Friday, May 15th was Endangered Species Day (ESD), a worldwide reminder that on this planet that we share with 8.7 million other species (of which we are merely one), our way of life has made it impossible for other species to survive.
On any other year for ESD, you might gather with your friends and family at any number of events held at parks, botanic gardens or zoos around the world, discussing local and other species that need our attention. You might learn of efforts to conserve species at risk or local species and project your family can get involved with such as starting a pollinator garden at a school or cleaning up a wild area.
This ESD, none of those gatherings took place, of course, because of a virus that is deadly and highly contagious to humans.
While endangered species and the virus we are all hiding out from don’t seem connected on the surface, they are. And it all has to do with habitat destruction, the thing we humans do all too well. As many researchers will tell you, humanity’s destruction of habitats and biodiversity is the primary reason animals and plants become endangered. It’s also the thing that creates the perfect conditions for new viruses and diseases like COVID-19 to emerge.
In an excellent article in the Guardian, Brazilian scientist Alessandra Nava explains that diseases were “naturally diluted in the wild, but this broke down when humans rapidly disrupted the ecological balance." Nava gives us an example that most of us can understand all too well— Lyme disease, which has spread to humans in South America through the giant rodents, capybaras. As a result, some municipalities are culling capybaras to prevent contagion, but Nava said this is not necessary in pristine forests that still had jaguars—forests that had the biodiversity needed for nature to “work.” “You don’t find Lyme disease in areas with jaguars because they keep the capybara numbers in check,” she said.
So, in fact, this Endangered Species Day should have felt different. We could actually feel its effects ourselves this year as we live socially and physically isolated existences. As our children’s playgrounds are cordoned off with police tape, mothers are arrested for letting their children play in those playgrounds, and we are conditioned to see other humans as threats to avoid with space and masks. This, of all years, should put habitat destruction at the top of our thoughts.
Endangered Species Day is celebrated once a year, but there's no reason why your child should not learn about endangered species any day of the year. And in fact, they should. Here are some resources to help your child learn about and learn to care about endangered species and other species on any day of the year:
The Endangered Species Coalition (ESC) is the organization behind Endangered Species Day, organizing the map of events happening around the world each year and providing resources and other materials that can be used in ESD celebrations anywhere. This year, they hosted a week-long virtual celebration but you can check their website for lots of tools and resources designed for getting kids interested in endangered species.
What better way to ensure the help protect endangered species than by encouraging the next generation of conservation scientists? NOAA introduces your kids to the experts working to save endangered species. Learn about the work of scientists like Allison Henry, a fisheries biologist who works with the large whale team at the NOAA Northeast Fisheries Science Center, collecting critical population data about the North Atlantic right whale.
The World Wildlife Fund does an excellent job connecting educators and parents with the tools and resources they need to help kids explore and understand the world of wildlife. Take a look ar the amazing resources in the Wild Classroom for a wide range of resources and activities to help your child love and learn about many threatened and endangered species.
The Endangered Species Conservation Site shares a wide range of ideas for kids to learn more about and help protect endangered species and their habitats. We love that most of these are everyday actions that can be done during the “social distancing” environment of the COVID-19 crisis or when we return to “normal.”
Focus on the positive. It’s bad for endangered species but it’s not all bad. Thanks to the Endangered Species Act, there are many success stories to celebrate. The National Wildlife Federation has a great presentation of some of these on their website. These stories include efforts to restore Bald Eagles to the current number of 7,000 breeding pairs, the reintroduction of the Gray Wolf to much of its natural habitat, and the effort that led to over 1,400 breeding pairs of Peregrine Falcons in North America.
A few other ideas from Childhood by Nature:
Raise funds to donate to an organization that helps protect threatened and endangered species.
Build a bug hotel
Find and commit to a citizen science project
Build a bat house.