Have you heard about the Buddhist temple in Thailand where wildlife authorities discovered 40 dead tiger cubs in a freezer earlier this month? They were able to rescue 137 living tigers which had been kept in cages for tourists to pose alongside. Their’s is just one of many similar stories where wildlife is caught, kept, or killed at the whim of humanity. I don’t want to be too big of a downer – animals can be our greatest source of joy, after all – but I do want to share the plights of a few of our four- and two-legged friends who need our help.
I have to start with one of my favorite obsessions since I spent a summer in South Africa: Elephants. Any girl could get behind this matriarchal species of sensitive giants. Fun fact: researchers have found that elephants grieve the loss of their own and even the loss of men. Researchers in Kenya discovered an elephant can even recognize its deceased loved ones by its bones. Before humans began stealing all their tusks, elephants would take the tusks of fallen companions as commemoration.
Not so fun fact: Every 15 minutes, an elephant is killed for its ivory. Over one-fifth of the worldwide elephant population was killed between 2010 and 2012.
What we can do:
- STOP BUYING IVORY. Just stop it. It’s not worth innocent lives and ultimately the entire elephant species.
- Support World Wildlife Fund – the WWF (not World Wrestling Federation, though they should really get on board, too) is a leader in wildlife conservation. They work to preserve the lives and habitats of all wildlife, elephants included.
- Save the Elephants and the International Elephant Foundation are two other great resources and causes we can and should support.
- Let your government hear you – it can be as easy as signing WWF’s Stop Wildlife Crime campaign. I did it, and so can you. Last year, Thailand banned their ivory trade. Change is possible. Let’s make it happen!
If you’ve never heard of a pangolin, you’re not alone. These scaly, four pound animals are like overgrown roly polies that look like lizards. When startled, a pangolin will cover its head with its back legs and roll into a ball.
Pangolins (named after the Malay word for “roller”) are “the most illegally trafficked animal in the world.” Killed for their meat (which is considered a delicacy in some parts of the world – ech-hem, Asia!) and scales, the pangolin is now listed as critically endangered. As many as 233,000 pangolins were estimated as being killed in the three years between 2011 and 2013 alone.
What we can do:
- Support thy pangolin brethren – International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has a group of specialists dedicated solely to protecting our pangolins. To show our support, we can donate, join them on Social Media, and spread the word.
Save the Pangolin is another one. They also have a page listing other organizations which support the pangolin cause right here.
- Don’t eat him. Or drink him. Or wear him – This one’s obvious but can’t be overlooked: the best way to stop poaching is to stop demand for poached goods. Don’t eat pangolin meat when (if) you’re presented the opportunity. Don’t buy pangolin products such as medicine, wine, jewelry, scales, or leather.
- Tell me (and him and her and them) about it – The simple act of talking about the plight of our pangolins in conversation can make a big impact. Just think: if you didn’t even know what a pangolin was until you read this post, how many other people are likewise oblivious to their desperate condition?
A possible opening line: “Hi, how are you? Did you know the most illegally trafficked animal is a four pound roly poly?” Or, next time your waiter asks if you’d like more water, tell him, “No, but I’d like more pangolins.”
Already extinct in many African nations, such as Togo, Gambia, Burkina Faso, and Benin, chimpanzees are on the bring of total, worldwide extinction. Today, experts estimate the chimpanzee population at only 173,000 to 300,000 chimps.
There are only five nations with significant chimpanzee populations remaining. Advocates say if we don’t stop poaching and habitat loss, chimpanzees could be extinct in 15 years.
What we can do:
- Give what you can give: The Jane Goodall Institute concentrates on the protection and welfare of great apes. The WWF allows donators to give specifically to the chimpanzee cause by adopting a chimpanzee. Center for Great Apes (four star Charity Navigator rating) is another great charity devoted to the plight of the chimp.
- Think before you buy: – Habitat loss is one of the biggest threat to chimpanzees. Before you buy any products such as wood or paper, ensure they aren’t coming from Central Africa and thus contributing to the chimpanzee’s habitat loss. WWF can help you make sure you’re choosing good wood.
Once there were nine, now there are six. Subspecies of tigers, that is. Three subspecies of tigers have already gone extinct thanks to us. The worldwide tiger population lost 97% of its members in the 20th century, reducing its numbers to as few as 3,200 tigers in 2010. If some of us have more dollars on our (bi-)weekly paychecks than there are tigers in the world, we’ve got a serious problem of inequality on our hands.
