May 20th marks Endangered Species Day, but at Global Wildlife Conservation, we celebrate biodiversity every second of every day. We checked in with GWC staff and GWC associate conservation scientists to learn more about why each person is committed to doing what it takes to conserve wildlife—and to discover which endangered species are among the favorites on the GWC team.
Chris Jordan, Nicaragua Programs Director
It always seems like a real tragedy to me that we lose so many species without knowing even basic information about them: where they occur, their habitat preferences, their basic behavior, their evolutionary history. Saving endangered species requires us to conduct research that uncovers these mysteries and gives us a more comprehensive understanding not only of the species, but of the ecosystems around the globe that we depend on for our survival.
My favorite endangered species are tapirs. There are four species of tapirs globally and three are endangered: Mountain Tapirs (Tapirus pinchaque), Baird’s Tapirs (Tapirus bairdii), and Malayan Tapirs (Tapirus indicus). All tapirs are what we call “ecosystem engineers.” Tapirs graze on hundreds of species of plants. Because they are large animals, they are able to consume large quantities of these plants, which means they actively shape the habitats in which they live. We think that through their browsing activity, they actually enhance local floral biodiversity within their home ranges. So by working to save tapirs, we are saving expansive areas of forest that they–and many other species–depend on, and the tapirs are actually actively enhancing the biodiversity within those large tracts of forest.
(Photo courtesy of Chris Jordan)
Kinda Lincoln, CFO
We want every single species to survive so we can sustain healthy life on this planet! I would like my children and grandchildren one day to look back and say that you and I made a difference in reversing the environmental damage done by previous generations. Let’s be those people who not only protect the diverse habitat and wildlife that still remain, but also make a huge positive impact in increasing the populations of threatened species and make their habitat wild again.
My favorite species is the Sumatran Rhino because, with the birth of a baby rhino last week, they give us hope and remind us that our efforts can and do make a difference!
(Photo by Barney Long)
Barney Long, Director of Species Conservation
For as long as I can remember I always wanted to study animals in the rainforest. When I was 19 I was conducting primate surveys in the heart of Sumatra when I came across the skeleton of a Sumatran Rhino. The snare wire was still hanging from the tree and the vegetation all around the remains was flattened; the animal must have struggled for a long time. The telltale hack marks on the skull told the rest of the story. Ever since then, I’ve focused on protecting and recovering endangered species.
I like the underdogs; the critically endangered species that few have heard of—the ones that need a champion. The Sumatran Rhino has been a favorite of mine since the incident in Sumatra. I’ve conducted surveys to try to find new populations in a few places but never managed to find them. What we know about is probably what we have left. That is not a good story, so we have to work hard to make sure their numbers recover.
(Photo by C. Sieffert)
Robin Moore, Communications Director
I developed a deep connection with the natural world as a wee lad roaming the moors of Scotland, and the idea of raising my son in an impoverished world saddens me deeply. How we view and treat species other than our own says a lot about us, and I want my son to know a world in which we treat other species with respect and compassion—a world in which these species do not need protection.
My favorite species changes frequently, but right now it is the Borneo Rainbow Toad. This toad has an incredible story. It was recorded for the first and last time the year the Great Gatsby was written, and became one of our most wanted “lost” frogs in a 2010 campaign. When it was rediscovered in 2011, after 87 years without trace, it became a mini celebrity to me. Earlier this month I had the incredible opportunity to visit Borneo, and to search for and find the rainbow toad with Pui, a young and talented student who had rediscovered the species. It felt really special to accompany Pui into the forest and to see the toad with my own eyes.
(Photo by Robin Moore)
Kelsey Neam, Amphibians Red List Officer
Diverse ecosystems are indicators of a healthy planet. I am committed to saving endangered species and their habitats to ensure our planet’s ecosystems are as diverse and healthy as possible. Species like the magnificent California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus) teach us that with the support of scientists, the public, and conservation policy we can save species from the brink of extinction. Happy Endangered Species Day!
(Photo courtesy of Kelsey Neam)
Sam Reza, Financial Manager
We are protectors of the wild, of the world and of each other. Conservation of the world’s most precious species and habitats is fundamental for life on this planet. As an artist, the first thing I remember drawing were animals—tigers, elephants, apes, some species that only existed in my mind! As part of a conservation organization, I am seeing fantastical creatures that I never knew existed, that most people don’t know exist, that are on the verge of never existing again. I want to be part of the solution, of working toward viable sustainability for habitats and being a champion to those species that need it most.
I have a never-ending, revolving list of my favorite species (how can you pick just one?). From the mythical Saola to the gentle giant Zambezi Elephant, all the creatures are magnificent! But I have to say that currently my spirit animal is the Punk Rock Frog! With its shape-shifting abilities and its spiny textured skin, this little creature has a huge punk rock attitude!
