Today was unexpectedly difficult in some ways, but it reminded me of what I truly want aspiring stewards, conservationists, professors, and planet keepers to know.
I have learned that there are a million different labels we could use to describe ourselves: environmentalists, conservationists, activists, and more. But I believe it is incredibly important that we don’t define our abilities based on these titles and/or academic achievements.
In fact, who we are is not something that any one label can describe or that an educational degree can affirm. Being an “environmentalist” or a “conservationist” might be a part of what we do, but collectively we are so much more than either.
We must realize that in order for many of the world’s environmental and wildlife conservation challenges to be solved – we must also become empathetic sociologists, adaptable leaders, curious creatives, critical thinkers, light-hearted friends, and focused engagement strategists.
It is no doubt that much of our understanding stems from a textbook, a research journal, or from what we believe. And as valuable as these resources are, they are not in and of themselves where all of the answers lie. Rather, they are tools that can be used to open new doors of connectivity between the public and conservation. Tools most effectively used when accompanied with what makes each of us unique and valuable; our personalities, our experiences, and our gifts.
Often as scholars, we can perform all the data analysis we want, have our research published, and receive academic awards year long. But if we stop there, we risk sacrificing the true power in gaining such knowledge. Because I believe we shouldn’t allow classes taken or degrees earned to describe what we ultimately are. There is so much more to be done in our field not often affirmed by a label or our professional status.
To encourage public involvement and lasting change, we must also be willing to actively invite others into our often intimidating worlds of environmental and conservation science. However, it is important that we do so in a relatable, gracious, and understandable way.
As scholars, I believe that conflict resolution between humans and our environment will require more than reading research articles and pointing out the facts. We must also have the desire and determination to consider the thoughts, perceptions, and intricacies of the human populations and communities of which we are trying to help. Because as much as it is our responsibility to know the science, it is just as much our responsibility to connect whole-heartedly with those who don’t.
This brings me to the idea that every environmental/conservation focused degree of learning should also include a new type of class. One that I suggest be titled, Understanding Human Connectivity and How to Employ Strategic Discourse in Environmental Conflict Resolution. Such a class would link together all that a student learns in core Environmental Science classes with the additional research tools necessary for real-world, human-to-human interaction and understanding. It would also focus on the individuality of the student and how their unique strengths and interests can be used to enliven the knowledge they gain. Because when pursuing conservation conflict resolution, we must not forget to the power in understanding the opinion, circumstances, and resource availability of all stakeholders involved. We must also not underestimate the value our own talents and personalities can inherently provide.
Just as understanding population dynamics and trophic cascades are important, we must also recognize that human discourse and the social side of “environmentalism” is equally as valuable. Whether we are striving to solve a pollution problem, conserve an area of land, protect an endangered species, or propose an environmental policy; people are going to be involved. To help reach our greater conservation goals, let’s start studying and understanding the heart of people and learning new methods of change that can begin from within.
And for us professors, it is time we get our shiny BS, MS, or PhD boots dirty by tackling the feat of conservation engagement. It’s a different world than what we find in most textbooks or classrooms. One with many variables, plenty of room for mistakes, and that follows different rules from those we are more familiar with. But I believe it is where the life giving blood will begin to flow between the heart of conservation science and the rest of our work.
I feel it is time we add even further to the distinctions of our academic achievements. It is time we start understanding that simply knowing about the science is not enough. We must bridge the gap between what we know and where the communication problem lies.
Because I believe if we are going to create a world where coexistence between nature, wildlife, and humans exists – then we must bring our research, knowledge, and “labels” to life. And I believe that we all have a unique way of being able to do so based on our own individual gifts and personalities.
We must not be afraid to step out of our safe world of academic titles and bring a new method of engagement to the conservation table. Otherwise, we risk remaining at the door of progress – watching through its windows as opportunities for engagement, problem solving, and human connectivity pass us by.
I can’t wait to ask God all about what he was thinking as he planned creation. Because every time I look outside, interact with wildlife, or think of the vastness and variety of life on this planet – I can’t help but feel amazed.
We go about our busy days, focused on what needs to get done, fleeting emotions, or worries of the future… And yet all around us are living miracles. From the trees and plants with unique features allowing water to move upwards despite gravity pulling their roots downwards. To the continents, slowly moving due to incredible amounts of heat circulating in the ground right underneath our feet. And of course, the beautiful wildlife who coexist and manage so easily within their different habitats.
I wonder what he was thinking when he decided to give snails a speed limit. Or when he decided the cheetah would be the fastest land mammal on earth – reaching speeds up to 75mph as they dart through the savannah. Oh, and I can’t wait to ask him about all the colors on the spectrum that we can’t see, but certain insects like bees and butterflies can. Can you imagine how beautiful and vibrant those colors must be – drawing them each day to the flowering plants that we casually pass by?
What about earthquakes, God? I wonder if the tremendous shaking is perhaps ever a reflection of your emotion… Or if a day will come when we can detect them with more than a 10 second warning time. Along with this, I wonder if you chuckle sometimes at our efforts to understand, control, and mimic your creation. I can’t wait to ask you what you think about our advances in technologies and medicine. Are we becoming better stewards of the resources you have provided us with – or do we need to retake the class on our place in your creation?
What do you think in your limitless knowledge and grace when you see needless trophy hunting and poaching taking place? Do you cry like I do when I think about the purely instinctive animals you have made suffering for our reckless and ignorant behaviour? Do you feel anger like I do when you see animals – wild and domestic – treated as test subjects so that we can have our favorite color of lipstick or household cleaner? Do you want to scream when you see a landfill and the endless amounts of trash it contains literally being pressed and packed deep down into your Earth? Because I do.
But what I can’t wait to ask you the most about is how despite all our short comings – you have managed to continue extending us your grace. How do you manage to keep the balance in your creation despite our interfering? And what I can’t comprehend is that as much as I love your creation, you love me even more. That as much as I want to grab some people and shake them for their actions, you would stand in front of them to protect them, realizing some may know not what they do. It’s incredible. But God, for those that do know and yet still choose to bring suffering to your creation – I pray that you powerfully intervene in spite of their actions.
When I get to heaven, one of the first things I plan to do is walk with Jesus through the Red Woods of Paradise and ask him all about his choices and designs in nature. How joyful did he feel when he thought of snow leopards running freely through the Himalayas – when he gave spiders the gift of spinnerets to design their unique homes – and when he gave pigs the brains to be considered the fifth most intelligent animal in the world. And why did he choose to seal our Earth with an atmosphere unlike any other currently discovered in the universe? How did you know exactly what atoms, gases, and nutrients to combine so that we can simply breathe and have the gift of oxygen ever day?
What I have realized on Earth is that God truly is the greatest chemist, biologist, environmentalist, and artist that has ever lived. I am in awe of all he has done. And I trust that despite the scary changes taking place across this planet – he loves us enough to bring wisdom to those who need revelation – and bravery to those who he calls to action.
And Jesus, I hope your ready for a long backpacking trip when I get up there – because you created in me a very curious and passionate mind that is in need of some answers!
If you would have told me a few years back that I would be a college professor, I probably would have laughed and thought you were insane. The thought of public speaking in front of 30 different students for around 8 hours each week used to make my brain experience a mini hurricane of its own. One whose winds flew in random directions of doubt, excitement, urgency, and “how am I going to do this” all at once.
Having now started my 13th week of teaching at Vanguard University, I can say those feelings are still very real, but there is another sense I have found that I did not expect.
Sometimes when we are passionate about something, I think there is also a tendency to assume we are not knowledgeable enough to speak what we know. It’s hard to explain, but for me – conservation and environmental sciences are two very important, immensely deep, and controversial topics to speak on. It seems more than ever the talk of climate change, global warming, and biodiversity loss are becoming sources of contention amongst world leaders and the general public – rather than opportunities for problem solving. This often overwhelming sense of conflict and sensitivity in the sciences can make it a lot easier to just sit on the sidelines and hope someone else is brave enough to speak up.
But what I have found is that this single semester of teaching has not only improved my confidence in the knowledge I have, but has also helped me to realize the extreme responsibility I have to share my views, knowledge, and the facts with others. And this new sense of responsibility I have discovered also has helped me to trump any feelings of inadequacy that continue to float around.
When I became a professor, I was given 30 blank canvases to paint with an awareness and an understanding of the intricacies of this planet. That is a HUGE responsibility. And I have discovered that one of the most important parts of this opportunity is in not taking that responsibility lightly. Sharing knowledge is sharing power. We cannot act on what we aren’t aware of. And I have been given the opportunity to share the little bit of knowledge and power I have with my awesome students.
However, I also realize the importance of encouraging others to think for themselves, to be aware of biases in any learning they undertake, and to have grace towards all points of views – whether we like them or not. I think the only way we are going to grow in wisdom and in our abilities to enact positive change for this planet is to first treat others with the value they inherently have.
I do believe that through more peaceful conversations – one where we are able to set aside what we want to be true or our own arguments – we will be able to more progressively come up with solutions taking into account all stakeholder values.
And as I tell my students, you are allowed to make up your own minds on what you feel or believe – I am simply here to present you with the well-rounded knowledge for you to do so, at least the best that I can. I do not pretend to know everything nor will I ever, but what I do know – is worth acting upon.
I think all too often we take what we hear on the news, in a Facebook article, or on a podcast all to seriously. However, in my opinion it is more important to do the research for ourselves and to remember what the focus of addressing environmental concerns actually is: to take care of our planet and the resource it provides us with, for the benefit of EVERYONE – not to continually prove someone else or a political party right or wrong.
We have strayed away from using knowledge as the pure weapon it is and tainted it with distracted motives in the form of financial, self, or temporary gain.
In my deepest heart, I simply long to equip my students with a “systems thinking” mindset. One where they don’t just look at the immediate problem, but expand to consider its causes, the players involved, and how all interconnecting parts are worth equal value – whether human, animal, or abiotic. One where they also do the research for themselves rather than piggy backing off of what they hear or would like to be true.
Becoming a professor – in any field – is a responsibility not to be taken lightly. Teachers are literally given the keys to unlock the doors of others’ minds and to fill them with new knowledge. Realizing this, it is important to consider not only what you are teaching, but how you are teaching it.
We are all coming from different cultures, places, beliefs, and degrees of knowledge, but what makes us equal is our humanness. And that is a great place to start any lecture if you ask me.
A few weeks ago, I hosted my first BrittFit beach bootcamp and clean up. Despite being nervous about how everything would turn out, the event was a conservation and fitness success! By the sweat and support of 22 boot campers, we raised over $200.00 to be donated to the Surfrider Foundation. The Surfrider Foundation is an outstanding organization that works in numerous ways to protect coastal ecosystems around the United States.
Additionally, we filled up 15 buckets with trash, plastic debris, and litter from the beach. All of us were shocked to see the amount of cigarette buds and food packaging so carelessly left behind on the sand. What if someone came into our own homes and littered the way that we do to our beaches?
Coastal ecosystems in California are home to many different marine and terrestrial species. From waterbirds such as the snowy plover, least terns, and the brown pelican – to dolphins, seals, and many other aquatic species. Not only do the beautiful coasts provide wildlife with habitat, but they also protect our state from the damaging effects of many storms, provide numerous forms of employment, and are an important natural resource for food.
