16 Famous Animal Conservationists

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Conservation champs

© Michael Neugebauer.

In the field or in front of the camera, these amazing animal conservationists have dedicated their lives to protecting the Earth and its creatures. You will recognize some names, faces and voices on the list — but more important are the ways they have raised awareness around the globe. (Text: Anna Norris)

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Marlin Perkins

Wikimedia Commons.

As the first host of the revolutionary and engaging nature program, "Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom," Marlin Perkins became a face and name familiar to many in the United States. And he was perfect for the job – boasting experience as the director of the Lincoln Park Zoo and the host of the zoo’s "Zoo Parade" TV show.

His time as host of "Wild Kingdom" encouraged him to work towards protecting endangered species, and in 1971 he co-founded the Wild Canid Survival and Research Center, now known as the Endangered Wolf Center.

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Jack Hanna

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Jack Hanna is best known as the host of "Jack Hanna’s Into the Wild" (following his original show, "Jack Hanna’s Animal Adventures"), and as a wildlife correspondent for major TV shows like "Good Morning America," "The Late Show with David Letterman," "Larry King Live," "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" and others. But Hanna gained his fame as the director of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Columbus, Ohio. "Jungle Jack" currently hosts "Jack Hanna’s Wild Countdown."

He started Jack Hanna's Heroes to support animal conservation groups all over the world.

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Sir David Attenborough

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Anyone who has ever watched a nature program will most likely recognize this British naturalist's amazing voice. More recently, he narrated the groundbreaking nature documentary series "Planet Earth" and co-wrote and narrated "Life."

Working towards the conservation of many species as well as the rain forest, Attenborough is also the president of the Butterfly Conservation, which was headed by fellow conservationist Ser Peter Scott.

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Jeff Corwin

Image courtesy of Georgia Aquarium.

Jeff Corwin, host of the early-2000s adventurous nature series "The Jeff Corwin Experience," has acted to conserve rain forests and currently advocates the conservation of marine species. His new television show, "Ocean Mysteries with Jeff Corwin," explores the depths of Earth's oceans and raises awareness about important marine conservation issues.

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Jane Goodall

Photo: Tinseltown/Shutterstock.com

Iconic images of Jane Goodall with her chimpanzee friends illustrate her passion for these endangered species. From age 26, she has spent time studying chimps, helping humans to understand these complex primates.

This British primatologist does not only champion a chimpanzee cause, but she also works towards bettering the communities around the chimps. Her nonprofit organization, The Jane Goodall Institute, engages people worldwide in efforts to care for our planet.

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Dian Fossey

© The Dian Fossey Fund International.

Dian Fossey’s story started with her studies of gorillas in Rwanda, encouraged by Louis Leakey as one of three “Leakey’s Angels,” alongside Jane Goodall and Birutė Galdikas. While in Rwanda, Fossey created the Karisoke Research Center and actively opposed poaching in the region. She founded the Digit Fund after her favorite gorilla (the fund’s namesake) was killed by poachers. The fund, now the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, enables anti-poaching patrols to continue in the area.

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Birute Galdikas

Simon Fraser University Public Affairs and Media Relations/Flickr.

Another member of "Leakey’s Angels," Birutė Galdikas took on the cause of orangutan conservation and is now known to be a top authority on these fascinating primates. She studied orangutans in their Bornean habitats and has since focused on rehabilitating orphaned orangutans and advocating for the species’ protection. She founded the Orangutan Foundation International to preserve their rain forest home.

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Jacques Cousteau

Photo: Olga Popova/Shutterstock.com

Jacques Cousteau's passion for marine conservation was clear throughout his life. As an explorer, he dove deeper into the ocean than ever before. As an inventor, he enabled others to do the same. As a filmmaker, Cousteau educated many of us about what swims beneath the mysterious waters that cover most of our planet. As a conservationist, he battled against commercial whaling and inspired others to care for and respect the ocean just as he did.

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Gerald Durrell

Wikimedia Commons.

Gerald Durrell founded the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust as well as the Jersey Zoo, now known as Durrell Wildlife Park. An environmental message penetrated his many books, which included autobiographies, children’s books and novels. Durrell saw zoos as an opportunity to foster endangered species and worked during his life to restore species such as the Mauritius Kestrel raptor.

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Steve Irwin

Australia Zoo/Getty Images.

The Crocodile Hunter was an avid conservationist, as was apparent in his enthusiasm as the host of his own television show. But he also actively worked towards these causes with the establishment of the Steve Irwin Conservation Foundation (now Wildlife Warriors Worldwide), the International Crocodile Rescue, Lyn Irwin Memorial Fund, and Iron Bark Station Wildlife Rehabilitation Facility. He also advocated eco-tourism and sustainable consumer choices.

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Margaret Murie

Edith English/USFWS.

Margaret "Mardy" Murie was deemed the "Grandmother of the Conservation Movement" for her work promoting the 1964 Wilderness Act, which protected 9.1 million acres of federal land, and creating the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, spanning more than 19 million acres and the largest National Wildlife Refuge in the country. Murie also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998 for her environmentalism efforts.

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Theodore Roosevelt

Wikimedia Commons.

Teddy Roosevelt may have started out as an enthusiastic big game hunter, but he adopted conservation as his passion once he saw the decimation of the West. Roosevelt created the U.S. Forest Service, established several bird reservations, game preserves, national forests and five national parks. According to the National Park Service, Roosevelt protected about 230,000,000 acres of public land throughout his time as president.

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Sir Peter Scott

Adrian Pingstone/Wikimedia Commons.

Sir Peter Scott expressed his passion for wildlife through his paintings and earned his title for his work towards the conservation of wild animals. He was a founding member of the World Wide Fund for Nature (World Wildlife Fund) and designed its widely recognized panda logo. He also founded the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, protecting a collective 150,000 birds.

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William Hornaday

Wikimedia Commons.

William T. Hornaday was a buffalo hunter-turned-conservationist. He worked for the Smithsonian Institute and helped to establish the National Zoo. During his time at the Smithsonian, Hornaday was sent westward to collect buffalo specimen; upon finding that so few were left, Hornaday dedicated himself to their cause. Alongside Teddy Roosevelt, he co-founded the American Bison Society and through persuasion and writing alerted the public to the conservation cause.

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Paul Watson

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Captain of the famed Sea Shepherd, Paul Watson has worked towards marine life conservation for over 30 years. As a co-founder of the Greenpeace Foundation, Watson sailed in opposition of nuclear testing, seal hunting and whaling. After his departure from Greenpeace, Watson founded the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and he continues to patrol illegal whaling to this day (you can watch their adventures on the Discovery Channel's "Whale Wars").

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George Adamson

© George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust.

Known as the "Father of Lions" (Bwana Simba), George Adamson was the pioneer of lion conservation. He and his wife Joy raised the orphaned cub Elsa (and if the story sounds familiar, it’s the true story behind the movie "Born Free"). Adamson also rehabilitated the English-born lion Christian and 23 other lions in Kora National Park but until his tragic murder in 1989. His assistant Tony Fitzjohn founded the George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust to continue the protection of these big cats, their habitat and other wildlife.