the day – a beachside release of rehabilitated birds.

Ian releasing a rehabilitated pelican back into the wild. Photo: © Dawn

“Passion is passion. Compassion is compassion. Whether it’s working out a really intense scene or even attempting to solve some of the massive issues that we’re coming up against (from climate change to food shortages to droughts), you have to really throw yourself into them.”

“The cool thing about growing up in rural Louisiana is that I was exposed a great deal to marine animals. So many birds you can’t even imagine! When I was a kid, I used to sit in the back of our yard - which would freak my mother out because it was all bayou - and there were 25 pelicans on each side of me! Just hanging. I learned at a very young age… So I always understood the interconnected nature between people and animals, and obviously the environment they live in. This continued to shape my beliefs.”

“The tipping point was the gulf oil spill [in 2010]. That was gnarly. In my backyard. Every turned over piece of driftwood, every rock -- everything was covered in oil. It was the saddest thing. You could see these massive beautiful pelicans with their wings out because they were covered in oil. And you could almost hear them crying. I lost it. Because when you watch the part of earth that you call home succumb to widescale man-made devastation, you get inspired quickly. I got inspired to use my platform to create immediate global change. I started the Ian Somerhalder Foundation to raise awareness of animal/environmental issues, but then to raise funds and mobilize people into action.”

Ian and Nikki attended the CMT Music Awards in June. Photo: © Getty Images

“We’re building a school in Louisiana that’s a refuge, an animal sanctuary, a place of adoption. It’s also an early-youth development centre. Because you can teach critical thinking, but the three things you can’t teach are reverence, gratitude and compassion. You have to show it. It’s experiential learning.”

“I’ve spent so much time in Canada. I love it. Vancouver, Alberta... I’ve been to Toronto a million times for everything from publicity to birthday parties, to visiting friends and sets of films. Canada as a whole is really an amazing country. I have so much gratitude for not only the way that the country is governed, but the people... It’s a very holistic country. There’s a lot of things, a lot of decisions that are made there based on holistic views. It’s empowering to see.”

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