As beach pollution continues, we not only jeopardize the immediate well-being of fish, birds, and other forms of wildlife, but we also jeopardize our own futures. And when marine ecosystems begin to suffer, we too will feel the long-term effects; whether now or in the future. Unhealthy coasts can cause trophic cascades within delicate food webs as well as interfere with many ecosystem services that we depend upon.
However, it was such an honor to have so many people come out and sweat to protect our coastlines. I am blessed to be able to combine fitness in a way that not only burns calories, but that also provides opportunities for others engage in conservation. Cheers to many more beach bootcamps and fundraisers ahead!
As a conservationist, I believe it is important that we take the time to learn about the experiences, passions, and interests of others regarding wildlife. In this way, we will be better able to open our perspectives on what experiences or events can trigger positive attitudes towards various conservation initiatives.
And after recently starting a new BrittFit business endeavor, I have had the opportunity to get to know many other individuals who are excited and interested in sharing their own love of wildlife! This is quite refreshing and has reaffirmed by belief that you don’t have to be an expert in the field to inspire change or make a difference.
Take my dear friend and BrittFit client, Cassidy Caywood for example…
Cassidy is a writer herself, a growing fitness enthusiast, and one of the most hard working BrittFit bootcampers I have yet to meet! Within minutes of reaching out to see if any of my friends would be interested in sharing a piece of conservation related writing – Cassidy eagerly responded.
It is my honor to share with you her writing below; where she describes her love for rhinos, various causes of their endangerment, and her knowledge regarding the importance of their protection.
It is my hope that I can continue to share additional pieces of writing from others also inspired by the wildlife around us.
So thank you Cassidy for being bold, for taking the time to write the following conservation piece, and for caring!
– by Cassidy Caywood (@cassidycaywood)
What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word rhinoceros?
Many people, like my past self, would have said rhinos are wild and aggressive creatures. Yet, after having a first-hand encounter with rhinos and doing my own research, I’ve learned otherwise!
Rhinos are greatly misunderstood. We can all relate to that, right? The truth is, rhinos are just friendly giants from Asian and African descent. This misconception is understood when you learn that they don’t have the best eyesight; and what these amazing creatures lack in eyesight, they definitely makeup for in all their other senses! When a rhino smells or hears something that could possibly be a threat, they will charge. This is where people get the idea that their temperaments are angry and moody. At the end of the day, this herbivorous creature would much rather graze and wallow in mud all day.
Sounds cute, I know. That’s because when a rhino is safely behind the walls of an animal sanctuary, it is cute! When they’re out in the wild though… sadly, it’s not so cute. The rhino’s indifference to a human’s presence is what makes them an easy target for poachers. They are a species that is severely endangered. In fact, 96% of the entire rhino population has been diminished. This means that humans kill about three rhinos each day.
These numbers are absolutely devastating. At this rate, we are destined to fail the rhino completely.
There are many different ways in which humans are the biggest threat to rhinos. For one, in the native land of Asia, more and more rainforests are being destroyed. The human population is growing which means the need for village expansion is increasing. It just so happens that wood from the rainforest is a popular building material for furniture in Western cultures. This habitat loss is creating desolate living environments for the rhinos, while also putting them directly in front of the humans who pose a great threat to their species.
This leads into the second way in which humans are threats to the rhino. We look at this species through a very foggy and selfish lens. People who practice Chinese medicine believe that a rhino’s horn has a variety of health benefits. Many will grind it up and add it to their tea in hopes that it’ll cure cancer or stop a fever. This is absolutely, without a doubt proven to be false. A rhino’s horn is made solely of keratin. This is the same material that our human hair and fingernails are made of – yet we don’t see people grinding up fingernail trimmings to add to their tea. This misunderstanding is due to a lack of education and knowledge on the subject.
Now… I know what you’re thinking.
“How can I help an animal that’s not even native to my country?”
Actually, there are plenty of ways you can help!
The first thing you can do is purchase wisely. While you may not necessarily be consuming rhino horn, products made from rainforest woods are common. Many different furniture stores will sell pieces that are made from rainforest products. Keep this in mind next time you furniture shop; not only will the rhinos be benefitting, but also many other animals could be saved too! When you purchase a product from the rainforest, you are unintentionally voting in support of deforestation. By shopping consciously, you can make a positive impact for animals of all kinds.
Another huge way you can make a positive impact on the rhino’s fate is by using your voice. Unfortunately, the rhinos don’t have a voice we can listen to, which is why we must speak up for them. Education and knowledge is key. Many people are still unaware that the rhinos are in grave danger. Using your voice to speak up and spread the word can help to get even more people chatting and looking for ways to help. Usually people are innately good and want to help when they are presented with easy ways to make a difference! Education is also important because people who support the use of rhino horn in medicinal practices often don’t know that it isn’t beneficial. If people can be educated out of this misconception, another rhino that may have been poached for their horn could be saved! Both knowledge and education, in any and all forms, can help to save our happy, grazing friends!
Donations, of course, are always helpful. While you may not physically be able to contribute to the fight, someone else can. With the proper funds, anything is possible. However… research, research, research to ensure that the organization you find is ethical and honest.
Personally, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park is one that I recommend. Their 1,800-acre stretch of both enclosed and free-roaming land is dedicated to rehabilitating, researching, and breeding animals that are endangered. The main goal for those working with the different endangered species is to get them back out and viewed in their wild habitat. They are a non-profit organization that thrives off the money their visitors pay in order to receive admittance tickets, passes, and safaris. This means, the animals you get to touch, feed, and photograph during your trip are fed and enriched through the money you spent on purchasing your ticket! Nearly every single staff member will thank you over and over again for your contribution, and they are anything but short of knowledge and education. By simply going to see how truly amazing these misunderstood creatures are, you are contributing to years of life-saving research, rescues, and enclosure enrichments for our fuzzy friend… the rhinoceros.
When you think of a balloon, what comes to mind? If you are like most, perhaps you think of a birthday gathering, graduation ceremony, or another exciting celebratory event.
As a child, I used to look forward to coming downstairs on my birthday to find a room filled with a dozen brightly colored balloons – all twirling near the ceiling just for me. However, now I find myself concerned each time I see one of these helium-filled decorative items.
I remember clearly when these feelings of concern first began. I was working as a Naturalist with the Ritz Carlton in Dana Point. During our public whale watching tours, I would notice at least one deflated balloon (if not more) floating out in the ocean. I began to wonder where each deflated piece of mylar or latex came from.
Was the balloon accidentally released at a birthday party, a graduation, or maybe just a family gathering? Perhaps it was no accident at all, but rather intentionally released from a small child’s excited hands. Did it land softly in the ocean after traveling miles or did a heavy wind from the nearby coast send it crashing down into the sea?
Regardless of its humble beginning, I finally found myself feeling extremely frustrated that it was left to carry out the remainder of its long life in our ocean. Despite engaging with guests, I couldn’t help but to also watch the collapsed balloon drift by as dolphins, whales, and seabirds danced around us.
Did these precious animals know the potential danger that the shiny balloon in the water posed? No, and how could they? Were they responsible for its remnants being left to drift around in their homes? No, but we are.
Now, you may be asking, “I didn’t release the balloon so how am I responsible?”
If so, ponder the following questions for a moment: How many other balloons have you released accidentally or purchased and given to a friend who may have done the same? Because with each balloon that innocently drifts off, there is an increased likelihood of it ending its life at sea.
Now, I am not saying that enjoying balloons is inherently wrong, but I am suggesting that an alternative to these commonly used celebratory single-use plastics can be found. It is my hope that once you further understand about their economic and environmental effects, perhaps you too will desire an alternative.
…I sure do.
Before I explain some of the problems that balloons can cause, allow me to briefly share about the two different materials that they are made from.
Although considered “bio-degradable:, laytex balloons will take anywhere from 4 months to 6 years to completely degrade. That leaves a whole lot of time for them to enter into storm drains, litter the streets, fall into the ocean, or end up in the stomach of an animal. In fact, one study shared by the Environmental Nature Center found that balloons floating in seawater deteriorate at much slower rates and retain there elasticity, even after 12 months. Outside of the balloon itself, the string they are usually attached to also possess a direct threat to wildlife – both terrestrial and marine species.
This shiny material is definitely not bio-degradable and is made with a metallic material originally designed for use with the US space program. These are the type of balloons that are often made into big numbers, letters, or shapes of unique kinds. Because of their metallic nature, mylar balloons are capable of causing power outages, fires, and other dangers when coming into contact with power lines and electrical currents.
In fact, mylar balloons have posed such a threat to electrical poles and communities that California (among many other states) has enacted a law banning their release into the air. How about that? This law also includes that mylar balloons must be tied to individual weights to prevent them from floating away freely or in large groups. Because as Southern California Edison has shared, for the third straight year there has been a record number of metallic-balloon caused power outages in California – with 1,094 alone last year. (Click the last link to see one causing extreme damage to a power line.)
Want to learn more about California’s balloon laws? Check out California Penal Code section 653.1.
Now, besides their direct safety hazards to humans; balloons of both latex and mylar material are also very dangerous to wildlife, our oceans, and our environment.
“At best, free-flying balloons become litter; at worst, they jeopardize wildlife. Once airborne, they can travel far afield and often end up joining the flotsam riding the world’s oceans. One that was unleashed in a science fair experiment to investigate wind direction was retrieved on an island 1,300 miles from its release site. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration identifies balloons as a commonly reported source of marine debris.” – Eileen Andreason, Audubon
Balloons that end up floating in the ocean can be eaten by various marine animals and pose direct threats to their safety. For example, scientists have found numerous animals entangled in the string of balloons or deceased from consuming the indigestible material. Additionally, balloon pollution contributes to the North Atlantic Garbage Patch floating about 100 miles off of our coast. This is an area of our ocean that is filled with litter that has not yet or will not biodegrade over time. Sadly, scientists have recorded over 1.9 million small bits of plastic per square mile in one of our ocean’s “garbage patches”.
“About 80% of the debris in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch comes from land-based activities in North America and Asia.” – National Geographic
Now if this doesn’t encourage you to reduce, reuse, and recycle – I am not sure what will. And yes, one person can make a difference.
While I am deeply saddened by the below images, I believe sharing them will increase the likelihood of a cultural shift away from single-use plastics – such as balloons. The images can remind us of how serious a threat needless balloons are to ecosystems, as well as the choice we each have in preventing such dangers.
However, should you still choose to use balloons – here are some tips on ways to efficiently discard them:
Having now read this post, I encourage you to instead start a new celebratory tradition that does not involve balloons! Consider using flowers or edible arrangements as center pieces/gifts at events. Start a new tradition of planting a flower in your garden or elsewhere to commemorate a special anniversary or birthday. Use the “balloon money” to instead add to a gift.
And perhaps, go a little above and beyond to share your reason for avoiding balloons with guests! After all, the ultimate gift we can give each other is a healthy planet filled with beautiful wildlife. We are fortunate to have the ability to celebrate life – and we should absolutely not stop doing so. But lets find an alternative to balloons.
Thank you for reading,
(Information provided by National Geographic, Audobon Society, T&D World, and Balloons Blow.)
Today is International Day of Women in Science A day set aside by the United Nations Dept. of Economic and Social Affairs, UNESCO, and the Royal Academy of Science International (RASIT), among others to celebrate women in science.
As a female conservation scientist, I thought it would be appropriate for me to share some personal reflections – both positive and negative – of my journey thus far.
I think pursuing an education in science is perhaps one of the most exciting areas to choose. Why? Because science is constantly growing – new discoveries are always waiting to be made – and working in science requires consistent creativity and openness to the the social, ecological, and physical world around us.
