Wildlife Conservation Network: Saving Wildlife One Partner at a Time

Wildlife Conservation Network penguins
Modern Professional
Photo by Rosamira Guillen

Each issue, Modern Professional features a world-class nonprofit organization. We had the pleasure of learning more about Wildlife Conservation Network’s (WCN) unique efforts to support conservationists around the globe.

MP: How would you describe WCN?
 WCN occupies a unique niche in the conservation world—the support we give to conservationists helps them be as effective as possible and the service we provide for donors ensures their investments have a big impact for wildlife. We know that no one person or institution can save wildlife alone, so we emphasize collaboration, creating a community that works together for wildlife. At WCN, we are relentlessly optimistic about the future of wildlife, without ever minimizing the difficult realities inherent in this work. 

We ensure conservationists have resources to succeed. We help conservationists succeed by giving them the financial and technical resources and tools they need to be as effective as possible. We offer our Partners opportunities to strengthen or learn new skills to make their organizations more impactful and resilient—from accounting to communications to fundraising. WCN’s staff works with Partners directly and provides expert training and workshops.

We are connectors and conveners. We bring conservationists together as a network to learn from each other’s successes and challenges and ensure they are stronger together, rather than apart. 

We act as a bridge between our donors and the conservationists, ensuring that we directly connect donors with the very work that they support. One important way in which we do this is through our annual Wildlife Conservation Expos, which bring together thousands of people every year. Through WCN, donors can not only connect directly with conservationists, but can also connect with each other, creating a community based around wildlife philanthropy.

Like venture capitalists for wildlife, WCN regularly identifies, vets, and supports conservation initiatives that hold the greatest promise for wildlife. 

We help our donors have the biggest impact for wildlifeSometimes donors want to invest in conservation, but they are not sure where their donation will have the biggest impact. WCN is constantly evaluating where there are the biggest needs and gaps and we can advise donors on where to invest, we can also direct their donation to where it is most needed through unrestricted funding. 

WCN is committed to supporting skilled, effective, diverse, and local conservation leaders. Through scholarships and grants we focus on creating leadership opportunities for marginalized groups who have historically been excluded from conservation leadership, such as Asian, Latin American, and African nationals—specifically Black Africans—Indigenous People, and women. 

Modern Professional
Photo by Susan McConnell

What areas of wildlife do you protect?

WCN protects endangered wildlife on every continent. The species we protect are facing huge threats such as poaching and illegal wildlife trade, habitat loss and fragmentation, the effects of climate change, and human-wildlife conflict. We work with on-the-ground conservationists to address those threats for some of the most iconic animals on the planet: Africa’s beloved elephants, lions, rhinos, cheetahs, and painted dogs; lesser-known enigmatic species like pangolins, cotton-top tamarins, okapi, and saiga antelope; animals that are very localized, like spectacled bears in the Peruvian dry forest, and those that are found around the world like penguins, sharks, and small cats. And since conservation is as much about helping people as it is about helping wildlife, the conservationists that we support work within local communities to jointly develop solutions that allow wildlife and people to coexist and thrive.

How does WCN help to conserve the world’s wildlife?

WCN supports a network of partners who go through a vigorous vetting process, by providing them with in-depth, ongoing, support. The support we give can be financial or technical—we help fundraise for our partners, offer fiscal sponsorship, build and strengthen their skills to make their organizations impactful and resilient, and we cultivate a network where conservationists can learn from each other and make direct connections with their supporters. 

Additionally, WCN establishes Wildlife Funds when we see a need and an opportunity to protect a species across a larger landscape. These Funds provide specific, time-bound, investments into the best projects from a variety of institutions that are aimed at saving a threatened species throughout its entire habitat.

While our partner network and our Wildlife Funds are WCN’s primary strategies, we help conserve wildlife in other important ways. We invest in local leadership by providing scholarships to emerging conservationists working in their home countries. We also provide emergency funding (created during the COVID-19 pandemic) to support conservationists, wildlife, and communities facing devastating health, social, economic, and political crises—such crises often lead to increased pressure on wildlife and natural resources, disruptions in funding, and destabilization of security for local communities.

WCN’s model seems to deviate from the typical nonprofits that directly employ people to act its behalf. Please explain your model a bit.

WCN is not a typical conservation organization—WCN was established to provide support to smaller-scale, independent, field-based conservationists. These conservationists do not have the resources and fundraising power of a large NGO. When WCN partners with these conservationists we provide services like fiscal sponsorship, fundraising and grant writing, strategic planning, and help with aspects of their organization like communications and accounting. Additionally, our Wildlife Funds offer grants to a wide variety of organizations working to protect threatened species—specifically elephants, lions, pangolins, and rhinos. By providing grants through our Wildlife Funds and by raising funding and providing essential services to our Conservation Partners, we help conservationists focus on what they do best: saving wildlife.

What makes WCN’s donation model unique?

