Founded in 1895, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) aims to “sav[e] wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature.” Warning that various animal species are now endangered to the point where they sit on “the brink of extinction,” the organization advocates for public policy and legislation designed to prevent the “human footprint” from further “penetrat[ing] once pristine areas” and encroaching on “wild places.” Toward this end, the Society seeks to greatly restrict the use of land and oceans for such purposes as hunting, fishing, logging, mining, oil and gas exploration, homebuilding, and commercial development—all of which can throw ecosystems “out of balance with devastating consequences, including gradual and dramatic losses of wildlife populations.”
With more than 200 scientists on its staff, WCS administers environmental programs in more than 60 countries on four continents—Africa, Asia, Latin America, and North America. All told, the organization currently manages approximately 500 conservation projects spanning some 200 million acres of “protected lands.” WCS’s most famous “living institutions” are the New York City-based Bronx Zoo, Central Park Zoo, Prospect Park Zoo, Queens Zoo, and New York Aquarium.
One of WCS’s two major initiatives is its Saving Wildlife program, which works to conserve some 350 species of animals by means of expansive population surveys, high-tech tools like camera traps and radio collars, and collaboration with partner organizations. This program gives special attention to “global priority species” that are “vulnerable to extinction, important to humans, and powerful icons of nature.” These include bears, big cats, “other carnivores,” birds, elephants & hippos, great apes, small primates, hoofed mammals, and ocean giants.
In fishing villages from the Pacific Ocean to the Caribbean Sea, WCS field staff seek to engage local communities in conservation initiatives designed to prevent the “overfishing, environmental degradation, and development” that are “imposing unprecedented pressure on the ecosystems.” Asserting that consumers in industrialized nations are chiefly responsible for having caused “the majority of fish stocks” across the globe to be “fully exploited,” the Sociey laments that such depletion has in turn diminished the food supply of many sea-dwelling species—thereby causing some marine ecosystems, including coral reefs and coastal estuaries, to “collapse.”
WCS’s second major initiatve is its Saving Wild Places program, which encompasses the largest field conservation program in Africa; is active throughout Asia, from western India’s rainforest-covered mountains, to the Mongolian steppe, to the shores of Fiji; uses a “landscape scale” approach to conserve the habitats of “iconic wildlife” in Latin America and the Caribbean; works in regions of North America as diverse as the tundras of Arctic Alaska, the greater Yellowstone Rockies, and New York’s Adirondack State Park; and strives to “safeguard 11 priority seascapes where the last of our ocean giants, coral reefs, and great colonies of sea birds thrive.”
Lamenting that “human society is used to putting a price tag on natural resources” such as timber, oil, animal pelts, and ivory, WCS aims to identify “an economic value for slowing down our consumption of nature’s bounty and treading more gently on our planet.” Specifically, the Society pressures industries and communities “whose livelihoods depend on hunting, fishing, and the extraction of other natural resources” to find “new economic opportunities that promote both human wellbeing and animal conservation.” For example, while opposing “uncontrolled logging, slash-and-burn agriculture, and widespread use of inorganic pesticides and fertilizer” which “chew away at precious landscapes and water bodies,” WCS trains subsistence farmers, hunters, and former poachers to transfer their efforts to “more sustainable trades” such as organic farming, beekeeping, gardening, and carpentry.
In WCS’s calculus, industrialization harms not only plant and animal species but also “rural communities [that] may subsist for centuries in relative harmony with the environment and the wildlife that surrounds them,” only to have their way of life undermined by “economic straits, rapid population growth, political and cultural changes, [or] outside demand for resources.” To avert or minimize such occurrences, WCS strives to help local populations worldwide retain “access to their land, water, and wildlife resources.”
Moreover, the Society’s conservationists work with community leaders across the globe to “develop ways people can use their land and water to generate income while promoting natural resource conservation.” For instance, they help such communities create new agricultural products and practices, modify fishing techniques, and generate revenue from ecotourism.
WCS is particularly concerned about the potentially catastrophic effects of “climate change,… arguably the most significant conservation challenge we face today.” Attributing this phenomenon to the “greenhouse gas emissions” associated with human industrial activity, the Society’s Business and Biodiversity Offsets Program explores modes of “compensating the earth” for “pollution, habitat destruction, and other consequences of industrial growth and development.” Under the aegis of this program, corporations, governments, and financial institutions around the world funnel money to environmental organizations and projects in an effort to counterbalance the ecological damage purportedly caused by their “carbon emissions.”
To help cultivate “the next generation of wildlife veterinarians and conservationists,” WCS and Cornell University jointly host two residency programs—one in zoological medicine & surgery, another in anatomic pathology. Moreover, WCS offers student externships in zoological medicine and surgery as well as veterinary technology.
WCS is funded by many philanthropic organizations including, among others, the Bank of America Charitable Foundation, the Blue Moon Fund, the Bullitt Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Flora Family Foundation, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Minneapolis Foundation, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the Prospect Hill Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Surdna Foundation, the Turner Foundation, the Verizon Foundation, the Wallace Global Fund II, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.