However, this excitement comes at a cost.
What I wasn’t prepared for while studying for my degree was just how tough making a difference in the world of conservation science can be. There is no other subject or area in my life that I feel such a weight upon my shoulders. The need for acceptance and the spread of conservation knowledge is more vast than I can even fully comprehend. Our environments, our wildlife, and our earth’s balance depends on our ability to step outside of our egos, wants, and preconceived ideas to realize we do play a bigger part in the future of this planet.
No, I am not saying it is easy. But I do wish University would teach more students about is the hardships of sharing conservation science and generating awareness towards such issues. Having learned this, students might then be better prepared with the tools to not only discover such truths, but to then mobilize change and action from them.
Science is often discounted and under appreciated by the mass majority. And this isn’t necessarily any one particular person’s fault, but it has to change. We have to start taking seriously what is going on in the world around us. We have to start believing our small changes make a difference. We have to humble ourselves and be active participants in the balance of this planet. We cannot look away when we don’t understand or when change seems hard.
And ultimately, we must strive to love others, wildlife, and this amazing planet how God first loved us.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t imagine a world where more beautiful species continue to go extinct, suffer from environmental changes at abnormal rates, or resort to life in captivity because we can’t control our own growth rates.
What I believe we need in the field of sciences, conservation specifically – is to grow unitedly towards a common goal. A goal of acceptance, wellness, and appreciation for all life.
This doesn’t mean that we have to have all the facts or numbers in place, but instead create a new foundation for viewing our relationship with this planet. One that considers all of the intricately linked trophic levels, the importance of creating positive human-wildlife relationships, and one that encourages the acceptance of others through faith in Jesus Christ.
I believe we can battle many of the human induced threats facing our planet simply by creating a more holistic view of conservation science. One that isn’t strictly dependent on where you live, what you know, or how “environmentally conscious” you consider yourself to be.
This isn’t a specific race, party, or government issue. Environmental Conservation is global, it effects all of us, and it is now. I believe we must more deeply consider what a beautiful blessing it is to be alive, to be created by God, and to share in the resources of this planet. When you slow down and simply consider such ideas, it is tough not to feel thankful. You are valued. You are capable. And the future does depend on you.
I believe that God created this planet and its species for our joy, sustainable use, and as reminders of His sovereignty and power.
What conservation science has also taught me is that you have to keep going. When I was a child, I used to think that I would grow up and change the entire world for wildlife. I genuinely believed that I could solve all of the world’s conservation problems – perhaps by some quick snap of my fingers (man, what a time)!
But the more I learn, experience, teach, travel, research, and discover – the more I realize one lifetime is just not enough.
However, what I believe you CAN can do in conservation science is be contagious. Spread your passionate, wise, and eager germs all over those around you. No matter where you work, what you do, or what others may say. Be aggressive. Make others catch the bug and ask questions. Even if you don’t know all of the answers – get them participating.
And treasure the difference you are capable of making, not expecting to always progress at 100mph.
The Conservation and Environmental Sciences are not a one time, one discovery, one project success story. Personally, I will never be satisfied. How could I in a world so full of need, potential, and importance? Being an educator, a researcher, and a student of Conservation Science means committing to a journey of self discovery, highs, lows, and compassion towards all.
I can only hope that this journey I am on inspires another girl – maybe 40 years from now – to start out on her own. Perhaps even using some of the wisdom (and the germs) that I have left behind.
Lastly, science is not a “famed” field. You can’t be a male or female in science with the expectation that the world will always notice you.
If it happens along the way, then use that platform to impact more people and wildlife for good – not to slow down or to get distracted. The importance of spreading conservation knowledge to coming generations is imperative. In fact, its truths are literally right under our feet, out our windows, and in our lungs. However, what is also great about conservation science is that we all can play a part. You don’t have to have a degree, be on TV, or read the latest research paper to be a success story of your own.
Take a moment to reflect on your current actions… Where do you work? What do you do daily? Who is influencing your thoughts and beliefs? What limiting ideas do you have that might be worth exploring and investigating more in to? What small changes might you be able to make to conserve resources, recycle correctly, prevent contaminated runoff, purchase from sustainable companies, or simply just talk with others about their thoughts on the subject?
You never know what people are willing to share and/or do when they feel comfortable enough to do so.
So, I challenge you to simply start talking more about conservation with others. Not like it is something outside of yourself or far off. But take ownership of your humanness. Encourage them to do the same. And brainstorm how together you both can do one or two small things differently to be a proactive steward of this God-given planet.
For me, I simply desire to encourage others, educate, and do what I can to help wildlife organizations get their messages out. Whether through on camera speaking, fundraising, fitness, sharing conservation information, or through research and volunteering of my own. I am going to continue striving to bring all that I do and all that I am together to show thankfulness and care for this beautiful planet. I will continue to think consciously about my actions, my purchases, and my ability to make a change in my little world.
Am I perfect? Absolutely not. But I believe the first step to caring is to being aware. Don’t feel guilty for what you are or aren’t doing. Just be proud of yourself for acknowledging opportunities for change and growth in the first place. Like this beautiful planet, God shows us grace everyday.
I am going to continue my journey in discovering just how much I can do in the world of conservation. I encourage you to continue – or to start your own.
Thank you for reading,
Compassion Fatigue. It’s a real thing.
A serious issue arising from a perceived inability to make a desired difference in an area you feel responsible for. Areas ranging from human rights topics, social movements, your career, or perhaps even within a personal relationship. For me, it happens to be stemming from my passion and desire to make a difference in the well-being of wildlife.
For a while, I just thought I was overreacting (or not getting enough sleep). But it came to a point two weeks ago where I knew I had to talk to someone. Not just anyone – but someone who truly understands what I am feeling and has their passion also in wildlife. So I gave my good friend, John Ramer from Mission:Wolf a call to vent, share ideas, and search for some type of desperately needed encouragement.
Of course, John never fails me. His wisdom and experience in the world of conservation is vast, beautiful, and admirable. However, it both scared and comforted me to hear what he had to say about my feelings. Not only did he know exactly what I was talking about, but he informed me that there is actually a scientific term for this emotionally defeating feeling: Compassion Fatigue burnout.
I found comfort in the sense that I am not completely going crazy and I am not alone in my hopeless thoughts. Other passionate people are also experiencing this deep sense of inability and responsibility all at the same time to take action for what they believe. In fact, John himself shared with me that just a few weeks back he also suffered from a severe onset of CF within his current line of conservation work.
To my surprise, researchers have recently begun to carry out studies on the causes and effects of Compassion Fatigue in various activist groups. And after reading one of the CF research papers, I thought I would share what I have learned and some of my hopes for how to manage this problem in my on life. Because not only is Compassion Fatigue a serious emotional problem for the individuals effected, but it also threatens the very existence of extremely important activist and global non-profit based movements.
To understand the causes and potential ways to prevent Compassion Fatigue.
Because at its very height – individuals with CF will often completely step out of the work they once so passionately and desperately desired to fight for. It’s like reaching a breaking point; one that arises from an inability to enact change – while providing financially and emotionally for oneself – in addition to working hard to prevent wildlife injustice.
In fact, there was one animal rights activist in the research paper who summarized the feeling of Compassion Fatigue quite well:
“It feels like I’m shoveling the sidewalk during a blizzard.”
I also agreed completely with the thoughts of another research respondent who shared his idea that, “activists tend to impose unrealistic expectations on themselves, then blame themselves when they prove incapable of meeting them.”
In my case, this is dead on. I find that I feel incredibly responsible for taking some sort of action to raise awareness of and directly help wildlife conservation concerns. However, I don’t have the amount of time, resources, or current network necessary to make the large-scale impacts needed. It is defeating to realize you are just one person in a world of endless animal welfare and ecosystem concerns. Emotionally, it is draining. And there are days where I have a really hard time believing in the small of work I am able to do.
This feeling I have was also supported in the text of the research paper:
“Due to this emotional connection to animal rights activism, many felt that their sense of personal responsibility to work tirelessly on behalf of animals contributed to their burnout. Laura (a research respondent) shared how she experienced, not just a sense of ‘urgency, but a sense of duty.’ The activists often blamed themselves for their burnout because they chose to ‘overwork’ for the good of the cause or to say ‘yes’ to everything if they thought it would help animals. Alex (another respondent) shared, ‘There are animals dying every single second all around the world, and it’s hard to feel like you can just step away. . .”
Whether you can relate to Compassion Fatigue or not – I am just thankful to be able to identify with others who also experience this sense of inability to help. I am going to keep going. I just have to have a little compassion for myself in the process as well.
Researchers qualitatively analyzed open-ended response questions from 17 different individuals working and/or volunteering in the animal rights field.
They identified key themes in responses in an effort to understand the causes of Compassion Fatigue burnout and to learn more about such feelings in conservationists/activists.
Researchers found three primary categories of CF cause as described by respondents:
They also shared that many activists felt they must adopt a “cowboy” mentality. That they must survive in their work by holding on tight to romanticized perceptions of the work they believe they can do. That they must keep going and remain involved no matter how desperate the situation may seem; internally within the individual or externally within the organization.
What I recommend:
Having read the full paper and while currently suffering from Compassion Fatigue burnout… There are a few takeaways I think might be able to help myself and others.
If you would like to read more – check out the full paper by Gorski, Lopresti, and Rising. by using this link.
Thank you for reading!
While attending an event for the Progression Foundation – I was lucky enough to win a beautiful photo of a Hawksbill sea turtle swimming around in the waters of Hawaii. Mounted on shiny metal, I now have the pleasure of admiring this beautiful photo and animal each night before bed. However, as I smile at its beauty I also worry about what potential dangers the sea turtle might be facing as it swims out at sea.
While I know quite a bit about the environmental hazards ocean pollution can cause, I wanted to look more specifically into how sea turtles are being impacted. What I found made me both happy and concerned. Happy because among other dedicated research groups, an organization called SWOT exists that carries out research on the state of sea turtles worldwide. SWOT does this in many diverse ways, but I found one particular article of interest that I wanted to share with you.
As human populations continue to grow, we cannot fail to forget that we are intrinsically connected to each part of the environment that surrounds us. The moment we believe we are above nature or that we are not active participants in both many of the problems and the solutions – we are fooling ourselves.
Now, back to the work of SWOT:
Well, if you don’t already love sea turtles because they are just adorable to begin with – consider that they are also a keystone species that serves as an indicator for the environmental wellness of the surrounding ecosystem. Worldwide there are 7 different species of sea turtle – of which Hawaii is home to two. By understanding how sea turtles are impacted by changes in the oceans worldwide – we can have a more holistic understanding of how other marine animals and plants might also be faring.
SWOT wanted to better understand how chemicals entering the ocean might be altering the health of sea turtles as representatives of the local ocean habitat. This is important because according to the American Chemical Society, an estimated 15,000 new chemicals are registered daily (thats one every 6 seconds). This makes understanding each chemical’s environmental and health implications to the fullest extent nearly impossible. As new chemicals are created, they can enter the ocean through water runoff, plastic and material pollution, as well as through other avenues.
A team of researchers from SWOT used the Great Barrier Reef in Australia as its study site. Over four years they took blood samples from sea turtles living in more “pristine” nearby ocean habitats and compared them with blood samples taken from turtles living closer to onshore activities, such as farming and mining.