Our donation model allows 100% of any donation designated for a specific species to go directly to partners in the field that protect that species, with zero overhead taken by WCN. We even pay the bank wire transfer fees. This means, if you designate your donation to go to “penguins,” for example, 100% of your donation will go to penguin conservation and not to WCN’s overhead. Additionally, all donations made to any of our Wildlife Funds go directly to the field, with no overhead taken. This is possible thanks to visionary donors who help support WCN’s operating costs. What’s more, of all donations made to WCN (i.e. not designated for a specific species), 93% of those funds are used in our work to support our conservation partners.

What are 4 critical wildlife statistics that will inform readers and really make them think for a moment?

Around 1 million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, many within decades, more than ever before in human history. The current rate of global species extinction is tens to hundreds of times higher compared to the average rate over the last 10 million years, and the rate is accelerating.

WCN protects over 90 species of wildlife through our Partner Network and Wildlife Funds. Most of these species are flagship species, meaning that support raised for these charismatic and beloved animals also benefits entire ecosystems. Protecting flagship species in turn protects the hundreds or even thousands of other species that share their habitat.

Modern Professional
Photo by Susan McConell

In just the past 25 years, lion populations have declined by half and have vanished from over 95% of their historic range. Today only about 20,000 lions remain in Africa—they are threatened by bushmeat poaching, human-lion conflict, loss of habitat, and a now growing trend in targeted lion poaching for their body parts. The world would not be the same without these iconic animals who are so key to Africa’s cultures and ecosystems. 

WCN’s Lion Recovery Fund is working to bring back the lions we have lost, our vision is to double the number of lions in Africa by 2050.

Modern Professional
Photo by Jen Guyton

Though most people have never even heard of them, pangolins are the world’s most trafficked mammal. Because of demand—mostly in Asia, where pangolin meat is considered a delicacy and their scales are believed to have medicinal qualities—all eight species of pangolins are threatened with extinction. It is estimated that at least a million pangolins have been poached in the last decade making these shy, gentle creatures some of the most threatened groups of mammals in the world. What’s more, pangolin consumption can also threaten human health. Many scientists have posited that pangolins were the vector for COVID-19 which they theorize transmitted from bats to pangolins and then to people via consumption of pangolins. 

The Pangolin Crisis Fund is working to eliminate the demand, trafficking, and poaching crisis that puts all eight species of pangolins at risk of extinction.

Modern Professional
Photo by Gerald Schombs

Sharks are ancient creatures who have been swimming in our oceans for over 400 million years, but today more than 70 species of sharks are threatened with extinction. Additionally, in our oceans, 33% of reef-forming corals, sharks and shark relatives, more than 33% of marine mammals, and 10 of the world’s 18 species of penguin are threatened with extinction.

WCN’s Conservation Partners, MarAlliance and the Global Penguin Society are doing incredible work to protect sharks, penguins, and other vital marine wildlife and the health of our oceans.

WCN Stats

  • $173 million raised for conservation since our inception
  • 515 projects in 45 countries our Wildlife Funds have supported to date
  • 1670+ number of staff and members of local communities around the world provided with employment opportunities by WCN’s Conservation Partners (2020)
  • 80,000+ people in local communities around the world provided with education opportunities by WCN’s Conservation Partners (2020)
  • 128 scholarships awarded to date through WCN’s Scholarship Program to promising conservationists across 42 countries

WCN currently has 17 Conservation Partners and 4 Wildlife Funds (Elephant Crisis Fund, Lion Recovery Fund, Pangolin Crisis Fund, Rhino Recovery Fund).

Why should people donate to WCN?

The biggest reason that people should donate to WCN is simply because their donation will have a huge impact for wildlife and for people around the world.

We do all of the hard work of identifying and vetting the organizations and projects that are the most effective at protecting endangered wildlife and we are fully transparent with our donors about where their money is going. We are also extremely efficient and provide nimble and non-bureaucratic support, so we are able to quickly get money to the field where it is needed. 

WCN is ranked as a top wildlife conservation organization by Charity Navigator (the U.S’s leading independent charity evaluator that rates thousands of charities on their financial health and accountability and transparency) maintaining its highest possible 4 star rating. The conservationists we support are making huge strides for wildlife while also improving the lives of countless people through education and economic opportunities and access to various health and social services.

Beyond just WCN, people should support conservation not only to protect wildlife and wild places, but also because it’s a catalyst for addressing so many other global problems, including limiting the worst effects of climate change, reducing global poverty, educating children, and hindering wildlife criminals who are also linked to the trafficking of guns, drugs, and people.

What else would you like readers to know?

We want people to know that there is hope for wildlife and that their actions, their support, absolutely does make a difference. Together, we can turn things around for species on the brink and it doesn’t have to come at the expense of our own advancement – it is possible to create a future that allows for wildlife and people to coexist and thrive together. When conservationists are given the right resources, they can succeed. When wildlife is properly protected, their populations can rebound. And when people donate and support this work, they make conservation possible.

View this article in the July 2021 issue of MP.