I’m a biology student working on completing a few requirements before I apply to graduate school, so for me wildlife volunteering is the most attractive volunteering option out there. I’m very sensitive emotionally, so I know working with sick children or in deeply impoverished villages is not the thing for me. I wish it was—I would love to work with people—but I know myself and I’d be a nervous wreck. Of course, working with endangered or imperiled animals carries its own emotional risks but somehow the disconnect—the inhuman eyes, the lack of a spoken language—helps me create an emotional distance. Also working with animals, especially in foreign countries out in the vast wilderness, has this Avatar-like new frontier appeal.
As a student of the natural world, I find great satisfaction in hands-on experimentation and exploration. I’ve worked with giant tortoises in the Galapagos, with sharks living near the Great Barrier Reef, and with injured found wildlife in Massachusetts. Now I’m working with bats in New York. I think people often think that working with animals is somehow less important than working with people and I can see why. But looking at the big picture its clear that the balance of nature and the health of our animals have a direct effect on the health of our people.
Take the case of the bats I talked about in yesterday’s post. White nose syndrome, a fungal disease of hibernating bats, has wiped out 5.7 to 6.7 million bats so far and there is no end in sight. As the fungus moves across the country, our nation’s bats are disappearing. In a very real sense, this is a national crisis. Bats consume a tremendous amount of insects each night—up to 75 percent of their body weight. These are insects that could be eating our crops or spreading blood-borne disease. Without the bats, we will be inundated with critters and we don’t have a good way to manage them. More pesticides is the most likely answer, and that means more chemicals in our food and in our water. It also means a massive increase in environmental degradation as these chemicals rage through wetlands, down rivers, and into our oceans.
Nation-wide, environmental organizations are working to study this disease, protect bat habitats, conceive of potential solutions and raise public awareness. This is just one example of a wildlife crisis that needs all the volunteers it can get. As climate change continues to cause rising global temperatures and stronger, more violent weather, populations of animals are in ever increasing danger. In many cases, like that of the North American bats, these populations are critical to the health and well being of human populations. Organizations like the National Wildlife Federation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service offer thousands of volunteer opportunities both at home and abroad.