Conservation is a critical part of what we do at Safari West. As a tour guide, I talk a lot (probably too much) about conservation. I am also very aware of the massive scope of wildlife conservation and how it can either be too big or too sad for most people to remember, let alone incorporate into their day-to-day lives. Realistically, we can’t all quit our jobs and move to Africa to defend elephants from poachers. So while it is really important for the general public to be aware of the plight of our iconic (and not so iconic) African species, we wanted to highlight today several projects or movements that one might be able to fold into one’s lifestyle which will have a direct impact on wildlife conservation and does not require uprooting to Mozambique.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has an entire program dedicated to reducing the amount of trash that ends up in the oceans. While I could fill this post describing why trash-in-the-ocean is a bad thing (degrading habitats, killing sea-life, and introducing non-native species), I think it more constructive to focus here on small lifestyle changes that help keep these waters clean. The above links offer a comprehensive outline of ocean pollution.
NOAA reports that the largest category of land-based ocean pollution is food and beverage containers. To curtail this problem they have partnered with Clean Water Action on the ReThink Disposables campaign, asking people reduce the number of single-use products they purchase/use. Reducing the amount of plastic bags, soda bottles, food containers and other such items stops this pollution at the source. You might be the most vigilant recycler but once your bins go curbside, you are no longer in control. Anything from industrial irresponsibility to neighborhood teenage pranksters can undermine your attempts at social responsibility. Remember, there are two other “R’s” before you get to Recycle, Reduce and Reuse, in that order. If you don’t buy it, it won’t get made and you don’t need to discard it. While by no means exhaustive, here is a manageable list of things you can do to help:
- Get reusable cloth bags, keep them in your car and bring them everywhere you go.
- Bring your own “doggie bag” containers when you go to a restaurant, so you can bring home your leftover linguine without styrofoam on the side.
- Get reusable produce bags for your lettuce and apples or wash and reuse the plastic ones.
- Bring your own cup to the café; not only will you be reducing waste, but many coffee businesses give a little discount when you bring your own cup. (You can even get one with an ironic saying on it so you can be more of a hipster). According to Clean Water Action, the average to-go coffee cup is only used for 12 minutes.
- Keep a set of reusable flatware with you, so you don’t need a plastic fork, knife, or spoon
- Skip the straw (or get a reusable one and keep it with your reusable flatware)
- Use a refillable water bottle (this saves money too).
Safari West is taking many steps to help reduce the amount of single-use items we generate: our restaurant and deli are working to eliminate condiment packets, we have increased the price of bottled water to discourage staff and guests from purchasing them. We sell reusable flatware, straws and water bottles in the gift shop. Check out the ReThink Disposable website for more ideas, info, and to take the pledge.
I began this post by stating that we would focus on conservation topics close-to-home, but clean oceans can seem as removed from some of us as the Serengeti. Luckily nothing is closer to home than our actual houses and some simple household adjustments can have some positive impacts on wildlife. According to the American Bird Conservancy (ABC), 988 million birds are killed each year in the United States by colliding with windows. That is nearly a billion (with a “b”). Ironically, a nature lover is probably someone who has a lot of windows in their home for natural lighting. These glass panels are great for both energy use reduction and from an aesthetic perspective but the more windows a building has, and the larger the windows are, the more likely that a bird will think they can fly right through it and…THUMP, feathers everywhere!
Fortunately, one does not need to completely give up their beautiful views to save some local birds. There is a trade-off between window obstruction and cost. For just a few dollars, one can purchase simple decals that stick on a window, partially obscuring the glass and deterring birds. Apart from this simple step, bird-proofing can become complicated and/or expensive. Bearing aesthetics in mind, more appealing modifications can include anything from simple string-like curtains and textured decals to the more elaborate specially textured glass designed to prevent bird strikes. The general idea here is to enable birds to see your windows so they don’t die by flying into them. To help, the ABC has a specific directory with different deterrents that have been shown effective in reducing bird-window collisions.
Another issue championed by the ABC and the National Audubon Society involves outdoor cats. One of my few marital disputes concerns whether a theoretical pet cat would be indoor or outdoor. As both ABC and the Audubon Society point out, domestic cats kill between 1-4 billion birds each year in the USA. I’m very immobile on the no-outdoor-cat side while my wife thinks it is cruel to keep a cat inside. Therefore we have no cats. You might love your cats, but an outdoor cat is a well-fed predator killing a lot of birds every year. Thus, other steps to making your home more bird-friendly are to rethink getting a cat, keep your existing cat inside, or consider a way to make your cat bad at hunting. Anecdotally, I have had experience with cats learning how to walk so a bell-collar doesn’t make any sound. There are other options, however, for the cat and bird lovers alike. Here an avian ecologist describes an effective method for reducing her cat’s hunting abilities.
Not all acts of conservation are as reactionary as the topics discussed above. As we come into the Spring season and start thinking about developing front and back yards again it might be nice to know a couple of extra ways to contribute to your environment. When one pictures local wildlife, they often imagine a large, iconic animal posing in front of a backdrop of pristine wilderness. While these iconic settings certainly exist, most of us could be encountering some amazing critters on a daily basis in our own urbanized environment. If, for instance, you take a moment to really consider your yard you may realize that it is not as isolated (or somewhat mundane) as you previously thought.
Urban and suburban yards host dynamic ecosystems easily overlooked by “nature” enthusiasts. For example, I am lucky enough to live in a small pocket of habit for the elusive red bellied newt (Taricha rivularis). These slender amphibians come out after a rain and amble around the leaf litter only occasionally stopping to show off their bright red bellies (informing me how poisonous they are in case I was considering eating one). The emergent newts are a seasonal, weather-dependant event at my house and I get as excited about them as I would at seeing a bald eagle or a mountain lion. If you don’t happen to live in the country as I do, and are more urban, worry not, you can still find wonder in the creatures that call your yard home. It doesn’t matter if your yard is a twenty-acre pasture or a window-box on a balcony, there will be animals there. And if you do it right you can encourage all sorts of wildlife to move in, which may be fun for you but it is even better for the animals.
Having a wildlife friendly garden/yard can be readily accomplished by taking a few easy steps when planning your area. The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) has a Garden for Wildlife program offering information on how to create a wildlife-friendly garden and will even certify your garden as an official “Wildlife Habitat”. According to the NWF, the four factors to encouraging animals to move into your yard are Food, Water, Cover, and a place for animals to raise their Young.
Obviously, nothing will move into your yard if there isn’t anything for it to eat, but this doesn’t necessarily require putting up a bird-feeder. Planting native plants provide a food source of nectar when in bloom and fighting the urge to “deadhead” flowers that have passed their prime leaves the seeds as a meal for a variety of animals. Even dead trees and logs can invite insects as well as allow fungi and plants to grow, which in turn feed animals.
Of course, we all need water to live, so NWF recommends having at least one source of fresh, clean water. While this could be an elaborate pond or water garden, a simple bird-bath will give a place for birds to drink and clean their feathers. It will also provide drinkable water for the other animals too. If you have space for a more natural water feature, go for it! Many amphibians, insects, and reptiles need water for part or all of their life cycle.
Most animals don’t need a house, per se, but most of them need some form of shelter. Shrubs can serve as a multipurpose place to get out the sun or rain and also to hide to avoid predators or help sneak up on smaller prey. Other forms of cover could be a rock pile, a wooded area, a pond, roosting boxes, or a meadow.
Lastly, animals often seek out places to raise their young, so a wildlife-friend garden/yard should strive to offer that. Mature trees, meadow, and wetland all offer a natural setting but in a limited area, you can offer simple simulated spaces to rear offspring such as nest boxes, host plants (think milkweed for monarch caterpillars), dead trees/logs and water gardens.
One last important consideration promoted by the NWF is to make your area sustainable. This usually means conserving water and soil, managing exotic species, and eliminating chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Such efforts are easily managed by simply paying attention to the products you buy and the means by which you tend to your plants.
It is worth pointing out that the NWF is not the only organization promoting wildlife friendly gardening. There are a number of resources available to provide guidelines and detailed projects to make your yard friendly to wildlife. Google may be your primary tool but I will highlight one other local organization, the Sonoma County Beekeepers’ Association. Obviously, they have their focus on bees, but many of the practices they promote will help all pollinators, be it honey-bees, native bees, or butterflies. Not only will this attract cool insects to your space (and the animals that eat those insects), but encouraging pollinators will help your crops if you happen to have a vegetable garden.
In closing, it is important to all of us here at Safari West to spread the word about conservation. While we work hard to protect large animals such as Rhinos and Cheetahs, we also strive every day to make an effort to reduce our footprint and contribute to conservation on the whole, even in our own 400-acre backyard. We hope that you will join us in this effort.