USAID Comes in on Fresh Legs to Help Save Wildlife

People across the globe have been swept up in World Cup fever for the past few weeks. Often, with the clock running down and the game on the line, teams have brought in fresh legs and it led to victory. Nowhere was this strategy more brilliantly deployed than when The Netherlands subbed out their star goalie in the last minute of regulation. With time down to the wire, the new goalie stopped two penalty kicks and that won the game.

Time is also running out for beloved species like the black rhino, as threats against wildlife increase worldwide. Poachers and pirate fishermen, often funded by terrorist groups and organized crime rings, have been dominating the field of late. But as of today, there are some fresh legs in the global battle to save elephants, rhinos, sharks and other important wildlife species as USAID announces a new project focused on protecting biodiversity. They enter the fight against poaching and illegal fishing at a time when an infusion of new energy, ideas and capital is sorely needed.


A domesticated African cheetah shows its natural speed while playing with a soccer ball in Namibia, where USAID programs have already helped people by helping protect biodiversity. (Photo by Chris Johns)

In June, at the Our Oceans Conference, USAID had announced new coastal programs valued at more than $170 million to benefit coastal communities. They recognized that more than “one billion people worldwide depend on fish as a primary source of protein. Conserving and managing these coastal and marine resources are essential for … food security and nutrition, poverty reduction, and protection of coastal communities from the impacts of climate change.” This week, in launching their new biodiversity policy, Administrator Raj Shah pledged $210 million in funding, saying the agency considers “stewardship of nature a critical and effective strategy for ending extreme poverty and fostering resilient societies.”

USAID is a welcome addition to the “green” team’s lineup. Traditional conservation groups, both international and local, need new partners to stem the tide against wildlife crime–they simply can no longer go it alone. The threats are too great and time is running out. Economic prosperity and environmental stewardship go hand in hand, and nowhere is that more true than in the developing world. Conservation and development organizations must learn to play as one team in order to achieve their symbiotic goals of development and environmental sustainability.

Until recently, USAID did not make it a priority to promote coastal protection and biodiversity. Its projects were more squarely focused on improving education and health care, and decreasing poverty. But to fight these problems without addressing threats to the natural resources on which developing communities depend is like a team trying to play soccer without ever making a pass. Without some powerful interplay of different team members, it is much easier for the opposition to steal the ball and win.

Only when influential organizations like USAID team up with wildlife groups and other new partners (perhaps even the U.S. military), will we all succeed. Let’s hope this is a turning point in the fight to save the last pristine places in the ocean and endangered wildlife before they are gone forever and the game is over.

Human Journey


Meet the Author
Monica Medina is the Senior Director for International Ocean Policy at the National Geographic Society. She is determined to help save endangered wildlife and the last wild places in the ocean.