Sunday, June 28, 2015

Saving the icons of Africa

When I think of Africa, the first thing that comes to my mind is the iconic silhouette of a giraffe standing next to an acacia tree. Giraffes are truly symbolic of Africa. They are found no place else on earth, only in Africa. Standing tall with pride, these gentle animals spend their days walking across the plains. The giraffe is an integral part of the African ecosystem and sadly they are disappearing at alarming rates. Historically Reticulated giraffes could be seen from north-central Kenya to southern Somalia and Ethiopia. However, this is not what can be seen now. Reticulated giraffes have declined by over 80% in the last 15 years, going from 28,000 to about 4,700 today. That is a drastic decline that if not stopped, could lead to the extinction of these giraffes by 2019.

So why are these icons disappearing? Why are more people not talking about this?

As with other endangered species, the number one cause of decline is poaching. I could go on for hours about how much I loathe poachers - about how ignorant people are to believe that an animals bones can cure AIDS and cancer - about how inhumane it is to kill an animal and leave them to die a slow and painful death just so they can go home with some sort of trophy ... but I won't. Not now.

Habitat loss from development and agriculture, areas that have become uninhabitable because of over-grazing, competition for food and water with newly introduced species of livestock, and the simple fact that we just don't know enough about the iconic animals. We need to understand more about the giraffe and those who share a home with them in Africa so that we can do everything possible to save the giraffe.

I would like to share the story of how Dylan is helping to save the Reticulated giraffes ...

Last month while attending a Curators Club breakfast in San Diego, Dylan and I listened to a man talk about the plight of the giraffes. His name is David O'Connor and he is one of the Conservation Research Coordinators at San Diego Zoo Global. I will never forget his words, "There are less Reticulated giraffe than the endangered black rhino. At this rate, these giraffe will be extinct by 2019." What? Was I hearing this right? Why have I not heard about these staggering statistics before?

After hearing these words, I looked over at Dylan, His face said it all. We both knew how serious these numbers were since we have been big supporters of the rhino conservation efforts for several years now. Something told me this would be Dylan's next endeavor ... and I was right. After the breakfast Dylan walked up to David and asked how he could help save the giraffes. David told us about his conservation project that was being funded on Crowdrise and how all the money was going directly to help the giraffes in Africa. When we got home Dylan decided he didn't want to just donate to David's team, he wanted to join his team!

I helped Dylan set up his page and within a matter of minutes he was part of the team. His goal was $250 by Endangered Species Day. That only gave him 13 days, but he was determined to make it happen. A few tweets and Facebook posts later, Dylan had met his goal. In just 11 short days he had raised $250 for David's Giraffe Conservation Project.

Dylan's passion and determination to change the world continues to inspire me. If you would like to help him raise more funds for the Giraffe Conservation Project (so that David can reach his project goal of $60,000) you can click here to make a tax-deductible donation. Giraffe badly need our help, and right now that means funding for on the ground programs in East Africa that are working to save them.

In the words of David O'Connor, Giraffes are the forgotten megafauna. We still do not fully understand how they move across the landscape, how and what they eat, how many are left, their social structure, how they interact with people and livestock. As such, these giraffe are rapidly disappearing, with little notice. It is especially worrying as most of the giraffe's range is outside of protected areas, overlapping with pastoralist herders and small-scale agriculturalists.

Africa wouldn't be Africa without this iconic animal ... please help us save the giraffe.

All photos courtesy of David O'Connor.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

5 Reasons to Symbolically Adopt an Endangered Species

Wild animals don't make good pets, but that doesn't mean you can't have a tiger or a rhino as part of your family. Symbolic adoptions are a win-win for everyone.

  1.  You are helping species by giving money to organizations that are doing hands on conservation work in the field. While I can't be in Africa, these people can and my support helps make it possible. 
  2. You are creating memories that you can put into a scrapbook or picture frame. Most symbolic adoptions come with a photograph, adoption certificate, fact sheet, and often send updates on your animal. For critically endangered species, you often get quarterly updates on how the species is doing. 
  3. You are inspiring others by sharing your adoption with friends and family. Telling people how easy it is to adopt and how it really helps the species will inspire others to adopt. 
  4. You are giving a voice to those who cannot speak for themselves. These animals need our help.
  5. You are making a difference. This may be the most powerful reason of all to symbolically adopt an endangered species. Every adoption is one step closer to making big changes and turning those numbers around. Seeing that a species is increasing in population, because of something you may have helped do, is an amazing feeling. 

Whatever animal you choose to symbolically adopt, I guarantee there is a non-profit organization waiting to read your email. I suggest starting by contacting your local zoo/aquarium for a list of animal adoptions. If you want to help a more specific or unique species, try World Wildlife Fund or research non-profits that work with your chosen animal. 

To help you get started, here are a few of the organizations that I have adopted from. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Recognition from USFWS gives Dylan hope for his future

Conservation. Saving endangered species. 

Fundraising. Setting goals and surpassing them. 

These are just a few of the topics discussed at my dinner table. 
Yes, I know this is not your typical dinner conversation, but that is because my son is not your typical 11 year old. 

Being a conservationist is not the coolest thing for a 6th grader to be known for. However, Dylan takes pride in his efforts and I keep reminding him that he is doing great things. That's what moms do, right? We praise our children for a job well done. Sometimes the response I get is "You're just saying that because you're my mom" or "Most people don't care about what I'm doing to save the animals". As his mom, this breaks my heart to hear him think this way. He may be partially correct, the world is filled with all sorts of people who have their own beliefs ... but as Dylan recently found out, there are a whole bunch of people who think he's doing some pretty awesome things for wildlife conservation. 

Last Friday was Endangered Species Day and we were invited to take part in a special Rally4Rhinos event at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park to help bring more awareness to the plight of rhinos. Even though Mother Nature decided to give us lots and lots of rain this day, it was an event we wouldn't miss. The Rhino Rally kicked off with a "crash" mob of elementary students and teachers from the San Pasqual Valley and was followed by updates from San Diego Zoo Global and William C. Woody, Chief of Office of Law Enforcement at the US Fish & Wildlife Service. Imagine Dylan's surprise when Chief Woody asked Dylan and another young boy to come up to he podium.

Both boys were recognized for their conservation efforts and for making a difference for rhinos and other endangered species. Hearing my son share what he has done and seeing the look of of pride on a friends face while he spoke was something I will always remember. The applause that filled the pavilion for Dylan when he was done speaking filled my heart with a kind of joy that I have never felt before. Not just pride as his mom, but pride for him getting the recognition he so desired and needed. As Dylan walked back to his seat, standing tall and clutching his rhino sculpture, I saw something in him that I haven't seen before. I saw confidence. The confidence of a young man was beaming from my pre-teen son's face. This public recognition from our friends at San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy and from Chief Woody was just what Dylan needed to reaffirm his passion for conservation. 

As another way of saying thank you to the boys, we were invited to go out on a VIP caravan safari to see Nola, one of only five Northern white rhinos left in the world. Nola is our favorite rhino and truly one of the most beautiful creatures I have ever met. This was a dream come true for Dylan.

I really don't think it matters anymore what the kids at school say because Dylan just had the best day of his young life.

For more about Nola and to see pictures from our visit with her, you can visit my photography site