The Top 10 Wildlife Conservation Organizations

(FILES) Staff from the West Hatch RSPCA

AFP/Getty Images

Not everyone who is concerned about endangered species, and would like to help protect threatened wildlife, has the opportunity to get out in the field, get their boots muddy, and do something about it. But even if you're unwilling or unable to participate in hands-on conservation work, you can still contribute money to a conservation organization. Read on to find descriptions of, and contact information for, the world's most reputable wildlife conservation groups — one requirement for inclusion being that these organizations spend at least 80 percent of the money they raise on actual fieldwork, rather than administration and fundraising. 

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The Nature Conservancy

The Nature Conservancy works with local communities, businesses, and individuals to protect over 125 million acres of land around the globe. The goal of this organization is to preserve entire wildlife communities along with their rich species diversity, a holistic approach that's vital to the health of our planet. One of the Nature Conservancy's more innovative conservation approaches is debt-for-nature swaps, which maintain the biodiversity of economically developing countries in exchange for forgiveness of their debts.

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The World Wildlife Fund

The World Wildlife Fund works with multilateral and bilateral agencies to promote sustainable development in nearly 100 countries. Its aims are threefold — to protect natural ecosystems and wild populations, to minimize pollution, and to promote efficient, sustainable use of natural resources. The WWF focuses its efforts on multiple levels, starting with specific wildlife habitats and local communities and expanding upward to governments and global networks of non-government organizations. This organization's official mascot is the Giant Panda, probably the world's most famous near-extinct mammal.

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The Natural Resources Defense Council

The Natural Resources Defense Council is an environmental action organization consisting of over 700 lawyers, scientists, and other professionals that commands a membership of more than three million people and online activists worldwide. The NRDC makes use of local laws, scientific research, and its wide network of members and activists to protect wildlife and habitats around the globe. Some of the issues the NRDC focuses on include curbing global warming, encouraging clean energy, preserving wildlands and wetlands, restoring ocean habitats, stopping the spread of toxic chemicals, and working toward greener living in China.

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The Sierra Club

The Sierra Club, a grassroots organization that works to protect ecological communities, encourage smart energy solutions, and create an enduring legacy for America's wildernesses, was co-founded by naturalist and conservationist John Muir in 1892. Its current initiatives include developing alternatives to fossil fuels, limiting greenhouse emissions, and protecting wildlife communities; it's also involved in issues like environmental justice, clean air and water, global population growth, toxic waste, and responsible trade. The Sierra Club supports vibrant chapters across the U.S. that encourage members to become involved in local conservation work.

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The Wildlife Conservation Society

The Wildlife Conservation Society supports zoos and aquariums, while also promoting environmental education and conservation of wild populations and habitats. Its efforts are focused on a select group of flagship animals, including apes, big cats, elephants, whales, and sharks, in addition to other "global priority species." The WCS was established in 1895 as the New York Zoological Society, when its mission was, and still is, to promote wildlife protection, foster the study of zoology, and create a top-notch zoo. Today, there are five Wildlife Conservation Zoos, all in New York: the Bronx Zoo, the Central Park Zoo, the Queens Zoo, the Prospect Park Zoo, and the New York Aquarium at Coney Island.

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The largest non-profit organization devoted exclusively to the world's oceans, Oceana works to shield fish, marine mammals, and other aquatic life from the deleterious effects of pollution and industrial fishing. This organization has launched a Responsible Fishing Campaign aimed at preventing overfishing, as well as individual initiatives to protect sharks and sea turtles, and it closely monitors the long-lasting effects of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill on coastal habitats in the Gulf of Mexico. Unlike some other wildlife groups, Oceana only focuses on a select handful of campaigns at any given time, better enabling it to achieve specific, measurable outcomes.

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Conservation International

With its broad team of scientists and policy experts, Conservation International aims to help stabilize the global climate, protect the world's supplies of fresh water, and ensure overall human well-being in ecologically threatened areas, largely by working with indigenous peoples and various non-governmental organizations. One of this organization's most impressive calling cards is its ongoing ​​Biodiversity Hotspots project: identifying and protecting the ecosystems on our planet that exhibit both the richest diversity of plant and animal life and the greatest susceptibility to human encroachment and destruction.

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The National Audubon Society

With its nearly 500 chapters across the U.S. and over 2,500 "Important Bird Areas" (places where birds are especially threatened by human encroachment, ranging from New York's Jamaica Bay to Alaska's Arctic Slope), the National Audubon Society is one of America's premier organizations devoted to bird and wildlife conservation. The NAS enlists "citizen-scientists" in its annual bird surveys, including the Christmas Bird Count and the Coastal Bird Survey, and encourages its members to lobby for effective conservation plans and policies. This organization's monthly publication, Audubon Magazine, is a great way to encourage your kids' environmental consciousness.

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The Jane Goodall Institute

The chimpanzees of Africa share 99 percent of their genome with human beings, which is why their brutal treatment at the hands of "civilization" is a cause for shame. The Jane Goodall Institute, founded by the famous naturalist, works to protect chimpanzees, great apes, and other primates (in Africa and elsewhere) by funding sanctuaries, fighting illegal trafficking, and educating the public. The JGI also encourages efforts to provide health care and free education for girls in African villages and promotes "sustainable livelihoods" in rural and backward areas via investment and community-managed micro-credit programs.

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The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds

A bit like the British version of the National Audubon Society, The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds was founded in 1889 to oppose the use of exotic feathers in the fashion industry. The RSPB's aims were straightforward: to end the mindless destruction of birds, to promote the protection of birds, and to discourage people from wearing the feathers of birds. Today, RSPB protects and restores habitats for birds and other wildlife, conducts recovery projects, researches problems facing bird populations, and manages 200 nature reserves. Each year, the organization posts its ​Big Garden Birdwatch, a way for members to participate in a nationwide bird count.

View Article Sources
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  2. Anyango-van-Zwieten, Nowella. "Funding for Nature Conservation: A Study of Public Finance Networks at World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)." Biodiversity and Conservation, vol, 28, 2019, pp. 3749-3766.

  3. How We Work.” Natural Resources Defense Council.

  4.  The Chimpanzee Sequencing and Analysis Consortium., Waterson, R., et al.  “Initial Sequence of the Chimpanzee Genome and Comparison with the Human Genome.” Nature, 2005, pp. 69–87., doi:10.1038/nature04072