Each word hits me with a dull thud, a simple nine-word phrase that starts me sighing in exasperation: “But what does it have to do with me?”
With wildlife conservation, I understand where these nine words come from. If you’re not already a self-identified “animal person,” you might not see the relevance of conservation in your life. It can feel removed from your day-to-day existence, a topic as exotic as wildlife itself. But wildlife conservation is so much bigger than either wildlife or conservation. It extends beyond animal issues or ecological issues. It’s a catalyst for addressing interrelated social, political, and economic problems—from reducing poverty to addressing climate change to educating children to hindering criminal syndicates. It has everything to do with you, with all of us. The deep, categorical importance and relevance of protecting wildlife drives our work at the Wildlife Conservation Network (WCN). Indeed, we have 17 partners who have smart, effective approaches to saving endangered species and make an impact that extends far beyond the animals they protect.
WCN isn’t your typical conservation organization. We don’t lobby or change policy. We aren’t a staff of biologists and ecologists. We’re not loud in our advocacy. But we have a hard-hitting, unique model that works. You can think of us as wildlife’s venture capitalists. We find the entrepreneurial individuals on the front lines of conservation that don’t have the support of a large organization, and we invest in them. Providing the funding, services, and training conservationists need to run their programs ensures their efforts to save wildlife are successful. Our network includes not only our staff and conservationists, but also passionate, committed donors who help make endangered species protection possible. Together, we foster a culture of generosity, often helping organizations outside of our network implement innovative ideas that protect endangered animals. There’s no ego here. We simply support the best work possible to keep our planet rich in wildlife. Through these efforts, we’re able to achieve so much more.
What venture capitalists look for above all else is a return on their investment, which conservation provides in abundance. Protecting penguins, for example, requires addressing climate change, arguably the biggest global threat of our time. Wildlife crime (including the ivory trade driving elephant poaching) is perpetuated by the same criminals that illegally traffic women, children, drugs, and guns—weapons that have been linked to armed terror groups. Putting an end to poaching and the trafficking and demand for elephant tusks can curb the political instability that illegal contraband fuels. Protecting any flagship species such as snow leopards, Grevy’s zebra, or sharks also protects the mountains, grasslands, and oceans in which they live and the countless species that share their habitat. As wildlife populations thrive, so do the local businesses that rely on eco-tourism. Healthy wildlife creates healthy economies. Conservationists work closely with local communities to improve their quality of life, because reducing poverty and increasing food security allows people to survive without poaching or destroying habitats.
To build a culture of conservation in future generations, conservationists invest in local children, providing them with education and opportunities otherwise unavailable. Wildlife protection even helps create the air you are breathing right now. Many wildlife species disperse seeds which grow the forests that act as our planet’s lungs, pumping out oxygen and absorbing carbon dioxide. Just by protecting endangered species, you can help a community emerge from poverty, create new jobs, send kids to school, find solutions to the effects of climate change, thwart criminals, cultivate oxygen-producing forests, and ensure the survival of thousands of species of animals, birds, fish, and plants. There is a tremendous ripple effect in conservation. The returns pour in.
It’s true that there are untold socio-economic advantages inherent in conservation, but let’s not forget the obvious: Protecting wildlife is important for wildlife. These animals have as much stake in this world and as much right to exist as we do. In truth, this planet has been theirs longer than it has been ours. Many wildlife species have existed since before humans lit their first fire. The now-endangered saiga antelope once lived alongside the woolly mammoth. Sharks and rays have swum the oceans for over 400 million years. Wildlife are the living embodiment of our planet’s history, making conservationists the protectors of our past as well as our future.
And what about that future? What would it look like without wildlife? Though many of us won’t directly encounter the iconic species that WCN protects, our future depends on animals like elephants and bears, big cats, and wild dogs. We can’t survive without them, and even if we could, it would be a pretty bleak world. For millennia, these magnificent creatures have inspired the prose we’ve canonized and the paintings that adorn our most prominent museums. They are the source of countless treasured stories and the spark that has ignited our spirit of adventure. A future without them would be nothing short of tragic.
So, if you want to truly change the world, look no further than conservation. When you become a champion for wildlife, you create a healthier, more prosperous, and just world for everyone—including you.
The above article—written by WCN Marketing and Communications Manager Stephanie Carnow—appeared in the most recent issue of Wildlife Photographic, an interactive digital magazine published for Apples Newsstand. The magazine is available for subscription through Google Play and iTunes/Apple App Store. You can also read the pdf version of the story here.