Many people want to help wildlife, but aren’t quite sure how to go about it.The numbers are daunting. There are over 11,000 endangered animal species in the world today, and many others in decline due to threats such as habitat loss and overhunting. A recent study found that 1 in 4 mammal species is threatened with extinction, and 1 in 2 is experiencing population declines.
Fortunately, there are many easy ways to help wildlife, both locally and around the world.
- Don’t disturb. Respect wildlife and don’t harass wild animals in their natural setting. Also be very wary of “rescuing” any baby animals. Parents are often nearby watching, and human interference may cause them to abandon their offspring. If you do find a baby or adult creature in genuine need of rescue, call your local humane society or animal rescue group for advice about dealing with it, or visit the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council’s emergency resource page.
- Don’t litter. Improperly discarded trash is not only unattractive, it also kills wildlife. Rodents or insects may crawl into a discarded can looking for an easy meal and become trapped, birds can get plastic six-pack holders or string caught around their beaks or throats, sea animals can mistake plastic bags for tasty jellyfish. Even better, pick up other people’s litter whenever possible.
- Don’t purchase clothing or other products made from animal skins. Although many such products are produced by animals raised in farms (often under horrible conditions), others are illegally poached from the wild. The same is often true of exotic pets, especially birds, reptiles, amphibians, and monkeys.
- Recycle. Logging and mining destroy habitat for animals. By recycling, you reduce the need for new logging operations and mines.
Garden for Wildlife
Just about everybody knows that whales and wolves and elephants are endangered, but many people are unaware that they might have threatened or endangered animals right in their own neighborhood.
One of the very best things you can do to help wildlife is to start a garden, and not just any garden: a wildlife garden.
Here are some rips for creating a great wildlife habitat in your own backyard:
- Plant a diverse mix of native trees, shrubs, wildflowers, and grasses. Diversity attracts diversity, and native wildlife, especially butterflies, are more likely to be attracted to plants native to your region. There are many, many excellent native plant resources on the web; a good general starting point is Wild Ones.
- Provide the three basics: food, water, and shelter. You can do this the artificial (and expensive) way with feeders, houses, and baths, but the easy way is to let your plants do the work for you. Choose plants that provide berries, seeds, and nectar, plant windbreaks and turn your fallen branches into a brush pile, make a water feature, or let large leafed plants pool rainwater after summer storms. For more ideas, visit the National Wildlife Federation’s Garden for Wildlife program.
- Go organic. Chemical pesticides and fertilizers kill or harm the very creatures you are trying to help. For more info, check out OrganicGardening.com.
If you don’t have a backyard or you want to help even more, work on improving wildlife habitat in parks, schoolyards, and other public spaces in your community. One easy way to start is to start a tree planting drive. Many schools are starting organic gardens, which are not only useful for biology teachers, but also a great way to help wildlife and grow vegetables for school lunches.
Choosing a Wildlife Conservation Organization
In many areas, nonprofit organizations are at the very forefront of wildlife conservation. When deciding whether to lend your time, money, or support to an organization, it’s important to consider your interests. For example, if you’re mainly interested in saving the whales, donating your money to a general organization might not be the most effective way to support whale conservation. Likewise, if you are interested in wildlife conservation in general, donating to an organization that works on saving the whales probably isn’t the best choice for you.
Also remember that many conservation organizations that do not specifically focus on wildlife conservation nevertheless benefit it. For example, the Nature Conservancy buys land to preserve, protecting habitat for thousands of species around the world in the process. Other organizations, such as the Rainforest Action Network or the Blue Ocean Institute, focus on preserving specific habitats, and the animals that call them home.
Another thing to consider is how you’re interested in helping, and how hands-on you yourself want to be. Many wildlife conservation organizations focus on direct habitat conservation, while others focus on legislative action and still others (including many zoos) emphasize scientific research and breeding/rehabilitation programs. Large organizations might be happy to take your money and use their own employees to do the actual work of conservation, while many smaller organizations are in desperate need of volunteers.
Finally, be sure to do some research into the organization before donating, to make sure it’s legitimate. A good starting point is Charity Navigator.
The following is a list (by no means comprehensive) of some interesting wildlife conservation organizations:
- World Wildlife Fund (general)
- Defenders of Wildlife (general)
- National Wildlife Federation (general)
- Wildlife Conservation Society (general)
- National Fish and Wildlife Federation (general)
- Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (marine wildlife)
- Audubon Society (birds)
- Vital Ground (grizzlies)
- Prairie Wildlife Research (prairie species)
- Xerces Society (invertebrates)
- Boone and Crockett Club (game animals)
- Amphibian Conservation Alliance (amphibians)
- International Crane Foundation (cranes)
- Ducks Unlimited (ducks)
- Jane Goodall Institute (chimpanzees)
- African Wildlife Foundation (African wildlife)
- Diane Fossey Gorilla Fund (gorillas)
- North American Bluebird Society (bluebirds)
- Keystone Conservation (predators)
- The Cougar Fund (cougars)
- Save the Manatees Club (manatees)
- Sea Turtle Restoration Project (sea turtles)
- Buffalo Field Campaign (bison)
- Bat Conservation International (bats)
More Ways To Help
- Keep your pets under control. Dogs and cats kill millions of wild creatures every year. Keep your dogs leashed or confined in a fenced yard when outside. Put a belled collar on your cat, or better yet, keep him or her inside. Declawing does not significantly affect a cat’s ability to hunt. Minimizing your pets’ contact with wild creatures also decreases their chances of catching many diseases and parasites, including rabies, and prevents your pets from passing their diseases to wild creatures as well. Canine distemper is a significant risk for wolf pups and endangered black footed ferrets, for example.
- Support sustainable agriculture. Organic farms promote healthy ecosystems in a variety of ways. Chemical pesticides kill both harmful and beneficial insects, while organic agriculture encourages healthy populations of beneficial insects, birds, and other predators. Conventional agriculture also destroys wildlife habitat in many regions. In the tropics, millions of acres of rainforest have been burned or logged to create coffee, palm oil, and cattle plantations. Purchasing shade-grown coffee, locally raised, grass-fed meat, and sustainably grown palm oil products can make a significant difference to the survival of many species, including orangutans, migratory birds, and many others. Schools can take part in farm-to-school programs, which bring fresh, local, organic produce in for school lunches, while individuals can visit farmer’s markets, organic groceries, and CSA farms.
- Stay informed and educate others!
Careers for Wildlife
If you want to make a career out of helping wildlife, there are many options and paths you can take. Here is a sampling:
- Wildlife biologist
- Conservation biologist
- Environmental lawyer
- Wildlife rehabilitator
- Wildlife officer
- Game warden
- Environmental educator
- Marine biologist
- Wildlife photographer
Many other jobs might also involve working with wildlife to one degree or another:
- Range manager
- Park ranger
- Fisheries manager
- Organic farmer
- Environmental scientist
- Research veterinarian
- Natural resources manager
- Animal control officer
- Ecotourism guide