In January 2004, Nature magazine released an explosive study asserting that by 2050, 15-37% of the 1,103 animal and plant species the nineteen authors examined will be “committed to extinction” if anthropogenic global warming persists. Stanford conservation biologist Terry Root estimates, “We’re standing at the brink of a mass extinction in which probably 25% of the world’s species will be extinct by 2100.” She continues, “If there are between three and ten million species— no one knows for sure— that’s a lot of species to go extinct.” How many of these will be animals? The 2008 IUCN Red List, the most respected inventory of endangered and threatened species, catalogs 10,955 creatures currently affected by climate change, habitat loss, unsustainable fishing, pollution, disease, or invasive species.
During my graduation weekend in mid-June, I was disappointed that the majority of messages focused on the importance of saving humanity. While I believe in improving the lives of those less fortunate, I would like my role in this world to be to strive to make our planet a better place for all its inhabitants— humans, animals, the air, the mountains, the sea. I don’t want to limit my phenomenal education to forwarding our race, but instead work to conserve and protect all ecosystems, resources, and species. Perhaps this sentiment is radical or naive, but I really do believe that animals and the environment deserve our equality— which as humans we have the capacity to guarantee.
This summer, I received generous support from Stanford’s Haas Center for Public Service and the Earth Systems Program to work at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in Portage Glacier. AWCC, a 160-acre wildlife sanctuary, is a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving Alaska’s wildlife through public education. As its website explains, AWCC “provides refuge for orphaned, injured and ill animals; cares for animals that cannot survive on their own in the wild; and educates visitors about Alaska’s wildlife.” Indeed, almost 200 injured or orphaned animals such as bears, moose, bison, elk, deer, caribou, musk oxen, coyotes, foxes, bald eagles, great-horned owls and porcupines deemed ineligible for release into the wild by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game permanently live there. Visitors may observe, photograph, and learn more about them— a quarter of a million visitors per year, that is.
My project will address AWCC’s need for revision of its Adopt-an-Animal program materials. The program enables individuals, families, schools, scout troops, churches, clubs, or businesses to sponsor an AWCC animal for one year through a tax-deductible donation. Contributions pay for the animal’s food, daily care, and quality veterinary attention, therefore allowing the center to meet other operating costs and continue its valuable public education programs.
I will design an informative brochure about the Adopt-an-Animal program, individual information sheets or brochures about 8-12 of the animals available for sponsorship, and a 24”x36” sign to advertise the program. These materials will reach a wide audience of curious AWCC gift shop visitors considering an adoption donation, and also inspire current benefactors to renew their adoption donations with tangible information about their contribution. Each individual information sheet or brochure will include written commentary about the animal along with photographs of the animal— and after a year poring through thousands of National Geographic volumes, I’m excited to begin!
Personally, I intend this project and firsthand experience to strengthen my practice of wildlife photography and environmental journalism, expand my awareness of biodiversity conservation, and sharpen my knowledge of the complexities of Alaskan wildlife conservation. By the end of the summer, I hope to be able to clearly articulate why I believe biodiversity conservation is essential— better than the muddled, from-the-heart justification I attempted above. My summer work on behalf of animals will be a tremendous opportunity for me to put my education into action, dedicate myself to service, and gain a solid understanding of how I can contribute to wildlife conservation before I begin my master’s courses.