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World Wildlife Day: How 10 National Geographic Explorers Are Making a Difference

Established as a way to celebrate and raise awareness for the conservation of wild flora and fauna, World Wildlife Day also serves as a reminder of the impacts of various wildlife crime. To mark the occasion, we took a look at the ways our explorers are working to conserve, protect, and explore the wildlife around...

Established as a way to celebrate and raise awareness for the conservation of wild flora and fauna, World Wildlife Day also serves as a reminder of the impacts of various wildlife crime. To mark the occasion, we took a look at the ways our explorers are working to conserve, protect, and explore the wildlife around them.

1. Lisa Dabek is a conservationist and NG grantee who works to protect one of the cutest animals in Papua New Guinea—the endangered Matschie’s tree kangaroo.

“The opportunity to work collaboratively with the local communities to make sure the tree kangaroos are protected and do not go extinct, while making sure there is support for these remote communities, is incredibly gratifying,” she says.

2. Shivani Bhalla, a conservation biologist, 2014 NG Emerging Explorer, and Big Cats Initiative grantee, is working to safeguard the rapidly declining lion population in Kenya. Ewaso Lions, the organization she founded, uses scientific research and community outreach to promote coexistence between people and lions who share habitats. Thanks to her efforts, the lion population in Kenya has grown to its highest number in 12 years.

“My passion for wildlife developed at a very young age during school camping trips and weekend safaris with my parents,” she says. “I was fortunate to receive a camera when I was 16 and immediately began taking photos of wildlife in earnest. My enthusiasm for taking photos soon developed into something greater—a passion for and an interest in all wildlife.”

3. Juliana Machado Ferreira, a 2014 NG Emerging Explorer and conservation biologist, fights illegal wildlife trafficking in Brazil using science, political articulation, and educational outreach in order to curb demand and strengthen laws against trafficking—a booming trade in Brazil that brings in $2 billion each year. In Brazil, where keeping wild songbirds, parrots, and macaws is a widely embraced cultural norm, her FREELAND Brasil organization educates the public about the devastating impact this can have on nature. She also works toward identifying the origin of birds seized by police with the aim of returning rehabilitated animals to their rightful homes.

“Do not regard wild animals as pets. Wild species are supposed to evolve over time as dynamic entities in ever-changing environments. Not to be someone’s amusement,” she says.

4. Carlton Ward is a photographer and NG Conservation Trust grantee who is currently documenting the Florida Wildlife Corridor. He has a specific interest in the Northern Everglades that are candidates for protection through the new Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area. In 2012, he co-led the first Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition–a 100-day, 1000-mile trek that explored the last remaining natural path through the length of the Florida peninsula.

He’s currently back in the swamps and fields of his home state for a second 1000-mile Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition, and blogging about it all the way.

5 & 6. Dereck and Beverly Joubertfilmmakers and NG Explorers-in-Residence, have been instrumental in establishing the Big Cats Initiative with National Geographic, an emergency action fund to drive the world’s attention to big cats and to develop real solutions to stop the rapid decline of lion populations. They are also involved with the Rhinos Without Borders movement, a crowd-funding initiative to move at least a hundred rhinos from some of the highest poached areas of South Africa to a more forgiving environment in Botswana, where poaching is low.

An African lion cub rests in the tall grasses of Botswana’s Okavango Delta. Once ranging across the African continent and into Syria, Israel, Iraq, Pakistan, Iran, and even northwest India, lions have declined to as few as 20,000 animals from about 450,000 just 50 years ago. (Photo by Beverly Joubert)


7. Arthur Middleton is an NG Committee for Research and Exploration grantee on the hunt for new discoveries about pumas. A wildlife ecologist based out of Yale University, Middleton studies the interactions of predators and prey high in the Rockies and Andes. On the lighter side, he and photographer Joe Riis also get to witness adorable moments like baby vicuñas taking their first steps.

8. Shafqat Hussain, a Big Cats Initiative grantee, used his concern for the local economy and an extraordinary species in peril to create Project Snow Leopard. This ingenious low-cost insurance program compensates local herders for each animal killed by a snow leopard, stabilizing the economy and deterring the killing of endangered cats. He’s also a 2009 NG Emerging Explorer.

“Our surveys linked human actions to the leopard’s decline for the first time,” he has noted. “Now human impact is recognized as a major contributing factor to the species’ shrinking numbers.”

9. Paula Kahumbu,  2011 NG Emerging Explorer, Big Cats Initiative grantee, and executive director of the Wildlife Direct effort, brims with energy and passion for preserving threatened wildlife and habitats. She’s also discovered another frequently endangered species: conservationists themselves.

“Conservationists do crucial work on a shoestring, cut off from the rest of the world,” she says. “They’re in remote, isolated places, some even risking their lives, with no chance of getting on the international radar screen. Meanwhile, millions of people who care about the catastrophic loss of wildlife and habitats aren’t sure how to help.”

Thanks to her efforts, people concerned about wildlife and wild places can view problems in real time and track the impact of their own contributions. They can spend lunch breaks watching an endangered eagle whose eyesight they helped to restore, see conservationists saving orphan orangutans in Indonesia, or follow Maasai warriors protecting lions in Africa.

10. Bryan Christy is an investigative journalist who was named National Geographic’s Explorer of the Year in 2014. His work on international wildlife trafficking has been cited as one of ten ways National Geographic has changed the world. His detailed reportage documenting the illegal ivory trade and ivory crushes resulted in responses from a number of countries around the world, including the Vatican. The conversation continues on NG’s A Voice for Elephants blog.

NEXT: Discover other National Geographic Explorers working for animal conservation.

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