Today is World Wildlife Day, a day that the United Nations set aside to celebrate wildlife and raise awareness about what you can do to help protect vulnerable species of plants and animals (many of which have been made vulnerable by human activities). Particular focus is being placed on stopping wildlife crime, which includes illegal hunting and selling of rare animals and their body parts.

Education

This is more than about hugging trees and "Awww"-ing over fluffy animals. Significant and serious criminal activity is supported by the illegal poaching industry. The people who live on the front lines of poaching activity are usually pressed into service by the poachers and their lives threatened if they refuse to cooperate. In Africa, for example, war and terrorism has been funded by the illegal ivory trade, and it has had such an impact on different populations of elephants that some may never be recovered, and others are slipping away fast.

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One of the biggest markets for trade in animal parts is that of "traditional" medicine, the demand for which has had a devastating effect on many different kinds of animals. There are things that you can do to make sure that you are not inadvertently supporting the destruction of habitat or the illegal animal trade:

  • Don't keep wild animals as pets. Many of them are cute and adorable when you see pictures of them, but they are wild animals. Even animals that are bred in captivity are not "domesticated," and many of them are illegal to own in most areas. Confiscated animals are usually put down, unless a rescue can take them. Many people who buy exotic pets often find out that the animal is too much for them to handle, and the animal is abandoned or killed as a result.
  • Know what you're buying, especially when traveling. Much of the deforestation that is currently happening throughout the world is done with the intent to use the land for commercial purposes, like palm oil plantations and other products. Make conscious and educated decisions about the products you buy. Don't buy souvenirs from your amazing travels if they contain (or you think they might contain) endangered animal parts. This is particularly important because it very well might keep you from getting in trouble with the law.
  • Support the kind of eco-tourism that helps sustain local communities and conservation efforts. Purchase souvenirs from these communities to help them keep livelihoods based on their crafts and conservation rather poaching. Report things that you think might be illegal animal or plant trade. Don't support or attend zoos or animal attractions that are for profit and aren't involved in conservation and education efforts.
  • Educate yourself. Most people know about the threats faced by the beautiful, charismatic animals like tigers, rhinos and elephants, but there are many more species who are crucial parts of their ecosystems that are also threatened. They don't get the same kind of press. There are ways you can donate your time and money to help conservation efforts, too.

Celebration

To end things on a lighter note, today is also about celebrating wildlife. Post pictures of your favorite wild animals, and tell us where they live and what you like about them.

Here are some of mine:

Maned Wolf, largest canid in South America. Built like a red fox on stilts, and absolutely gorgeous.

Sea Otter, found on the Pacific coast of North America. Insanely fluffy tool-users, and a crucial part of the kelp forest ecosystems.

North Pacific Giant Octopus, also found in the northern Pacific Ocean. Hermit-like inhabiter of rocky underwater cliffs and extremely intelligent.

Snowy Owl, native to the Arctic Circle. Hunts mostly during the day, which is unusual for owls. Swift and silent.

Cheetah, found in sub-Saharan Africa. Fastest land animal in the world, clocking in at 70 miles per hour, or 110 kilometers per hour. The second-most social of the big cats.