Endangered Species Handbook

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Vanishing Species

Actions and Attitudes: Page 11

     Teaching people that their local wildlife is important to protect as a source of pride has had excellent results in a program in the Caribbean funded by RARE Center for Tropical Bird Conservation, an organization headquartered at Philadelphia's Academy of Sciences.  It has employed innovative education and conservation programs to preserve St. Lucia Parrots or Amazons (Amazona versicolor), the forests and other wildlife of the island.  Biologist Paul Butler, who began this program, has instilled conservation enthusiasm and pride in the people of the island of St. Lucia for these beautiful and rare parrots.  His dynamic program has resulted in the naming of this species as the national bird, as well as education programs so successful that children know its scientific name, habitat and need for protection.  They enjoy singing songs about the parrots and dressing up in parrot costumes.  The people of St. Lucia now understand that the forest and other wildlife must not be destroyed.  Art and essay contests are conducted in schools and towns to publicize this parrot, and St. Lucia Parrots are used as logos for many businesses.   Forest cutting has been banned, and a substantial portion of the island has been set aside in reserves.  This has resulted in an increase from fewer than 300 to between 350 and 500 birds (BI 2000).  The Saint Lucia government is dedicated to protecting the parrots and their habitat, and a new ecotourism industry has sprung up.  These programs have meant an end to the rampant smuggling of these beautiful, rare parrots, an activity that had been thought uncontrollable because they could be sold for $20,000 per bird to collectors.  Protecting the forest for the parrots also resulted in conserving other threatened wildlife of the island and precious watershed.  Another native species, the spectacular Giant Swallowtail butterfly, is illustrated on billboards prominently located near towns with the message, "It's ours . . . take care!!!" (Lipske 1994).  This approach to conserving endemic wildlife has been adopted on other Caribbean islands, and Butler trains local conservation officers and teachers to continue the programs elsewhere (Butler 1992, Lipske 1994).  A film about these programs, "Caribbean Cool," is described in the Video section, and RARE has published a manual, Promoting Protection Through Pride, with advice on how to carry out such programs.  
     Educating children to respect the environment and conserve endangered species leaves a lasting impression if begun in grade school and continued throughout schooling.  Children have an innate sympathy and love for animals, and become enthusiastic conservationists.  Education about national laws and native wildlife and plants of the region encourages students to have a lifelong desire to protect them and a sense of guardianship that results in opposition to actions that would harm them.  Environmental education is required in about two-thirds of US states, from grade school onward.  Some schools require special training in environmental science for all teachers.  A few high schools are teaching courses in ecology for college credit.  The North American Association for Environmental Education has issued detailed guidelines for educators to assess textbooks and other materials for fairness and accuracy, and review by experts (Cushman 1997). 
     Some conservation organizations have been formed by scientists, such as the highly effective International Crane Foundation and Bat Conservation International.  Entertainers have also become involved in conservation.  The rock music star Sting, for example, became concerned about the destruction of rainforests and founded the Rainforest Foundation, an organization to raise money to purchase or protect thousands of acres of this endangered habitat, while at the same time informing young people about the importance of these forests to the world.  Students and concerned individuals have also founded organizations to protect individual species or particular environments, such as prairies or wetlands.  These organizations have raised millions of dollars for rainforest protection and helped many endangered animals.
     A number of effective conservation programs began as grassroots organizations established by an individual or a small group of people who wanted to protect a species.  Individuals have educated, lobbied and helped raise funds for the purchase of habitat, making extremely important contributions to the preservation of threatened species.  The beautiful bluebirds of North America were in steep decline until Lawrence Zeleny began his nesting box program.  He popularized and distributed nesting boxes for bluebirds with an entry hole just a fraction of an inch too small for the aggressive European Starlings to enter.  The latter birds are taking over the tree nest holes of all three species of North American bluebirds.  Starlings are also a threat to several native species of woodpeckers.  Through the nest box program promoted by Girl and Boy Scout troops and other organizations, these colorful birds have increased and may again be abundant, familiar residents of orchards, woodland edges and grasslands.  Such citizen projects keep species in decline from reaching endangered status.  Once endangered, a species' genetic diversity is threatened, and multi-million-dollar state and federal rescue programs, which are not always successful, must be set up to help them.
     Only a small percentage of endangered species have such programs in place to aid their populations and protect their habitat, and individuals can make important contributions by volunteering for organizations working to preserve species and their habitats or by founding an ad hoc group.  The majority of species listed on the 2000 IUCN Red List or on Natural Heritage would be far more likely to avoid extinction if conservation programs were created for them, with help from both individuals and organizations.  The species most in need are invertebrates and plants, which form the majority of all endangered species and receive the least funding.  Within each region or county, little-known endangered species may be fading out without the aid of any organization or individual.  Organizations such as The Nature Conservancy, Conservation International, scientists with the IUCN or state Natural Heritage programs provide highly specific information on threatened species in various parts of the world.
     Restoration of original ecosystems will become more and more important as natural landscapes decline.  The Nature Conservancy, which has purchased millions of acres of land to preserve resident endangered plants and animals, reintroduced the American Bison to its 30,000-acre tallgrass prairie in Oklahoma, and is reintroducing native flowers, plants and animals to restore at least a portion of this magnificent ecosystem.  After decades of failed bills proposed in Congress, legislation was finally enacted in 1996 establishing the nation's first tallgrass prairie park of more than 10,000 acres in Kansas.  Individuals can also contribute to restoration of ecosystems.  Books, such as Noah's Garden. Restoring the Ecology of Our Own Back Yards, by Sara Stein (1993), and many magazine articles have called attention to the effects of suburbanization, and the poisoning of native wildlife with pesticides and herbicides used on lawns.  They suggest means of bringing back natural ecosystems.  

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