The researchers found that sea turtles nearer to the coast had elevated blood levels of certain identifiable as well as unidentifiable trace chemical elements. Some turtles had cobalt blood levels 25 times higher than that of sea turtles tested from the offshore site. Additionally, various chemicals found in human health products such as heart and gout medication, sulfuric acid, and pesticides were detected in coastal sea turtles. Not surprisingly, many of the turtles whose blood contained high levels of cobalt and magnesium also suffered from systemic diseases, acute liver dysfunction, and eye lesions among other illnesses.
Interestingly, many of the chemicals that were identified were those that had been newly approved for use. However, because of the lack of information regarding their effects to the environment, the SWOT researchers face a new challenge of understanding exactly how chemicals are causing certain health complications in sea turtles. For example, the researchers tested the sediment in “near-to-shore” sea turtle environments expecting to find the same levels of chemical pollutants also found in turtle blood. However, the sediment samples showed only trace levels. This suggests further research is needed into identifying exactly where the turtles are ingesting the dangerous chemicals.
While researchers at SWOT continue to investigate various diseases in sea turtles – here are several that they have documented:
If you would like to know more about the research SWOT is doing for sea turtle wellness, check out the their website.
Also, I encourage you to get to know more about what you can do to prevent ocean pollution by checking out this article by National Geographic – or by following these few easy steps:
Thank you for reading! You make the difference.
I have officially launched BrittFit – my new online health and fitness business! Now I am sure some of you might be wondering why I would feature BrittFit on a conservation based website.
On the surface, the two topics may seem rather different. But I believe upon taking a deeper look, you will realize just how interconnected they can be.
Answer these questions for yourself…
How do you feel when you consistently strive to take care of yourself – mentally, physically, and spiritually?
What happens to your mood after going for a nice walk or a hike outside?
Are you more inclined to help yourself and/or others when you regularly take time to sweat?
Now, consider your answers to each of these questions…
While everyone is entitled to their own opinion, I believe it is safe to concur that positive self-care will generate additional positive feelings throughout our lives.
We generally feel more likely to take pride in the world around us (people and animals) when we are also taking care of ourselves.
With that said, I have seen far too many people sacrifice their health for the demands of a busy schedule, a temporary feeling, or an unbelief in their abilities.
And I firmly believe that when we sacrifice the wellness of our bodies, we also negatively interfere with our ability to have a positive influence on the world around us. Often, this may be subconscious or more obvious; but nonetheless, we are preventing ourselves form growing into the best possible stewards of the planet.
I also believe that the appreciation we show for ourselves when we invest in our wellness will permeate into the wildlife and environments around us. Whether human or wild, were all created by God to nurture our bodies by staying active, exploring new territories, and eating healthily.
I think sometimes we forget that although we are human – our hearts, organs, and lungs serve the same purpose as those within our planet’s wildlife: to survive, to grow, to serve God, and to provide us with the best opportunity to live abundantly.
This is after all one of the biggest threats to wildlife around the world; our inability to see our own interconnectedness. Call me crazy, but when I look into the eyes of an animal I feel that I can understand its need for love and respect. The same love and value that all of us deserve. And while I can’t always communicate with animals, I truly believe that fitness can help others to understand their own value and potential.
If BrittFit can encourage positivity within human lives, I believe it can also be reciprocated in our actions towards the planet. And if nothing else, a portion of all BrittFit funds will be saved and donated towards the valuable work of conservation organizations.
While I don’t know what the future brings, I do know that we each have control over the decisions that we make towards our health and wellness. I also believe that these decisions – big or small – will ultimately play a role in how we approach conservation and our relationship with other species.
When we take care of ourselves, we exude an energy of love and compassion that has the potential to change relationships with the wild world around us. Feeling confident from the outside increases inward strength. Inward strength allows us to believe in our own God-given power. And through that power we each have the opportunity to help the planet, protect wildlife, and serve God.
Thank you for reading,
If you want to support wildlife and your own wellness – check out what BrittFit has to offer. You can click the “BrittFit” tab on the homepage or visit this link.
Recently, I have become much more aware of the different forms of plastic I personally rely on throughout each week. It is as if every time I use something plastic – a little thought of guilt comes into my mind reminding me to always look for alternatives. Plastic forms of pollution and debris is increasingly jeopardizing both marine life, terrestrial animals, and human well-being.
The bad news is, we are all a part of the problem. The good news is, we are all also a part of the solution.
But in order to know what we can do – I think it is important to know what is being done and how we can support global efforts to reduce plastic pollution. Because of this, I have decided to do some research into the topic and briefly fill you in on some plastic reducing goals that the United Nations has in place for the year 2030…
Well, mainly because we have a responsibility to ensure that this planet and its inhabitants have a sustainable future ahead. It is no doubt that society has benefited from the creation of plastic in many ways. We use plastics for transportation, energy production, food preservation, health related devices, and technology among just a few examples.
We have become very good at designing and using plastics for a variety of reasons. Plastic is great! It is durable, long-lasting, and versatile. But it is for these same reasons that it also poses a long-lasting threat to our environment. Methods to reduce plastic pollution and pay for its processing are now coming at economical and ecological costs. The plastics that benefit us are also now requiring strategic management plans to ensure their clean up, maintenance, and recycling. (And this is not taking into account the environmental costs many other countries are facing who do not have the same access to plastic control.)
And yet, the problem isn’t seen just in far away lands or way out in the ocean. If you talk a walk at the local beach, visit a near by park, or drive down any street with gutters – you might be surprised at how much plastic debris you begin to notice.
Now, if it still doesn’t seem like an immediate problem to you – consider that those plastics going into the ocean and into the dirt even a county away will ultimately come back to us in various ways. Whether we ingest them by consuming marine life who have unknowingly eaten plastic debris – consume polluted crops whose soils are tainted by traces of plastics – or drink from sources of water whose streams have also been impacted by the effects of plastic pollution. These are just a few examples and believe me there are many more…
However, this post is just to simply share with you what is being done by one of the world’s leading governmental organizations; the United Nations, and to suggest one way that you can make a change today.
The United Nations consists of 193 member states who all seek to come up with solutions towards the world’s leading problems. The problems they seek to tackle range from economic, to social, to environmental, and much more in between. They are the world’s largest intergovernmental organization and serve as a meeting point for all representing nations to attack national and international concerns from a global perspective.
When the UN met in Nairobi, Kenya in 2014 – there were many topics discussed. Representatives from leading organizations and countries came together to share ideas, discuss concerns, and ultimately design frameworks for helping to meet marine pollution reduction goals by the year 2030.
The issue was discussed by taking into account the economic state of many countries – whether rich or poor – and how we can together take strides to reduce plastic pollution. And while the debates are long and drawn out – I would just like to share with you a few of the key points that were concluded with during that UN assembly.
While the results are long and extensive, I would like to share just 8 points that I think are worth knowing. Perhaps, the last point in bold is one that is perhaps the most ground level way to enact change. We must stop accepting plastic litter. We must try to find alternative solutions to our plastic needs. And we must deter plastic litter from reaching our oceans and waterways. As soon as you and I start to care – so will others. Its a ripple effect. So read on to learn of a few key points before I share with you the latest way I am taking action to reduce my use of plastic.
Eight (of the many) Key points as summarized by the United Nations:
So – it is my hope that after reading you too begin to hear that same little thought of “what can I use instead of plastic“. If so and you would like to know more – check out the work of the Progression Foundation. I am teaming up with them as they strive to go plastic free for 30 days by using my own metal straw. (Now I know that may seem like a small change – but when you drink protein smoothies as often as I do – you go through a lot of straws!)
My challenge to you is to identify one common way that you use plastic throughout each week – and then find an alternative. Taking a small step like this will overall make a huge difference. If nothing else, make sure you appropriately recycle the plastics that you do use!
Don’t feel like you have to change your entire lifestyle (unless you want to), but do decide to make a small change this week that will create a positive ripple effect on this planet and those around you.
If you use straws and want to get a metal one of your own – here is a great link! Target now is selling metal straws as well as many other local retailers. It is a simple step that YOU can do to help the United Nations reach their goals.
Because in the end – we are all apart of this interconnected web of beautiful life provided to us by this planet. Let’s not be apathetic participants. Choose to make just one small change – while we still can.
Check out the original article by the UNEP using this link.
(Or just go to the beach and talk a walk on the shore to see what I am talking about.)
Thank you for reading!
Sometimes, it blows my mind how simply yet profoundly God works in our lives. We spend so much time ourselves trying to plan, coordinate, and manifest our dreams based on our timelines and in the ways we think they should happen. All the while, God simply looks lovingly at us, shields us from what is not good, and perhaps chuckles to himself as he sees how it will all workout – despite our limited human understanding.
For example, if you would have told me a year ago I would be able to bring a conservation side to fitness – I probably would have laughed! But recently, I have had the opportunity to do just that. Through fundraiser bootcamps and various forms of community engagement – I have been able to share important news and raise awareness about conservation efforts around the world… All while giving others a killer workout!
Specifically, one of the organizations I have a strong passion for and strive to contribute towards is the International Anti Poaching Foundation. And through a series of crazy events, I have recently had the wonderful opportunity to speak with Damien Mander, the founder of the International Anti Poaching Foundation himself.
Damien is a beautiful soul who is committed to doing his part to prevent the poaching of African wildlife – and so much more. Damien’s story – like so many of ours – is complex and filled with turns that brought him to new places, new intentions, and to the creation of one of the world’s leading anti poaching forces.
Prior to discovering his determination for wildlife conservation, Damien was an Australian Naval Clearance Diver, a Special Operations Sniper and an Iraq War veteran. He also managed the Iraq Special Police Training Academy in Northern Baghdad and equipped many of Iraq’s paramilitary forces for combat in the field.
However, it wasn’t until a trip to Southern Africa that Damien saw first-hand the cruelty of poaching. Since that moment, Mander made the life-changing decision to dedicate his time, finances, and vast military skills and knowledge to creating what is now the International Anti Poaching Foundation.
You can learn more about Damien’s story and what lead him to create the IAPF by watching his Ted Talks on how he went from a sniper to a rhino conservationist, or a military leader to a wildlife warrior.
Over the past few weeks, I have had the pleasure to chat with Damien about his upcoming trip to the US. During this visit, two of the women wildlife rangers of the IAPF will be joining him. Together, the three will be touring different states, speaking at various wildlife conferences, and attending fundraising events. All in the name of anti poaching and sustainable methods of wildlife conservation.
The two wildlife warriors joining Damien are Petronella and Nyaradzo. It is their first time to America – and they are the Akashinga; the Brave Ones.
Petronella and Nyaradzo’s story are quite similar to many womens’ in rural Africa. Both are divorced, are victims of domestic violence, have been abandoned by their husbands, and until now were unable to support their children.
Today, they are now the brave rangers fighting on the front lines against poaching in Zimbabwe. These women are carrying out groundbreaking conservation work, inspiring others, and proving that all genders are capable of fighting for wildlife. Not only are these women trained and armed in the skills of combat, but they have become known leaders within their local communities.
Furthermore, the women of the Akashinga are now able to provide a better future for their children while also creating hope within their local communities. The Akashinga are protecting wildlife, creating jobs, uplifting other women, and creating a sustainable future for Africa and its wild species. These women are living proof that protecting wildlife can benefit many – in more than just one way.
Petronella and Nyaradzo are creating a new culture in Africa. One that changes the tides from poaching for money – to protecting for mutual benefit.