The governments of the 13 countries blessed with tiger populations set a goal for all of us called TX2: to double the tiger population by 2022, the next Chinese year of the tiger. Latest estimates put the wild tiger population at a whopping 3,890 as of April of this year, but even that is up for debate. Whether or not we’ve managed to not kill 690 new tigers in the last 10 years, we’re a long way from the 2022 goal of 6,400 and even farther from the population’s 1900 population estimate of 100,000 tigers.
Just imagine having to explain to the next generation that Jasmine’s Raja is extinct.
What we can do:
- ADOPT A TIGER– We can adopt a tiger, guys. Did you hear that? ADOPT. A. TIGER. Whaaat?? Yes! You don’t get to take your tiger home with you because that’d destroy the purpose of conserving wildlife (duh), but you do get a cuddly toy and adoption pack. For $55 you can adopt a tiger and for a little more you can throw in an adoption goodie basket with the toy and other tiger paraphernalia. The WWF (we’re going to be best friends with these guys by the end of this post) points out that this could make a great gift.
REALLY, REALLLY FUN FACT: You can actually adopt 124 different animal species, including tigers, elephants, giraffes, foxes, snowy owls, puffins, and so, so many more. All right here. At the tip of your mouse cursor. Click! Click, click!
- Support conservation organizations like Big Cat Rescue (4 star Charity Navigator rating, located in Tampa, FL)
- Educate yourself, then educate others – Simply learning about the plight of the tiger is a huge step towards saving them. (The first step in fixing a problem is recognizing it, right?)
Gather as much knowledge as you can, then spread it like a sneeze. Seriously. Every time your nose starts to itch, think “Tigers are dying!” and tell the closest person everything you can remember about tigers off the top of your head. In fact, do this every time any part of your body itches. And even when nothing itches but you see a person within shouting distance.
- Don’t buy tiger products. Period. This includes: “Tiger skins, jewelry made from claws and teeth, tiger whiskers, tiger bone wine, tiger meat and any medicine that contains tiger derivatives,” as WWF says.
Last year alone, 1,175 rhinos were killed in Africa. Search “rhino conservation” on Google and you’ll see an extinction status of “Not extinct.” What it should say is “Not extinct yet.” Or, better still: “Not for long.”
Down from 500,000 at the start of the 20th century, today there are now closer to 29,000 rhinos in the world. Poaching poses the greatest threat. Rhino poaching claimed the lives of 96% of the black rhino between 1970 and 1993 (there were 96,000 black rhinos in 1970 but by 1993, that number had dropped to 2,300).
Of the five species of rhino, the one closest to extinction is the Javan rhino. How many Javan rhino exist today? I’ll give you a hint: If you’re over 60, your last birthday cake held more candles than there are Javan rhinos. Today, the Javan rhino population is between 58 and 61 members strong. Or should I say, “61 members not-strong.”
What we can do:
- Save the Rhino funds rhino conservation efforts with grants and the collaboration of other conservation partners. Buy a limited edition rhino tee, donate, volunteer, become a member, or start a fundraiser.
- The International Rhino Foundation (four star Charity Navigator) is devoted to “the survival of the world’s rhinos through conservation and research. ” We can adopt, donate, or buy fun rhino apparel. I mean, come on, what baby doesn’t need a Team Rhino onesie?
- And of course there’s the NO BUYING RHINO PRODUCTS, such as rhino horn.
Okay, I know this is a case of “which one of these doesn’t belong?” but technically speaking park rangers are animals, too. And their lives are at risk every day. Park rangers are often on the front lines in the battle against illegal poaching. In the last decade, 1,000 park rangers have lost their lives in an effort to stop illegal wildlife trafficking. The most recent estimates puts the death toll at one park ranger killed every four days.
What we can do:
Help them do their job – Support park rangers and honor those who have fallen by helping us win the battle against illegal wildlife trafficking and poaching. Stop Wildlife Crime and 96 Elephants both strive to support and protect park rangers.
Here’s what I propose:
There are 7.125 billion people in the world (more, actually seeing as that’s a 2013 number). If we each choose one cause (or two causes or thirty), we can save all the animals through our combined effort. Everyone has a favorite animal, right? If not, take a look at the list above and pick one, any one, then advocate for that animal as if it were your life on the line. You don’t have to funnel all your savings into WWF or quit your job to volunteer full-time with the Clearwater Marine Acquarium, but we can each skip one latte or pack or own lunch one day this week to make a contribution. As Howard Zinn said: