Ode to the Giant Salamander and Other Songs Inspired by Nature

“Hakuna Matata,” The Flintstones theme song—we might forget people, places, and events, but we all remember a catchy tune.

That’s why some musical artists use songs to get their messages heard. Mark Pagano, songwriter and guitarist for the band Fire Dog, read our recent feature story on a giant U.S. salamander called the hellbender and wrote in to tell us about his hellbender-inspired tune.

That got us thinking about other music that’s been sparked by the plight of wildlife and the environment overall. Here’s what we found.


Pagano wrote a song about the hellbender when a friend’s filmmaking project, the web series Go Go Global Girls, brought him on a few trips to the St. Louis Zoo’s Charles H. Hoessle Herpetarium and then its Ron Goellner Center for Hellbender Conservation.

The hellbender, North America’s largest salamander, has been declining since the 1980s due to disease and poor water quality.

The result is an upbeat, surf rock/pop tune (with a bit of a They Might Be Giants ring) that kids and adults can learn from and enjoy.

Listen to the song:

There’s even a voiceover by famed Canadian musician and activist Bruce Cockburn, a friend of the band who literally phoned in his contribution. The song will stick in your head and with it the salamander: just the kind of PR an endangered species could use.

Bruce Cockburn picture
Bruce Cockburn performs during the Concert For A Landmine Free World at the Beacon Theatre in New York City in 2001. Photo by Scott Gries/ImageDirect

“It’s very significant that these amphibians are in danger, because it speaks to a larger issue of water quality and this idea that what happens to the hellbender happens to us,” Pagano, who hopes to release a video for the song in May, told us.

“We’re all part of this large ecosystem, and if they’re in danger, so are we.”

Giant Panda

Jefferson Airplane’s decidedly earnest “Panda,” released in 1989, addressed the declining giant panda population in China:

Jefferson Airplane picture
Rocking a panda shirt, Grace Slick performs with Jefferson Airplane at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco on September 30, 1989. Photograph by Clayton Call/Redferns

“Oh, Panda Bear—my gentle friend
I don’t want to say goodbye
Oh, Panda Bear—when will the killing end?
When will we get it right?”

According to the World Wildlife Fund, only about 1,600 giant pandas remain in the wild.


The Sadies’ garage and rockabilly tune “Tiger Tiger” isn’t about the fact that tigers are endangered, but lyrics like “Tiger, tiger on a circus train, you can never go home again” underscore that there’s less habitat—and wildlife—than there used to be.

Sadies picture
Mike Belitsky and Dallas Good of The Sadies perform on stage at Sidecar on March 13, 2012, in Barcelona, Spain. Photograph by Jordi Vidal/Redferns via Getty Images

For instance, 97 percent of wild tigers have been lost in just over a century, according to the WWF.

Mountain Gorilla

James Taylor’s 1975 tune “Gorilla” about a zoo animal has some sad lyrics:

“He dreams about the world outside from behind those bars of steel, and no one seems to understand about the heartache the man can feel.”

James Taylor picture
James Taylor performs live on stage at The Bottom Line in New York on May 4, 1978. Photograph by Richard E. Aaron/Redferns

The sweet, whimsical acoustic tune is the spoonful of sugar that makes the subject’s plight easier to listen to and thus absorb. There are about 700 mountain gorillas left in the wild.

Water Quality

Johnny Cash wrote about water quality—or lack of it—in his 1974 song “Don’t Go Near the Water.”

“Don’t go near the water, children
See the fish all dead upon the shore
Don’t go near the water
‘Cause the water isn’t water anymore.”


Cockburn tackled deforestation‘s impact on species extinction with 1988’s “If a Tree Falls.”

“If a tree falls in the forest, does anybody hear? If a tree falls in the forest, does anybody hear? Anybody hear the forest fall?”

Rain forest loss hasn’t improved since the 1980s: Some 46 to 58 million square miles of forest are lost each year—equivalent to 36 football fields every minute, according to the WWF.

Tell us: What would you sing about?

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Meet the Author
Liz Langley is the award-winning author of Crazy Little Thing: Why Love and Sex Drive Us Mad and has written for many publications including Salon, Details and the Huffington Post. Follow her on Twitter @LizLangley and at www.lizlangley.com