Just nine month after going operational on the front-lines of the poaching war in Zimbabwe, the Akashinga have made over 50 arrests, uncovered local ivory poachers, and opened up new doors of opportunity for their families. Lead by Damien, the Akashinga program employs 100% locally and invests 62% of all operating costs right back into the local community. This alone creates alternative forms of income to a community that once largely depended on funds generated by trophy hunting.
Putting it simply, these women are badass. They are making a name for themselves in a way that has never been done before. And as Damien explains, they are doing it better than many men before them ever have. Check out this short BBC documentary to see for yourself.
To support these women and Damien’s mission, I will be hosting another fundraiser bootcamp for the IAPF on June 30th at 9:30am. Let’s join together to raise awareness, funds, and to sweat to protect the wildlife of Africa. Together, we can help the IAPF continue its mission by contributing towards the purchase of anti poaching equipment and gear for the Akashinga.
For those of you that have ever donated or attended a bootcamp – THANK YOU again. And I invite each of you once more on June 30th at 9:30am. Each participant will get a special IAPF and WSYC bracelet for their contribution!
If you can’t make it but would still like to donate, please visit my gofundme page by clicking here.
You make the difference,
It has been some time since I have posted – I have been quite busy trying to begin some new projects and businesses for myself (soon to be shared)! However, I wanted to fill you in on my recent time at the Steve Irwin Gala in Los Angeles. What an amazing night it was filled with lots of reptiles, yummy foods, and memories of the wonderful Steve himself.
Jake and I rolled up in my new Jeep with my custom plates that read “Crikey Mate!” I was so excited to see my car at the event – I know it is silly, but it is the little things.
This year the Gala was hosted by the SLS hotel in LA. It was quite a different scene from my first Steve Irwin Gala just two years ago, but beautiful nonetheless. Jake and I were fortunate enough to be able to spend the evening in LA and enjoy a late night filled with exciting guests all congregating for the same purpose; to raise money for conservation and honor Steve’s legacy.
The funds raised from the Gala go directly towards the Wildlife Warriors organization (originally called the Steve Irwin Conservation Foundation). This organization raises money to help with several conservation projects around the world like cheetah conservation in South Africa, elephant and tiger conservation in Asia, and whale research in the United States – among many others!
There were many celebrities there supporting the cause which was great to see! Among them were Derek Hough and Nolan Gould (Luke from Modern Family) as well as a young dancer named Emmersyn Florentine. I had no idea initially who this little girl was as I helped her conquer her fear of snakes (see pic below). Coincidentally, she ended up sitting at the same table as us and I later found out she has professionally danced with Derek Hough and is friends with other local celebrities. Jake even had the chance to giver her a twirl on the dance floor which I thought was hilarious.
At our table was another amazing individual who created a beautiful wildlife painting as an auction item to be bid on at the Gala. Annette Winkler and her husband drove all the way from their home in Florida with the paining in the back of their car to attend the event. Now those are some Wildlife Warriors for you!
She and her husband made the night quite enjoyable and Jake and I grew very fond of them. It is so nice to be surrounded by people who believe in and support the same causes as you. There is something refreshing and encouraging to know that you are not alone on this planet with your hopes and dreams. And even if it means simply showing up to Steve’s Gala – we were all Wildlife Warriors that night.
One of the items they auction off at the event is a trip with the Irwins on their annual Croc Researching Trip. Every year I get giddy at the thought of one day being able to bid on such an opportunity. I am always equally excited for and admittedly jealous of the bidder who wins such a prize. That would be a dream come true. The only problem is, my tears of joy (if I were to win this trip) might inhibit my ability to actually help participate in the research process!
Anyway, Jake and I ended the night by speaking for quite some time with Terri. Without me knowing, Jake had earlier in the night taken a “bathroom break” during our meal that actually turned into him sitting with Terri and discussing how “amazing I am” – as she so kindly put it. I was surprised at Jake’s tenacity and almost brought to tears by Terri’s compliments later that night as she reiterated all that Jake had told her about my love for wildlife. She commended us on our time with the Cheetah Outreach and recommended some future conservation endeavors that we might one day like to undertake. Not to mention, she was very keen of Jake and couldn’t state enough how much he really cares about me. So sweet! She also thought it was super great that I was a personal trainer and working with people from that avenue as well. I had no idea that she also loved working out and training. She even told me about how she once considered competing in fitness, but realized it might take away from her time in conservation. (Something that I can relate to and I am working towards understanding how to navigate.)
What was a bit ironic looking back, is that Jake and I ran into Terri in a hallway of the hotel hours before the event – as we were on our way to the fitness room. Literally that might not mean much to you, but metaphorically it is sort of is humorous to me. The hallway we walked down had one of the world’s leading conservationist on one side and a fitness room on the other. And here I was, in the middle – happy to see and be with both.
Anyway, Jake and I had a wonderful time and I always leave with mixed feelings. Most of them happy and encouraged, but another part almost somber and bleak.
It is hard to explain the impact that Steve and his family have had on my life. And it is perhaps one of the greatest opportunities I will ever have to get to see them each year for the Gala. But leaving such amazing people who are so well-known and appreciated in the conservation world prompts a feeling of division once more between myself and where I want to be. Conservation is such a big world. You really are never guaranteed success in the general definition of the word. And maintaining a positive mindset while balancing the other demands of a Southern California lifestyle can be depleting at times.
But… Conservation has no defined rubric and its success is not defined by material achievements. The ultimate goal, as Steve believed – is to share passion and education for the protection of wildlife with others; and the reasons why we must. If you are creative and willing enough, I have learned that you can do this from almost any field of work you may currently be in. Of course, being surrounded by wildlife daily would be a dream come true – but knowing there are such dreams to work for keeps my wheels turning. It’s just not getting frustrated in the mean time that is part of the challenge.
Overall, the night was amazing as usual and I know Jake and I are very much looking forward to next years! We continue to explore what conservation in action means to us and pray that God uses our talents and where we are at to lead us to new levels of outreach.
Here is a short slideshow of pics from the past two Galas! Enjoy and Thank you for reading.
Remember – you can make the difference.
Let’s face it. Having animals in captivity is a sensitive issue. There are many different viewpoints on the topic; some positive and some more negative, but all are worth consideration. After spending quite some time working with animals in enclosures as well as deciphering my own feelings on the topic – I would like to share with you my thoughts. With that said, here is my opinion based on years of studying, contemplation, conversations and direct interaction with animals in enclosures.
Firstly, there is no doubt that animals in captivity will live a life different from that of the wild. They will experience different boundaries, feeding patterns, and at times unusual proximity to other wildlife. These are just a few of the factors to consider when having animals in captivity – there are many as I have learned – all of which are very important to consider. Additionally, if not properly and strategically created based on the needs, behaviors, and characteristics of the specific animal in captivity – enclosures can cause stress induced behaviors to occur. These behaviors such as pacing, abnormal vocalization, and bobbing among others can happen to animals who are not coping well within their enclosures.
I spent several months studying these stress induced behaviors. They are real. And they are saddening. Perhaps the saddest of these situations are seen in circuses and carnivals where wild animals are treated in far less than satisfactory ways. Let me be clear – these I do not stand for. Animals are not toys. They are not puppets. And they should not be trained as such.
However, there are certain wildlife sanctuaries, parks, zoos, rehabilitation centers, and organizations that take a different approach to the purpose of having animals in captivity. And while at times it is still not easy to see wild animals within enclosures of any size… It is important that a select group are – for both the future of their species and of our planet’s well being.
Not to mention the value of wildlife centers who take in sick, injured or abandoned animals who might or might not be able to be reintroduced to the wild for various reasons. These centers often provide invaluable veterinary services and safe environments for wildlife to heal and carry out their lives within. (Of course, these centers should also pay close attention to the living environments provided to their inhabitants.)
I say all of this because there is yet another hard truth to swallow – one that many still deny. The planet we live on is changing. Natural areas are being lost or polluted whether directly or indirectly by human population growth, climate change is causing a shift in the environments and trophic interactions across the planet, and illegal poaching and trade of wildlife continues daily. These threats (among with many others) require that direct action be taken to protect and conserve wildlife around the world. Having animals within properly created and designed enclosures is one way to do so.
Perhaps one of the greatest threats wildlife around the world face is a lack of human education of their importance. Not just an education of their natural beauty, but of their value to each and every one of us. Of how the ecosystems of the Amazon provide a carbon sink that allows the air you breathe to be filtered… How wildlife ecotourism – when done properly – is bringing communities and people out of poverty… And of how scavengers like hyenas in Africa, vultures across North America, and the coyote around your city help reduce the amount of bacteria within the natural environments you enjoy.
These are just a few examples – the list goes on.
Animals within enclosures do indeed have the ability to promote and provide this type of education. And while in a perfect world, all animals would run free – this is not the world we are living in. We must provide and enhance educational opportunities for current and future generations to become inherently motivated towards protecting this planet’s remaining species – or risk facing even more devastating impacts to wildlife.
However, it is absolutely imperative that the zoos, sanctuaries, and conservation groups housing wildlife ensure that the habitats they provide for each species is as natural and enriching as possible. When creating such enclosures issues such as lighting, sound, odors, temperature, and substrate must all be considered. These enclosure characteristics will be unique to each species and thus, will firstly require a deep understanding of each species’ behavior and needs. I do believe that this can be done. And that when done well – can increase the uptake and understanding of the need for wildlife conservation by those who interact with the animals in such enclosures.
Now, without going into further scientific details – here are my final two cents:
Firstly, animals should only be kept in captivity by organizations whose motives are proven to be completely focused on the conservation education, protection, and growth of the species in the wild. As such, these organizations should provide enclosures, enrichment, and care that creates the best possible living environment for the species based on scientific knowledge and educational opportunities.
The needs of all ambassador animals within enclosures should come first – ours second.
Secondly, if we are going to have animals in captivity for conservation education purposes (zoos, outreaches, parks etc), we better ensure that we have a deeper comprehension of how, why, and what impact the animals are having on audiences.
Are they reaching their full educational impact on the public? Are there identifiable changes amongst audiences in their conservation knowledge and mindedness after interacting with animals in enclosures? And are the funds generated by the organization going towards the protection of the species in the wild and to the preservation of its role in its natural environment? Is the organization inherently truthful in its caring for the animals and its promotion of wildlife conservation?
These are all questions I feel obligated to find answers to. And that is why I believe the research of WSYC is so valuable. I want to rest-assured that animals within enclosures are indeed serving their true purposes; that both staff and visitors to such facilities are increasingly being positively influenced by their interactions with the animals.
Because, if the goal is to increase conservation education of the public via wildlife in enclosures – we better make dang sure we are going all in to understand how we are doing that and in what ways. This is what my project seeks to do… To dig deep into how ambassador animals are truly influencing the public. To understand their value for conservation education and to identify current and new ways to ensure their educational impact potential is more than just met.
You will be pleased to know that my time at the Cheetah Outreach proved that their ambassador species are not only impacting audiences for conservation education, but are raising funds for the long-term protection of the species in the wild. The Cheetah Outreach does put the ambassador animals first and ensures that they are properly cared for – day in an day out – rain or shine. They are provided enclosures with enrichment and interaction daily. In my opinion, the cheetahs at the Outreach are quite happy, playful, and content overall. And as their motto implies, visitors at the outreach do have the opportunity to see it, sense it, and play a part in saving it.
