Veterinarians work towards conserving animal species and environments. However, all the new techniques, computer models, PCR technology, embryo transfer, disease detection, etc. will not result in ecosystem preservation if one basic practice is forgotten: Educating people about why to conserve.5
Conservation will only work if people understand what it is, why it is important and whose interest it serves. The facts show that on a world level, conservation is losing, mostly due to public ignorance.6 Wildlife veterinarians must take the education of people: students, the public, and fellow professionals as an integral part of their job.2 Numerous avenues exist to spread information about and teach conservation education.
Education becomes even more important in field projects. Projects often take place in areas with limited access to news sources and suffer from information deprivation. Information shared in such areas gets attention. This is where the environmental message is so important. In lesser developed countries societies have the chance to effect economic development while protecting their environment, something the developed world was unable to do. However, these countries and their professionals are in dire need of information to apply this concept.3
Conservation education can be accomplished in the following ways.
1. School groups: Encourage visits to conservation facilities and being available to give lectures to primary, secondary, high and preparatory schools. It will always be difficult to change ideas, however, it is far easier to guide the creation of ideas. Children have yet to become fixed in their ideas and can be taught the important elements of ecosystem conservation. To state the obvious, the practice of conservation will soon be in their hands.1,5
2. Graduate students: For those who work in universities this is bread and butter, however, those of us outside the teaching world can become involved. On the veterinary side we know about preceptors, interns and residents but beyond that, relationships can be sought with local universities to encourage programs of day visits, workshops, lectures and sponsored research by students in other disciplines. In particular, for students in lesser developed countries, chances for field experiences are few and difficult.3 While on field projects always locate and encourage local students and professional staff to participate.
3. Professional and fellowship groups: Be available to give lectures and provide information to veterinary and other related field associations about ecosystem health. Professionals in other fields may not be as aware of the issues and your words may invoke forces well beyond your normal circles. Other professional groups can see they have a stake in ecosystem health. Fellowship groups are usually a mixed assortment of professions. Any individual who hears your words can become an ally and carry your message further.
4. Governmental and non-governmental organizations: These organizations always desire input from individuals. Providing information and offering guidance to these is education that will provide direction for our society. Every level society has its corresponding governmental and non-governmental organizations, from town zoning committee and neighbor beautification club to institutions at the highest level in capital cities. At any step along the way input from a wildlife veterinarian can have a profound positive effect.
5. Publications: Theses include journals and newspapers, brochures, newsletters and professional journals. We strive to publish in professional journals, but perhaps we are missing some valuable education opportunities. Create your own literature in the style that suits you and find an outlet for it. There are numerous publications, print and electronic, interested in pieces from a high-profile profession like wildlife veterinarians. Keep a notebook of interesting articles handy to show interested persons and/or stocks of appropriate brochures for distribution. Good sources of literature are conservation organizations such as World Wildlife Fund (WWF), International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA), etc.
6. Media: When being featured in either simple news stories or major documentaries be sure to present a conservation message. High visibility projects on charismatic mega vertebrates generate attention in the public and media. A wildlife veterinarian can use that attention as an alert for conservation of all aspects of an ecosystem.
7. Research: Research is part of all our lives and is a form of education. Defining points and aspects about the world around us increases our knowledge and is education for all.
8. Biologic sample banks: Each time we handle an animal we have the opportunity to collect information, sometimes very unique information. Besides publishing your data there may be other individual or institutions interested in materials. Examples of potential homes are pathology repositories, teaching collections, and museums. With some species, particularly those with species survival plans (SSP), wish lists of samples are published and should be investigated. In other cases, word of mouth should be sought. Resources may be required to store and find homes for samples, but we need to learn as much from each animal contact as possible.
9. Library materials: To increase the availability of information a useful occupation is finding, recommending, and/or donating relevant materials to libraries. This can be pursued at many levels: public, school or university; print or electronic; nationally or internationally. In particular, international donations of appropriate and timely materials to libraries in lesser developed countries provide unique access of information to a multitude of individuals.
10. One on one: Education can be on a personal and everyday level. By ensuring that all the contacts throughout your daily routine understand what you are doing and why you are doing it you will receive greater cooperation and action. It is not necessary to always be professorial but taking a few moments to teach can yield fine rewards. This includes teaching to everyone, from the test tube cleaner to the director of the institute.
Education is the cornerstone of environmental salvation. This is a responsibility of all wildlife veterinarians. It will require resources and time; however, the result will be assistance toward our goal of healthy ecosystems.7 People can see the beauty of animals in national parks and zoos and they see what is beautiful. However, it is up to us, conservation and veterinary staff, to help people acquire an understanding of why it is beautiful. Good ecosystem health will never be achieved without education.
We would like to thank the owners, management and staff of Ol Jogi, Ltd. for their support.
1. Brown, R.D. 1997. Getting started in wildlife education: Breaking down those barriers. In: Moore, A.T. and S. Joosten. NWRA Principles of Wildlife Rehabilitation. Pp. 485–493.
2. Connections: The Alliance of Veterinarians for the Environment Newsletter.
3. Cooper, J.W. 1996. Are we guilty of neocolonialism in our work on wildlife diseases? World Assoc. Wildli. Vet. 5:8–9.
4. Joosten, S. 1997. Talk on the Wild Side. In: Moore, A.T. and S. Joosten. NWRA Principles of Wildlife Rehabilitation. Pp. 495–499.
5. Joosten, S. 1997. Why Educate? In: Moore, A.T. and S. Joosten. NWRA Principles of Wildlife Rehabilitation. Pp. 479.
6. Time Special Issue. October 27, 1997. Our Precious Planet.
7. VanLeeuwen, J.A., N.O. Nielsen, and D. Walter-Toews. 1998. Ecosystem Health: an essential field of veterinary medicine. J. Am. Vet. Med. Assoc. 212: 53–57.