(Photos by Juan Guayasamin and Lucas Bustamante)
Lindsay Renick Mayer, Senior Media Manager
Ever since I was a kid, I have felt a strong affinity for animals, especially those that roam the wilds. As I’ve gotten older, this connection has spurred for me a sort of spiritual quest, one that requires both a keen sense of curiosity and a depth of compassion for beings that are often at least outwardly dramatically different from us. All of the magic in the Universe is wrapped up in the seemingly implausible adaptations of the creatures that we share this planet with, that defy the otherwise established constraints of the cosmos. It is a privilege to be among those humans who use their power to protect—rather than destroy—the boundless beauty of biodiversity.
The Panamanian Golden Frog holds a particularly special place in my heart. They’re striking in color and pattern, just a little bit goofy, and full of charisma. Their story is one of profound hope: though golden frogs are extinct in the wild, conservationists are trying to find a cure for the disease that killed them off so that the frogs in captivity may one day safely return to the riverbanks of Panama, waving at one another across the way.
(Photo by Brian Gratwicke, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute)
Nikki Roach, Associate Conservation Scientist
Saving a species is much more than habitat conservation; it’s education, persistence, collaboration, and passion. It is extremely difficult to go to work knowing that a creature you’ve worked so hard to protect is on the brink of extinction. I’ve met a few people who have witnessed species decimation firsthand. Whether it be climate change, disease, or over-hunting, I cannot think of a bigger tragedy than watching your life’s passion and work disappear in front of your eyes.
We know remarkably little about the life history and ecology of many threatened species. Systematic studies of biodiversity are more important now, than ever, to properly assess species’ extinction risk. Once a species is gone, it cannot come back. This is a reality that we, as humans, know, but one that I do not believe we fully understand.
It is my hope that I can assist in the conservation of some of the world’s imperiled species throughout my dissertation work in Colombia. This summer I will be searching for the Santa Marta Toro (Santmartamys rufodorsalis), one of the world’s rarest mammal species. The Toro, previously thought to be extinct, was rediscovered in 2011. Since its rediscovery it has not been reported again. This nocturnal, rufous-colored, medium-bodied, tree rat, dwells in the trees in the wet Colombian jungle, so it should be pretty easy to find … right?
Keep up with GWC’s blog for updates on the search for the lost Toro.
(Photo courtesy of ProAves)
Bill Robichaud, Saola Working Group Coordinator
Saola conservation is a combination of beauty, mystery and the potential to make a difference. Saola is not only one of the world’s most beautiful mammals, it is the largest terrestrial mammal (of certain existence) that has never been observed in the wild by a biologist, and it may now be the most endangered large mammal in the world (certainly in the top five).
The world is better when there is more beauty in it, and more inspiration. Saola conservation is a vehicle for both. I count myself among the lot who see in the preservation of nature the preservation of humans’ emotional well-being.
(Photo courtesy of Bill Robichaud)
Andrew Tilker, Associate Conservation Scientist
We need biodiversity—not just for human well-being, but because a world without fellow travelers would be a barren place to call home. It wouldn’t be Earth. My desire to protect endangered species—the rarest of the rare, animals that that might be lost within our lifetime—stems from an almost indefinable desire to keep these species on board. It’s indefinable, to me, because a Saola or striped rabbit or Javan Rhino is a work of beauty. An evolutionary work of art that took millions of years to create. How could we sit by and see it destroyed?
One of my favorite endangered species is the Annamite Striped Rabbit (Nesolagus timminsi). Tiger-striped, with a buff front that fades into burnished orange, it is without doubt one of the most striking lagomorphs on the planet. The Annamite Striped Rabbit is found only in the wet evergreen forests of the Annamite Mountains of Vietnam and Laos. Almost nothing is known about this elusive forest species, which was only discovered by science in the mid-‘90s. Since its spectacular scientific debut, few studies have focused on it, and the rabbit remains listed as Data Deficient—though additional information will almost certainly result in a threatened listing, due to the intense poaching found throughout the region. Little-known, stunning, threatened, shrouded in mystery: what more could a biologist ask for?
(Photo courtesy of Andrew Tilker)
Peter Paul van Dijk, Associate Conservation Scientist
I don’t have a favourite species per se, but I was able to evolve my childhood fascination with turtles into an occupational focus. It’s because turtles are so widespread and in places abundant that we consider them “normal,” but the more you look into them and their lifestyle, the more you realize how unique they are. They carry their arms inside their ribcage; their sex is determined by their incubation temperature; they take as long as a human to mature and live their lives, but can reproduce throughout their lifespan; they have successfully adapted to almost every habitat on the planet except ocean depths and polar or mountaintop icy regions. They evolved at the same time as the dinosaurs, but survived the end-Cretaceous mass extinction, and other geological and climatic upheavals. Yet they are vulnerable to the exploitation pressures from humans with intellect to find their vulnerable spots and with tools to break through their defensive shells. Turtles are generally harmless to humans, while humans can be greatly harmful to turtles. If my work helps right that balance a little bit, it will be worth the effort.
(Photo by Peter Paul van Dijk)