So – do I support circuses and low budget zoos who provide minimal to no public interaction, education, or animal enrichment? No. Do I support zoos, conservation organizations, and other groups who maintain animals in captivity to reach conservation education and growth goals? Yes – but only if the animals are put first, if enclosures are designed based on specific species needs, and if they are taking the time to truly engage with audiences and use their funds to enhance the research and conservation of the species in the wild.
The only other option would be to not have any animals in captivity. And as perfect as that sounds – the current state of the world, of the global public’s general lack of conservation knowledge, and of climate change induced environmental threats – do not allow for this to be a viable option. It is my hopes that one day this might be, but until then it is our responsibility to mitigate for the negative impacts we are having on wildlife populations around the planet. This can be done through ambassador species.
If ambassador animals are truly proven to increase the public’s knowledge, attitudes, communication of, and behaviors towards wildlife conservation – then they are of great importance.
This is what I strive to do. To ensure that animals in captivity are reaching the hearts of every visitor and inspiring them to take action – not just by their beauty – but by the knowledge of their intrinsic importance to this earth.
I encourage you to read below the discussion and results of my research paper with the Cheetah Outreach. The excerpt below is taken directly from my paper. However, if you would like to read the paper in full, click this link – Cheetah Outreach PDF Final.
CHEETAH OUTREACH RESULTS (as taken directly from research paper):
Based on quantitative responses, 77% of survey respondents had a change in knowledge after their visit to the Cheetah Outreach. However, 15.38% stated that they did not have knowledge of the reasons for cheetah conservation. A total of 8% of respondents felt that their knowledge remained the same and did not change after visiting the Outreach.
Based on quantitative responses, the knowledge metric appeared to be overall positively influenced among visitors. Many visitors shared similar responses which were coded under the emergent theme – increases in knowledge. This coding theme included statements of increased knowledge of the “threats that cheetahs face in the wild” and pleasant “surprise” with the knowledge of the guarding dog program. Another respondent stated that the handlers had “good explanations” that also lead to their increases in knowledge.
However, one visitor stated that they “did not learn anything new” because they “did not participate in a tour”. Perhaps this suggests that visitors who do not pay for a tour or a wildlife encounter might be offered another interactive avenue to learn about cheetah conservation. There were several visitors who attributed their prior gaps in knowledge to “ignorance,” “being unaware,” and “not realizing,” the decline of cheetahs in the wild.
Interestingly, some themes were also found within the knowledge metric that helped to identify what topics visitors remembered. One respondent included in the prior gaps in knowledge category that they did not know about the “abuse directed towards cheetahs.” Knowledge of the abuse towards cheetahs was non-existent for this respondent prior to their Cheetah Outreach visit. Knowing of the abuse (to this respondent) had an impact on visitor knowledge experience. Another respondent shared that prior to visiting, they thought the Cheetah Outreach was a “zoo.” This could suggest that further distinguishing between the work of a zoo and of an ambassador animal program might be of value to the work of the Cheetah Outreach.
Knowledge of the importance of cheetahs to their surrounding environments and the roles they play within their natural habitat was not mentioned. Gains in this knowledge might give visitors a more well rounded view of the cheetah inspiring them to value their presence in the wild in addition to just having knowledge of the challenges they face. Overall, increases in knowledge were positive, but perhaps a great focus could be placed on the value of an ambassador program and the importance cheetahs have within their ecosystems.
Of the respondents, 46% claimed that their attitudes towards cheetah conservation did change after visiting the Outreach while 31% claimed that their attitudes remained the same. This suggests that perhaps methods to change the attitudes of Cheetah outreach visitors might be an area worth future focus.
Despite claiming their attitudes changed, most respondents were not able to give specific examples of how they changed. Interestingly, more respondents shared statements suggesting explanations of further gains in knowledge rather than attitudes. However, based on all other provided responses, it is fair to infer that visitors’ attitudes towards cheetah conservation became more sympathetic after visiting the CO.
The emergent codes of attitude before and attitude after visiting the Outreach included statements such as, “ I was unaware of the conflict between cheetahs in the wild and farmers.” Another included that cheetahs are “extremely complex creatures” which suggests a potential attitude of appreciation for the species.
The fact that respondents associated knowledge related statements with an attitude specific question is interesting. One respondent did say that they already thought cheetah conservation was “important before their visit.” This suggests that perhaps identifying ways to bring others to the Cheetah Outreach who are not immediately interested in wildlife conservation could enhance changes in the public’s attitudes. Drawing people to the Outreach who don’t know about cheetah conservation might be a greater way to reach a wider audience – not just those already looking forward to interacting with a cheetah. This could be possibly done by reaching out to various donors and sharing the online video portion of this project with them.
It would be interesting to ask the 23% of respondents who claimed they had no specific attitude towards cheetah conservation why that is. Changing visitors’ attitudes is an important step in the effort to encourage public involvement with conservation. Like in the knowledge category, it might be useful to educate visitors of the natural value of cheetahs to surrounding wildlife and ecosystems as well. Perhaps in this way, the attitudes of visitors will become more globally minded – in addition to the emotional impact felt from interacting with an ambassador animal.
A total of 77% of respondents stated that their ability to talk to others about cheetah conservation had changed after visiting the Cheetah Outreach. This is a strong percentage suggesting that the knowledge gained at the Cheetah Outreach increases the ability of visitors to share what they have learned with others. Interpersonal communication survey results held the greatest amount of feedback amongst survey responses.
From the open-ended communication responses, the emergent codes – increased likelihood of sharing and topics to be shared – were created in Nvivo. One respondent shared, “I feel I have more knowledge to talk” while another also attributed gains in knowledge to feeling more “comfortable educating” others. Another respondents shared that having a “first hand experience” helped them to be more likely to talk about cheetah conservation. Overall, it seems that the greater the increase in their knowledge – the more likely visitors are to discuss what they learned with others. Through this spread of knowledge – it is possible to also inspire changes in attitudes amongst a larger audience as visitors travel back home. In addition to reaching out to donors directly, interpersonal communication can encourage others outside of wildlife conservation to possibly show an interest in visiting the Cheetah Outreach. It is important that visitors continue to walk away feeling excited to share what they learned from a global perspective.
Further respondents included that they would share how “beautiful and engaging the species is,” “the challenges they face,” and “issues cheetahs face with inbreeding.” It is positive to see that they are willing to share about specific examples of cheetah conservation rather than just their beauty. It would be interesting to see how many visitors come to the Cheetah Outreach after learning of the program from previous visitors. Sharing knowledge and talking with others is one way to encourage conservation, but direct action from the public must also be taken. Researching how increased communication leads to direct action would be interesting. This might be done by following up with visitors weeks or months after their Outreach visit to inquire what if any actions they have taken to encourage cheetah conservation.
In this study, the “barrier” was an inability to do something to help cheetah conservation. Results show that 62% of respondents felt that their ability to do something to help cheetah conservation did change. 23% felt that they did not have the ability to help with the work of cheetah conservation while 15% claimed their ability to help remained the same.
Using Nvivo, responses were coded into two emergent themes – unsure how to change and ideas to change. Within the first theme, one respondent shared that “no one explained how” to do something to help cheetah conservation. Another respondent felt that because they “live in a country with no cheetahs” they could do nothing to help.
These responses suggest that perhaps a portion of Cheetah Outreach activities should inform visitors of what they directly can do to help cheetah conservation – whether or not they live near to them. In fact, one respondent shared that “more focused needs to be placed on informing people how they can help” cheetah conservation.
However, other respondents shared that they could help by donating and volunteering.
While these are needed and great methods to help, perhaps examples of how to get involved influencing others for change and living more sustainable lives could also be shared. More evidence should be provided to guests that makes them feel a part of the solution – not that they just know more about the problem. Making wildlife conservation relatable and accessible might also influence changes in attitudes amongst the public regarding their ability to make a difference. Encouraging the value of public action for the plight of the cheetah might be beneficial to the conservation of cheetahs in the wild. Perhaps informing visitors of additional groups working to protect natural areas in Africa could provide better connectivity and inspire ideas amongst visitors. This would also increase interpersonal communication leading to the spread of more conservation information.
Lastly, just over half of respondents (54%) claimed that their likelihood of doing something different to help protect the cheetah changed. However, 30.77% of respondents claimed that their likelihood of taking action remained the same as when they first entered the Cheetah Outreach.
Two emergent codes were created in Nvivo – unsure how to change and ideas to change. Respondents shared that they “really want to” do something, but they are “not sure how”. Accompanying this idea, another visitor shared that there needs to be “more focus on how humans can change their ways to protect these animals.” Of the responses on how to change their ways – it appears that “financial donation” was the first inclination.
This information suggests that visitors don’t leave the center knowing exactly how they can make changes to help. Perhaps relating cheetah conservation to everyday activities and environmental decisions might be an area of future educational focus. While staff and volunteers are kept quite busy each day with tasks at the Cheetah Outreach – it is important that visitors leave knowing at least one or two things they can personally do to help protect wildlife.
Increased discussion, knowledge, and changes in attitudes are important steps in wildlife conservation, but without changes in public behavior – a piece of the puzzle remains missing. Perhaps a board showcasing how visitors can directly get involved at home (in addition to donating) can be placed near to the Cheetah Outreach entrance/exit. An interactive “educational experience” encouraging visitors to gather and discuss ideas of what can be done to help cheetah protection would also benefit the work of the Outreach. Group discussion leads to the advancement of ideas, increases in interest, and eventually inspired action.
Question 8 Final Say:
Answers to the question, “In your opinion, what three things will you remember about your time at the Cheetah Outreach and why,” fell within the descriptive, emotional, and scientific emergent codes.
Visitors shared they would remember that cheetahs “purr loudly” and that “they are as playful as domestic cats.” Others included that they would remember the “cheetah cub encounter” and how “calm the cheetahs can be.” These are all great descriptions of the cheetahs that left lasting impressions on the visitors.
Additionally, many responses included statements of emotional reflections. For example, visitors shared that cheetahs are a “graceful and beautiful animal that needs help in a hostile and ignorant world.” Another shared that they felt “really emotional after” their cub encounter. Importantly, another respondent included that they “previously thought all big cats were for the most part dangerous to be around.” This is important to know that the culture of being afraid of cheetahs and seeing them as cruel predators can be positively influenced by the Cheetah Outreach. Culture has been cited by researchers as one of the leading influences against wildlife conservation. Realizing this, the Cheetah Outreach should continue to maximize on encouraging a shift in culture for visitors that encourages the appreciation of wildlife in their natural habitat. This might be done by relating how the presence of cheetah influences other trophic levels that we ultimately depend on as one planet.
Another respondent also shared that they would remember how “ignorant” they were of the “risks the species face” before coming to the Outreach. Two respondents shared they would remember the “farm dog program” while another included the “fragile state of the cheetah population.” Several respondents also included statements recognizing the “knowledgeable handlers” and “informed staff”. Overall, it appears that visitors to the Cheetah Outreach do leave with all around positive memories of their time.
It is worth sharing that one respondent did not feel that they were able to learn much at the cheetah outreach because of the lack of “organization” when “handling visitors.” This respondent further shared that their group was left with “mixed messages about the outreach” because of their “frustration with lines and tour groups fighting to get into the interactions.” Perhaps a better explanation on busy days of how the waiting process works could be shared with visitors before they purchase a ticket and head to the enclosure area.
