Have you ever really thought about what animals feel? Just because they are unable to communicate with us does not mean that they do not have feelings, just like humans. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, about 40 percent of animals all over the world are endangered.
For more than 45 years, the World Wildlife Fund has been working 1.2 million strong in a 100 countries to conserve nature all around the world. They began small in 1961, but have expanded immensely. WWF’s mission is to protect natural areas and wild populations of plants and animals. They also encourage going green -- sustainable approaches to using renewable natural resources for the maximum reduction of pollution.
By 2020, WWF hopes to conserve 19 of the world’s most important natural areas. These places are of the highest priority based on the critical challenges they face and the organization’s ability to impact them within the next decade. These target areas include the most diverse freshwater systems, tropical rain forests, and biologically important deserts such as the Congo Basin, Madagascar, the Northern Great Plains, and the Coral Triangle. WWF protects hundreds of species around the world, but they focus special attention on their “flagship” species: giant pandas, tigers, polar bears, whales and dolphins, rhinos, elephants, marine turtles, and great apes.
Global warming has begun to take a toll on the lives of animals. If current warming trends continue, scientists predict that the polar bear could face extinction within the next century. Currently, there are 20,000 to 25,000 polar bears in the Arctic. Though they are not endangered yet, their homes have begun to melt more rapidly each year due to the rise in temperature.
The swift change in this ecosystem will alter the character of this region. Though polar bears are known for adapting to the harsh Arctic environment, they are dependent on sea ice, which makes them vulnerable to climate change. In the southern range of polar bears near Canada, sea ice is melting earlier in spring and forming later in autumn, giving these bears less time to store energy for summer and autumn, when food is scarce. The overall body conditions of polar bears have declined, which is especially serious for pregnant or nursing females, and young cubs. Each polar bear has a thick layer of fat that serves both as insulation against the cold and as an energy reserve. When food is unavailable during the ice-free season, polar bears must fast for extended periods of time. As the ice is melting more quickly and reforming much later, polar bears become weaker due to lack of food. Scientists have found that the main cause of death in cubs is either an absence of food or lack of fat on nursing mothers.
The giant panda is one the world’s most threatened animals and is the rarest member of the bear family. It has special significance as well because it has been WWF’s logo since 1961, the year the organization was founded. There are fewer than 2,500 left in the wild.
Located in Southwest China, the panda’s forest habitats are constantly being fragmented by roads and railroads. Poaching is also an immediate threat to this endangered species and habitat loss continues to occur outside of protected areas. Thankfully, the Chinese government established more than 50 panda reserves, protecting more than 60 percent of the population.
It is time to take all threats to animals seriously, especially the factors we can control, such as global warming and illegal poaching. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has confirmed that human-induced climate change is a reality. This problem can no longer be dismissed as a theoretical concept. The reality is that air temperature in the Arctic has increased by five degrees and sea ice is declining by 3 percent per decade.
Right now, this may not seem like a huge problem, but take a minute to think about the animals. Soon, their homes will be falling apart right before them, and each day they will have to fight that much harder to stay alive.
For more information on WWF’s mission or to find out how you can make a difference in these animals’ lives, visit www.worldwildlife.org.