When today’s college students were kids, the focus of most of the endangered animal education fell on whales, dolphins, bald eagles, and the rainforests. While some of these species have made strides away from the endangered list in the last 20 years, the list of global endangered species remains long. Luckily many colleges around the world are using their knowledge, resources, and student passion for conservationism to protect some of the most at-risk creatures in nature. These 10 schools from Atlanta to India are doing their part to preserve the world’s wildlife for the next generations.
From endangered plants in the South to gorillas in Rwanda to coral reefs around the globe, Georgia Tech is doing more than its fair share to protect some of the world’s most at-risk species. In partnership with the Atlanta Botanical Garden, GT’s Jerry Pullman, Ph.D., leads students in preserving rare trees like the Torreya taxifolia, whose numbers are below 1,000 in the world. The number of mountain gorillas in Central East Africa had dipped even lower by the year 2000, when Tech partnered with the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International to study the gorilla’s habitat via satellite to determine how many gorillas the area could support. In part because of that help, the apes are now making a comeback.
USC might grab more headlines in the sports world, but in the world of endangered species, Stan State is the frontrunner. The school’s Endangered Species Recovery Program, in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has been furthering our knowledge (and therefore our ability to protect) a wide range of endangered animals since 1992. Last year, ESRP members rescued endangered Riparian brush rabbits from flooding of the San Joaquin River, and published articles on the San Joaquin kit fox, the Bakersfield cactus, the blunt-nosed leopard lizard, and the island foxes of southern California.
The village of Rodbaston, England, is home to one of the campuses of this British college. And thanks to the school’s Animal Zone, it’s also home to more than 1,000 animals of more than 200 species, many of which are endangered. In December 2011, the zoo welcomed 12 baby Haitian Galliwasps into the world, small lizards that are listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as “critically endangered.” Just days before this writing, a female black lemur joined the ranks, the third of its kind to be born at the Zone. The black lemur is listed as “vulnerable” by the IUCN. The species are just two that South Staffordshire is helping to protect from extinction.
This distinguished UK institution is well-known for its scientific prowess, and its scientists routinely put their skills to work studying ways to protect plants and animals the world over. Last April, a professor from the school’s Grantham Institute for Climate Change led amulti-school study that called for a new way to assess the vulnerability of species to climate change. In December, the results of a study of gray wolves in Yellowstone National Park — this time led by Imperial’s Department of Life Sciences — were released, demonstrating a revolutionary new way to predict how climate change will affect populations of many different species of animals, including endangered ones. And just this summer, a professor from the School of Public Health at Imperial co-authored a paperthat revealed 70% of plant and animal extinction could be stopped by halting the spread of fungal infections.
Believe it or not, rhino horns, tiger and leopard bones, and bear gall have all been ingredients in traditional Chinese medicine. Unfortunately, these animals comprise some of the most at-risk in the world, and though their use has been banned since 1993, many continue to employ them in medicines. From San Francisco, the American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine has been leading the way towards responsible practice of Chinese medicine for the last 14 years. Through a partnership with the World Wildlife Fund, the college has brought the plight of tigers to the spotlight through its “Save the Tigers” campaign. The college has also embraced alternative ingredients for its medicines and, since 2000, has worked with pharmaceutical companies specializing in Chinese medicine to do the same.
For more than five years now, a lethal disease known as white nose syndrome has been decimating bat populations along the east coast and moving west. Scientists put the death toll at nearly 6 million bats already, with species like the Indiana bat being driven toward extinction. BU’s Kunz Bat Lab, however, is working to find a way to stop the disease and protect the creatures that are an invaluable part of the ecosystem. In July, the lab published a study it conducted with the University of California, Santa Cruz and other groups that found the disease spreads faster in bats that hibernate in clusters, helping conservationists identify which species are most at risk. The lab has also studied its hypotheses on what causes the bats to emerge early from hibernation and investigated the scarring found on the wings of infected bats.
For several years, students in the Environmental Studies Program at this small private school in Massachusetts have been participating in the Head Start Turtles Program run by MassWildlife. Their subject: the Northern Red-bellied Cooter. This small turtle became endangered in the late ’70s by pollution, loss of wetlands, and even collection by animal lovers and trophy hunters. Students raise quarter-sized hatchlings in a lab before releasing them at a public ceremony designed to raise awareness of the turtle’s predicament.
Together with researchers from the University of Kerala, Trivandrum, St. Albert’s College in Kochi, India created the Conservation Research Group in 2007 to study biodiversity loss in the Kerala area of Western Ghats and to develop strategies for protecting the region’s natural resources. Through funding from Endangered Species International, the group has been working to preserve local endangered freshwater fish like the Denison’s Barb, a beautiful fish pushed to the edge of extinction by the aquarium industry. The CRG also recently discovered a new species of fish that has been dubbed the Dario urops, reinforcing the fact that the Western Ghats area is a “biodiversity hotspot” that still has many natural mysteries to be uncovered.
In 2010, when the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute needed a way to safeguard the eggs of some endangered big cats, they turned to the Lee College of Engineering at UNC Charlotte. At the research lab of Associate Professor Gloria Elliott, the researchers have been working on creative ways to dry and store the eggs so that they can be fertilized in vitro to revive the fading populations of certain lions and tigers. This UNC lab was chosen because of the lab’s patented microwave drying method. At last check, the lead researcher from the Smithsonian said the team was making excellent progress and seemed to feel the choice of UNC for its partner had been a good one.
The CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) group has been instrumental in protecting thousands of endangered species since its creation in 1975. Now the organization has its own Virtual College, hosted by the Universidad Internacional de Andalucia. Launched last summer, the initiative is intended to be a training ground for universities and other academic institutions in the field of conservation. It will feature open master’s-level courses from UNIA, educational materials, videos, and databases for students and anyone interested in learning about wildlife preservation. CITES officials call the Virtual College “a first for a multilateral environmental agreement.”