Changes in visitor knowledge is the first step to initiate further conservation related changes in an individual based on the Theory of Change Metrics (Figure 3). Overall, it appears that the Cheetah Outreach does do a great job at spreading knowledge of certain aspects of cheetah conservation with visitors. Of all survey question responses, positive changes within the knowledge metric were among the most frequently shared. However, knowledge of the importance of cheetahs to their surrounding environments and the roles they play within their natural habitat could be of future focus. Gains in this type of knowledge might give visitors a more well rounded view of the cheetah – inspiring them to value their presence in the wild from a more holistic view point. Consideration should also be given to provide a more educational experience for visitors who do not participate in an encounter or tour. Perhaps updating signs or creating interactive diagrams and discussions hosted by volunteers could increase knowledge.
Interestingly, although certain gains in knowledge were easily shared by respondents, specific reasons for changes in attitudes were not. Of all the metrics, the attitudes of visitors to the Cheetah Outreach were the least positively impacted. Further research might consider how changing attitudes is possible and what prevents changes in attitudes from occurring – despite gains in knowledge. One respondent did share that they already thought cheetah conservation was “important before their visit.” This suggests that perhaps identifying ways to bring others who do not have prior attitudes of interest in cheetah conservation to the Outreach might be beneficial. Interestingly, there were no emotional comments from respondents related to their attitudes towards cheetah conservation. Influencing the attitude metric among visitors should be of future focus.
However, what visitors lacked in changes in attitude they made up for in their desire to share what they learned and felt at the Cheetah Outreach with others. While the information shared with others could be a bit more well-rounded, visitors were more likely to talk nonetheless. Communication and the sharing of information and experiences is an important way to encourage change amongst the Theory of Change template. It is exciting to know that visitors to the Cheetah Outreach do feel more capable of sharing what they gain in knowledge with others. Because visitors come from around the world – the work of the Cheetah Outreach is able to be more easily shared from first-hand accounts. However, this is all the more reason why special care should be taken to ensure that information regarding all areas of cheetah conservation is presented to visitors; like their roles in the wild, how they impact ecosystems, the human-wildlife conflict, and the roll of ambassador animals like those at the Cheetah Outreach.
Informing visitors of how they can directly help with cheetah conservation outside of donations should be of future consideration. There were not many respondents who were able to give more descriptive and knowledge fueled responses for how they can aid in the Cheetah Outreach’s global effort to encourage the conservation of the cheetah. But they did share that they enjoyed the experience that they did have fun while visiting the Cheetah Outreach. Perhaps making visitors feel partly responsible for the endangerment of cheetahs in the wild – whether through their own decisions or lack of action – is one way to motivate changes in attitude.
In a similar way, providing visitors with examples of how they can make lifestyle changes to conserve the planet and cheetahs’ ecosystems might be beneficial (in addition to making donations and volunteering). Many visitors felt that they were moved and touched by their interactions and time spent at the Cheetah Outreach, but not enough were able to carry home what they learned to make definitive changes – based on response data. Respondents shared that they were likely to share with others the threats cheetahs face, but were unsure of other ways to help outside of making donations. Realizing this, it would be interesting to see how many visitors continue to make a donations after leaving the Cheetah Outreach. Understanding how visitors’ experiences translate into donations would be of potential interest to the Cheetah Outreach in order to gain more public financial support. A small study following up with visitors or tracking donations based on activities undertaken at the Cheetah Outreach might prove valuable towards understanding how to encourage public involvement.
Finally, when looking at the flow of the Theory of Change metrics the Knowledge and Interpersonal Communication metrics among visitors was greatly enhanced. The Barrier Removal metric, or the ability of visitors to do something to help with cheetah conservation was also enhanced, but could be of more focus. Lastly, the Attitude and Behavior Change metrics were the least impacted based on survey feedback. These insights into how visitors are impacted at the Cheetah Outreach based on metrics can help the organization have a deeper look into the effectiveness of the work done each day for cheetah conservation.
In conclusion, the Cheetah Outreach is taking great strides to increase the public’s involvement and understanding with wildlife conservation. Together, the results of this project summary suggest that the Cheetah Outreach is capable of reducing the threat of a lack of human involvement with wildlife conservation. Reducing this threat can lead to the ultimate conservation goal of enhancing the public’s education with wildlife conservation.
This particular post has been a long time coming – and I have to say it has been worth the wait!
I am so excited to share with you the final video from the Cheetah Outreach research project. You an expect a lot of beautiful wildlife, interesting insights, and a better understanding of what it is that I spent almost a month in South Africa doing. Read More
Today has been an odd day.
Do you ever have those? You just wake up and there is a sense of undirected magnetism in the air. Your thoughts are on a different wavelength, your focus is redirected to a distant idea, and your actions seem almost hypnotic.
Today was one of those days.
But do you want to know the one thing that makes me feel present during days like this? Writing. Yup, just going at that pencil and paper – or keyboard and computer. Read More
Well, it has already been 6 months six our journey to the Cheetah Outreach, South Africa. I cannot believe how time flies! Upon returning home, Jake and I both were quite busy catching up with work, family, and setting goals for the months ahead. However, we are excited to share with you one of the final videos showcasing the diverse aspects of the Cheetah Outreach. Read More
How do you bridge the gap between what you want to do with your life and what you are currently doing? How do you bring yourself into the vision or dream you feel your life should be? These are some of the questions I have asked myself for several years now – and I believe I am beginning to discover my own version of the answers. Read More
Why should you care about the International Anti-Poaching Federation (IAPF)?
It’s a numbing thought to consider that as we sit on our computers, watch our TVs, or scroll through our instagrams, wildlife across the world are literally fighting for their lives. And while we may not see the immediate causes of this fight – it is imperative that a global awareness for wildlife conservation is raised in order to conserve all remaining populations. Read More
The other day while mindlessly watching TV, I happened to hear something said that quickly grabbed my attention… It was nothing extremely profound, yet it struck me as so.
“Inspiration is fleeting”
Yes, that is what I heard. Now let those words sink for a moment into your own mind. What do you feel? Any connection? Agree? Disagree? Let me tell you what I felt… Read More
Before reading on about the NWF, I want you to take just 30 seconds and think about all the different wildlife that call North America home. I am sure you could name at least five – maybe even ten different species. Now take another 30 seconds and think about the other species of wildlife that live across this planet’s continents. Perhaps you came up with a few more species off the top of your head… However, I think it is fair to assume that you weren’t able to recall all the names of the remaining 8.7 million plus species scientists currently estimate exist. Read More
Why is it that some things in life scare us more than others? Make us feel incapable… Stir feelings of anxiety… Or raise questions of ourselves we often don’t want to focus on finding the answers to.
Isn’t it a funny thing to think we are all in charge of our own lives, have the same freedom to do as we please, and yet we can become so timid when confronted with a non-tangible idea – like a simple passion for something you have. At least for me – that is often the case. The very things that excite me also scare me more than anything else. Read More
Hello hello! It is now 6:52pm here on June 21st in South Africa. We have been here a total of 11 days now and have about 6 more to go. Time really does fly. It’s funny, the anticipation for a trip is always more of a rollercoaster than the actual trip itself. I should know this by now and yet I continue to get on and ride that coaster before every travel of mine… Read More
Now that things have settled down just a bit since arriving in South Africa, I thought I would share with you some important information about many of the animals Jake and I are working with from day-to-day.
(I should inform you that I have fallen in love with each of them and they all have their own personalities – much like people.) Whether a serval, cheetah, meerkat, caracal, or the adorable bat-eared foxes – all of the animals at Cheetah Outreach are both adorable AND greatly important to African ecosystems. Read More
(Disclaimer: This was written while on the plane – wifi was poor so posting a few days later! Read on…)
You know, the more I grow and travel along on this Why Should You Care journey, the more I feel like I am living in an incredible movie. Maybe it’s just me… but do you ever have those moments when you are watching some epic movie where you just feel all sorts of emotions? Whether feelings of empowerment, thrill, sadness, anxiety, confusion, happiness, or those that just send an unexplainable chill throughout your body.. Read More
“The struggle is real.”
Ever heard this saying before? It seems to be a popular phrase quoted by many these days when facing hard times or just a long and tiring day at work…
Recently though – I have found it interesting that despite going through days of my own where the struggle has felt all too real… I have been given more random compliments from friends and words of flattery than I have seemed to notice before. This post is not to point out these compliments, but to bring awareness to the fact that compliments can hold more than just kind words. Read More
Have a look at this short video Jake put together using some footage from our recent trip to Mission:Wolf!
In case you are wondering what’s next – I am currently putting together some strategic questions for Mission:Wolf to help them gain a deeper understanding of how well the public is receiving the educational work they are providing. This is imporant because as I have learned (and many wildlife conservationists would also agree) – it is increasing education and spreading awareness of the importance for wildlife that will ultimately inspire others to care – leading to the possibility and increased likelihood of long-term changes being made to help protect this planet’s beautiful and more than deserving species. Read More
It all began on a late Wednesday afternoon – Jake and I piled up the Suburban with all of our goods – prepared and ready for the very cold temperatures ahead. According to those at Mission:Wolf – the weather we were about to encounter over the next three days consisted of sun, snow, rain, and everything in between. But Jake and I considered this an exciting challenge (although I was a bit nervous about our sleeping arrangements at the time), and we set out on the road ahead… Read More
What interesting beings dreams are. They take hold of us and seem to control many of the decisions we make throughout our time on this planet. Some are short-lived, while others manage to cling to us like some sort of parasite – both giving and taking from us depending on the day. Many dreams we will accomplish – while others might be pushed to the side as we grow and our perspectives change.
But every now and then – there is one dream that is just different. Read More
Ever been on a vacation where you have had the opportunity to get upclose and personal with some native wildlife? Perhaps you went to Hawaii and saw a sea-turtle laying lazily near the beach. Maybe you went to the Galapagos and got to hang out with some sun-bathing iguanas. Or maybe you simply visited a local zoo where you were surrounded by wild animals in captivity. Regardless of what type of wildlife encounter you experienced – have you ever considered what impact this could have to both the animals being viewed as well as yourself and others? Read More
Recently, Jake and I took our annual trip to Yosemite. While savoring the fresh air and looking in awe upon the granite walls surrounding us, we put together this short informational video for you to further understand what exactly Why You Should Care does – and why it was created. Read More
While there are numerous methods to conserve the cheetah in Africa, a highly respected non-profit organization known as the Cheetah Outreach Trust relies on man’s best friend and farmers who are the custodians of the land to do so. But before explaining how a charismatic breed of dog and willing tolerant farmers can save the lives’ of these big cats, it is important to first briefly understand why the cheetah is in danger and who is involved. Read More
While there are numerous methods to conserve the cheetah in Africa, a highly respected non-profit organization known as the Cheetah Outreach Trust relies on man’s best friend and farmers who are the custodians of the land to do so. But before explaining how a charismatic breed of dog and willing tolerant farmers can save the lives’ of these big cats, it is important to first briefly understand why the cheetah is in danger and who is involved.
In the northern regions of South Africa, livestock farmers use their private lands as grazing habitat for their livestock (usually sheep, goats, or other small farm species). These farmers rely on the land to provide their livestock with food to survive, which in turn provides the landowners with financial stability. Additionally, cheetahs and other wildlife depend on the same land to provide them with the vital ecosystem processes necessary to live. However, as farmers’ financial demands require the expansion of land for livestock and game farming, cheetahs are continually coming into closer contact with their valuable and easily preyed upon livestock and intensively managed game populations.
