To the unsung heroes of conservation

Sometimes, I feel like we do not recognize or celebrate the large group of people who work in the field of conservation. If you didn’t know better, you would think that only environmental organisations were solely responsible for the protection of plants and animals around the world. For me, I feel like this is unfair as there are so many categories of individuals who have done more for conservation then we give them credit for. So here is to the unsung heroes who quietly go on protecting the world and continually inspire people like me to keep fighting.

Scientists:

As an environmental scientist, I have great appreciation and respect for the lengths that many scientists go to collect data and record observations. Scientists have been working to protect nature for as long as science has been in existence. They spend their time stranded on remote islands for months on end, carry their instruments across great distances and live in extreme climates all in the name of conservation.

Many years ago, I remember helping my friend Leroy Gonsalves when he was collecting data for his phD thesis into microbat ecology. That evening we stood for four hours in a mosquito infested saltmarsh setting insect traps and observing the flight pattern of microbats. No amount of aeroguard could have kept us safe (believe me, we sprayed on many cans each).

Here is to the conservation scientists who are the forgotten foundations of conservation movements around the world.

Volunteers:

If you know me, you would know that I have a great affinity for volunteers. I think anyone who is willing to donate their time rather than their money for a cause they believe in is a true hero. Volunteers spend their time planting trees, cleaning beaches and parks, caring for injured animals and saving native seeds. They also take part in citizen-science projects which provide much needed resource for conservation research. Somewhere along the way, we seem to have forgotten that many of Australia’s most prominent environmental organisations were started by a group of passionate volunteers.

I find volunteers such as Malcolm Fisher and Frances O’Brien inspiring. The former has single-handedly helped coordinate the rehabilitation of Mermaid Pools in Manly. Almost every week he organises litter collection, weeding and planting in his favourite patch of bush. The same goes from Frances O’Brien who has been working with equally like-minded and passionate volunteers and staff to protect one of the last remnant bushlands in Lane Cove.

Here is to the volunteers, without whom the conservation movement would be non-existent.

Rangers:

Rangers working on the frontlines of conservation protecting endangered animals against armed poachers are often left out of the conservation narrative. These men and women are risking their lives to protect endangered animals. Indeed, it is estimated that around one hundred rangers die every year in places like Africa, South America and South East Asia. Whenever I hear about the death of a ranger while on duty it makes me remember that conservation goes far beyond sitting at a desk writing strategies and fighting over campaign budgets.

If you are unsure about just how far a ranger will go towards protecting an animal then do yourselves a favour and watch Virunga (2014). It is a documentary about a team of rangers who arm themselves to defend their mountain gorilla orphanage against an armed militia. The documentary is both frightening and moving and the love the rangers have for the baby gorillas will make you fall in love with them.

Here is to the rangers. The brave men and women who risk their lives daily to protect endangered animals.

Indigenous leaders and communities:

Indigenous leaders and communities are the original custodians and stewards. They have been protecting nature since the time of their own creation stories. Sadly, these days many indigenous communities find themselves at the frontlines of the impacts of environmental and climate change disasters. Many traditional lands are becoming unviable to live on, even for those communities that have the smallest of environmental footprints.

For indigenous communities, conservation is often embedded into  broader challenges of land and political rights. And these days, many of us tend to forget that the conservation, climate and environment movement (as we know it) began in indigenous communities as people of colour and minority groups stood up to large corporations and bad government policies. Take Dr. Vandana Shiva for example who is an activist who has been working with Indian farmers to protect their seed rights against big pharmaceutical companies. She has also been encouraging sustainable farming practices in an effort to help the farmers maintain the land.

Here is to the indigenous communities and leaders who tirelessly fight to protect sovereignty and nature.

Non-traditional conservationists:

I think it is time we accepted the fact that you do not have to be a ‘conservationist’ or a conservation organisation to protect nature. In fact, there are a lot of amazing people such as hikers, mountaineers, snowboarders and surfer who do great things for the environment. Even famous movie stars and the occasional politician. They reach out to their own community and often encourage them to become more environmentally conscious. The common thread that binds them is often their love for being out in nature. Take for example my two friends Michael Scheper and Bridget Canham. Michael is a software engineer who collects rubbish while hiking and Bridget is a nurse who cleans places close to where she is camping.

Here is to the non-traditional conservationists, those who protect the environment without regard.

Street fundraisers:

Many conservation organisations would not exist, let alone be able to save nature if it was not for street fundraisers. Without street fundraisers, conservation in Australia would be many years behind. For many of us, street fundraisers are a nuisance. However, next time you walk past them try and remember that they are under extreme pressure to meet a quota for sign-ups as more and more charities compete with each other. More importantly, remember that they may have been verbally abused during the day. And in some cases, physically abused.

Here is to the street fundraisers without whom funding for conservation projects would not exist.

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2 thoughts on “To the unsung heroes of conservation”

  1. Thanks, man! It’s great to hear appreciation for our work.
    This is a really important post – sometimes people get stuck in echo chambers and think one way of doing things is ‘the best way’. We need everyone working in all the ways that they can.

    1. I absolutely agree. We need to get out of our echo chambers and celebrate what other people are doing. In many instances, their work has more impact than those of many large organisations.

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