This creates a perceived human-carnivore conflict – as the potential for livestock loss due to predation jeopardizes the financial well being of African farmers.
While different types of human-carnivore conflicts exist worldwide, much of the future of the cheetah in Africa depends upon the preservation and mitigation strategies used by non-profits such as the Cheetah Outreach Trust (COT). The COT uses educational, scientifically proven, and in-situ tools to identify effective ways of reducing the occurrence of cheetah-livestock encounters. In addition to reducing livestock attack rates, the COT also strives to prevent lethal retaliation by farmers towards cheetahs (and other farmland predator species), thereby increasing the surrounding communities’ social perception and tolerance of the animal. The COT provides educational outreaches using ambassador cheetahs at their headquarters in the Western Cape of South Africa, as well as giving presentations, workshops and research findings to local farming communities to inform all relevant stakeholders of the cheetah’s importance.
Additionally, changing social perceptions of cheetahs can be done by providing farmers with alternate sources of income other than livestock, educating youth locally, regionally and worldwide on the value of cheetahs within their ecosystems, and through the creation of incentive schemes encouraging farmers to end lethal predator retaliation. Spreading awareness of the knowledge gained during research carried out by the COT and other scientists is also important. For example, as stated by the COT, cheetahs are actually responsible for only about 3% of perceived livestock losses occurring on farms. Realizing this, it is crucial that further awareness is brought to this statistic and that further consideration is given on ways to reduce livestock attacks overall.
Despite this knowledge, many livestock owners continue to shoot, poison, trap, and illegally sell cheetahs believing that lethal retaliation will reduce livestock attack rates. However, the unnecessary killing of cheetahs through shooting, trapping and poisoning does not always remove the “problem” animal and can cause unneeded harm to other species within the same ecosystem. For example, it is estimated that for every attempt to trap a specific animal, another 20 non-target species are harmed in the process. From this, it is possible that another predator species or perhaps a smaller animal could become accidentally trapped in a snare placed by farmers aimed at catching a larger predator. Among this danger, there are many other potentially harmful situations created when farmers choose to use lethal predator controls. Realizing that there are only about 500 free ranging cheetahs left in South Africa, it is vitally important that new methods of informing farmers and preventing livestock losses are identified. These methods must be sustainable, effective, and financially affordable for farmers and surrounding communities alike.
Additionally, individuals like you and non-profits such as the Cheetah Outreach Trust must continue to educate local and global communities on ways to sustainably coexist with the planet’s beautiful carnivore species. Together we share this planet and together we can work together to inform, educate, and research ways to better our relationship with all wildlife.
Beginning in 2005, the COT began the Livestock Guarding Dog program (LGD) on South African farmlands. During this time, farmers were given guard dogs that instinctively guard and stay close to their herds, protecting them from predators. After four years of continued livestock dog guarding success, the COT began its own guard dog-breeding program. Specifically, the Turkish Anatolian Shepherd (and Lesotho Maluti breed in a more recent pilot scheme) were chosen for the program due to their attentive, protective, and trustworthy nature. Since the initiation of the LGD program six years ago, the COT has saved farmers an annual $3,189.00 per farm in livestock losses (Rust et al., 2013). Additionally, not only have 100% of livestock predations on 91% of participating farms been reduced by guarding dogs (Rust et al., 2013), cheetahs have also been able to more safely coexist and traverse through areas near to farmlands.
Interestingly, the same breeds of guard dogs have also been used in other countries to protect livestock from various carnivore species. However, their effectiveness in cheetah conservation has proved impressive and extremely valuable towards conservation efforts. Currently, the LGD program provides farmers with pups at the early age of 6-8 weeks. The guard dog pups quickly and instinctively bond with the farmer’s herds and handle themselves independently in the field. After placement, field officers of the COT consistently visit and monitor the pups to ensure that their guardian instincts are developing adequately and that they are efficiently serving their duties as they grow.
Amazingly, the guard dogs do not require training to protect the herds and naturally create a bond with the farmer’s livestock, which leads to their outstanding protective abilities. Because of this, over 240 Livestock Guarding Dogs have now been placed on farmlands in northern South Africa, in border areas with Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe by the COT. Many guard dogs do, however, receive basic training teaching them to avoid interaction with snakes and other potentially dangerous animals once they are old enough.
Due to the desire of cheetahs to avoid areas frequented by guard dogs, the COT has also discovered that strategic placement of the LGDs in clusters can encourage migration of cheetah populations. Using this idea, the COT can create viable habitat corridors allowing the movement of cheetahs away from livestock and with the opportunity to cross borders into Botswana, Namibia, and Zimbabwe. This strategic placement of LGDs and the resulting movement of cheetahs can help to reduce problematic genetic isolation and increase genetic diversity of the already small cheetah population.
Additionally, farmers who choose to participate in the LGD program pledge to cease all poisoning, shooting, and trapping of cheetahs and all farmland species. By providing farmers with LGDs, their tolerance of predators can increase over time. This change in the perception of cheetahs can also prevent other animals from negatively being influenced by famers’ otherwise harmful actions. For example, animals at different trophic levels sharing the same ecosystem as cheetahs depend on one another for the continued provision of ecosystem processes. As farmers continue to join the program, increases in persecution-free farmland will thus support the safe movement of cheetahs, their livelihood, and indirectly the protection and sustainment of other species as well.
Overtime, the COT desires to continue enhancing farmers’ and the general public’s perceptions of cheetahs through an emerging livestock guarding dog culture. This will require the continual education of South Africa’s youth as well as on-going research focused on the effectiveness of livestock guarding dogs. The COT also desires to establish a sustainable and economically beneficial ecotourism program for communities in South Africa using cheetah ambassadors. As the third most biodiverse country in the world, creating a sustainable and reliable ecotourism business has the potential to help both wildlife and communities in South Africa. As the people of South Africa become aware of the monetary value ecotourism can have, their perceptions of cheetahs and other wildlife as “harmful” can be altered. Instead, they will be encouraged to coexist with the animals and perceive them as financial assets to the region, if not already for their intrinsic value.
However, while the COT continues to grow the LGD program and culture, the need to educate populations around the world about the importance of predators in all ecosystem remains. While you might be thinking you aren’t capable of doing anything about this particular human-carnivore conflict – you absolutely are. Just by reading this you have chosen to engage in educating yourself about the issue, which is the beginning of change. Whether you choose to discuss this issue further with others or simply keep it to yourself, you have chosen to take the time to learn about a serious conservation issue outside of immediate boundaries. In addition, through the spread of knowledge regarding the cheetah-livestock issue, it is possible that increased international pressure can and will be eventually placed on farmers and livestock owners to end all lethal carnivore retaliation.
As defined by the Theory of Change Metrics, it is possible that an increase in your knowledge of such conservation issues can change your attitude, increase your desire to know more about what is happening with cheetah preservation, reduce your inability to understand how to get involved, and inspire you overall to become more aware and active in learning. Applied on a larger scale, if this same process occurs across greater expanses of individuals, human-carnivore conflicts worldwide will grow in their ability to be researched and mitigated for through public support and non-lethal mitigation.
While this is not a small task and will require the effort, understanding, and acceptance of all stakeholders involved, it is crucial that the cheetahs are given the chance they deserve. You can assist the efforts of the Cheetah Outreach Trust’s LGD program, help them to encourage farmland biodiversity, and assist in protecting the existing populations of cheetahs by remaining in the know.
As one of the highest recognized non-profit organizations in Africa, the COT also spends time in classrooms with impoverished youth and other members of the community educating them on the importance of respecting all environments. Like the COT, you too can do your part by sharing the knowledge you have gained regarding the cheetah-livestock conflict with those around you and by considering how your actions can be indirectly and/or directly be harmful to local wildlife.
Overall, it is the COT’s hope that individuals like you will remain engaged as they work to sustain cheetah populations, mitigate for livestock losses, and create an economically sustainable and wildlife friendly culture in South Africa.
To find out more, inquire about visiting the COT, or learn about other ways to get involved – email the Cheetah Outreach Trust at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you wish to make a donation to the Cheetah Outreach Trust or adopt a working Anatolian Shepherd or Maluti Livestock Guarding Dog – email email@example.com.
Warm waters, tropical islands, a gentle coastal breeze… These few words paint an image of the typical summer vacation most people dream of enjoying. In fact, most people won’t venture into ocean waters unless they seem warm enough to enjoy. However, as many environmental changes occur around our earth (both natural and human-accelerated), our oceans are feeling the effects of warming waters. Read More
When you think of the word poverty, what comes to mind? Do you think of financial problems, a lack of food, and/or poor living conditions? Perhaps even an image of a certain location comes to mind… Maybe one that is farther than it is near to you. Read More
When you go to visit a zoo or some type of wildlife enclosure – what are your intentions? Are you there to simply view the many species from afar and admire their beauty? Or perhaps are you there to gain a better understanding of how a certain species behaves in a wild setting? Whatever the reason, it is important that you look deeper into the eyes of the species that you are viewing. Read More
When you think of a lion, tiger, bear, wolf, hyena, or any other carnivore – what comes to mind?
For many people, visions of snarling teeth, danger, and fear often arise. However, take a moment to ask yourself why do you feel these emotions (or any others that you do). Where do your feelings come from? Have you ever even actually seen one of these beautiful creatures in the wild? Or are you basing these emotions off of man-made themes created in movies, literature, the news, or possibly even during casual conversation? Read More
The Sky is dark at night, right? Well, yes – but just how dark should it be and how dare are we making it?
When you look up at the sky at night, you may find yourself thinking – Wow, there are/aren’t a lot of stars out tonight. The truth is – there are always a lot of stars “out” at night. However, depending on your location the problem is not that there aren’t a lot of stars out, but rather what is preventing you from being able to see them?
Not only you, but think about the many nocturnal animals and ecosystems that depend on a darkly moon-lit environment to hunt for food, hide from predators, or to search for a new habitat in (click the link for more info). For example, think of a rabbit attempting to hide from a predator in the cover of night. This rabbit is running around just outside of a well-lit city in the night time hours. What would normally be a pitch dark sky is now brightened from city lights, preventing the rabbit from finding the coverage needed to quickly escape from predators. Along comes a coyote and well… you can choose how the story ends.
Or take the coyote for example – under the same brightened night sky (that should otherwise be completely dark) it attempts to hide in order to hunt the rabbit. However, because the rabbit is able to see more clearly than it naturally should – running away from the coyote is easier than normal. Thus, the coyote must exert more energy for hunting which believe it or not – can have other impacts to the surrounding ecosystem.
While either of these situations could work in favor of/against either the rabbit or the coyote, the point is that unnaturally bright night skies are capable of having unintended consequences on our surrounding ecosystems.
Too many rabbit-stuffed coyotes means more coyotes around your house. Too few coyotes who are not as able to catch rabbits efficiently means other possible trophic cascades to the area. Take a look at this video to learn about a really interesting example of what a trophic cascades is through an example of one taking place in Yellowstone.
First of all – thank you for visiting my site. I appreciate your interest and I hope that you get hooked on all of the interesting and simplified conservation information I will be presenting to you.
I highly suggest that you start by reading the brief a little about the author section on the home page of this site. It will tell you about myself as well as why I have created this site for you and what you can expect to find. Also, if you really hit it off with what I have to say – scroll down to click follow and subscribe to get emailed when I post more stuff.
Don’t forget to check out the awesome photos taken by the talented, Jake Schaeffler – and now, start your reading!
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