With the work of the Northern Tanzania Big Cats Conservation Initiative including our team on the ground, the lion’s roar is becoming more common in these areas. (Photo courtesy of Yathin Krishnappa/Wildscreen Exchange)
In protecting lions and supporting communities through Living Walls, the African People & Wildlife Fund (APW) can now speak in vast numbers since the organization was established more than a decade ago.
150,000 Commiphora trees planted
650 Living Walls constructed
100 lions and other large carnivores protected
125,000 head of livestock safeguarded
12,500 individuals with strengthened livelihoods
Over 2015-16 alone, approximately 150 Living Walls (APW’s innovative, eco-friendly, lion-proof bomas) went up around cattle corrals throughout northern Tanzania. Moreover, approximately 80% of them were constructed in new APW expansion areas, with 90% outside APW’s home base east of Tarangire National Park in Simanjiro district.
Boma’s are always filled with running children. With their boma’s cattle protected by a thriving Living Wall, these children and their family will be able to sleep soundly knowing their livelihood is secure. (Photo courtesy of Deirdre Leowinata/African People & Wildlife Fund)
“We have had a breakthrough year in terms of our expansion,” said Dr. Laly Lichtenfeld, APW’s executive director. “Carnivores and communities need more support than ever, which is why we aim to implement our comprehensive four-step process for community-driven conservation throughout northern Tanzania.”
Recent expansion areas for APW include West Kilimanjaro, home of the Enduimet Wildlife Management Area, and the Kitenden Corridor, which connects Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania with the greater Amboseli ecosystem in Kenya. In the past three months alone, cattle herders in this cross-border ecosystem have killed at least four lions in retaliation for livestock predation at unfortified bomas.
Beyond such human-wildlife conflict incidents, lions also face extreme threats in terms of illegal hunting and habitat loss, which are some of the reasons why the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service added the species to its endangered list late last year.
Fortunately for lions and communities, Living Walls work extremely well. The walls become living as Commiphora trees are planted around and grow through the chain-link fencing, making them virtually impenetrable. In 2015, in fact, Lichtenfeld and her colleagues also published a 10-year study in Biodiversity and Conservation that revealed how Living Walls are proven to be 99% effective in keeping carnivores out of cattle corrals.
“That’s just the first step for communities to strengthen their livelihoods and sustainably manage their natural resources,” said Lichtenfeld. “Even if it takes many more years, we are committed to seeing our partner communities through our four-step process to help them achieve goals that balance human and environmental interests.”
With the closing of 2015 comes the end of a big chapter for Africa and its spectacular wildlife. Looking back on the year, we reflect on the big wins and big changes for wildlife conservation in this huge, unique continent. Here are the top seven milestones for African wildlife in 2015.
By Deirdre Leowinata
The U.S. Government listed African Lions under the Endangered Species Act.
To cap a year that won the world over in a fervor of lion activism, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service announced in late December that it would put the king of cats on the U.S. Endangered Species Act. This means a few things, especially for hunting permits and conservation aid, but the significance is that lions have a new and influential official guardian.
Cecil the Lion spurred policy changes and donations to wildlife conservation.
#CeciltheLion was by far the most famous animal of 2015, and is right up there with Mickey Mouse on the list of animals that have become a household name. The poaching of Cecil the Lion by Minnesota Dentist Walter Palmer triggered a global outcry for lion conservation unlike any the world has seen. And it worked. Not only did Cecil ignite a rush of donations to big-cat conservation and other wildlife conservation groups but it affected policy as well. New policies in place or in the works include commitments to ban the import of lion trophies by France and Britain, and banning the transport of animal trophies by more than 40 airlines. Whether it affected the U.S. decision to list lions on the ESA is unknown, but it probably didn’t hurt.
African nations pledged to restore 100 million hectares of forest by 2030.
In a massive United Nations initiative officially referred to as AFR100, more than a dozen of Africa’s 54 countries pledged to restore their forests in a continent-wide effort to combat climate change and protect ecosystems. These countries include hosts of some of the continent’s most precious landscapes, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Madagascar, both of which house the last remaining populations of some of the world’s most unique species.
U.S. and Chinese governments joined forces to put a final ban on the ivory trade.
In September, the U.S. and Chinese governments announced an agreement to work together toalmost completely ban the import and export of ivory. If it plays out, the agreement is a monumental decision for African elephants. China is the world’s top ivory consumer, and stopping the trade could save 30,000 elephants a year.
Pope Francis issued an encyclical on the environment, encouraging the entire Roman Catholic church to care for our planet.
Okay, we have to say it: Pope Francis has done a lot for everyone this year, but this is a big deal. The encyclical, “Laudato Si” (Praise Be to You), is a papal document that every bishop and every priest of the Roman Catholic church has an obligation to read, and every member of the church has an obligation to recognize. And not only does this papal document recognize manmade global warming but it also speaks to issues of pollution, water, biodiversity, human life, equality, and the ethics of it all.
The UN recognized wildlife trafficking as a transnational crime.
After a UN General Assembly decision in July of this year, wildlife trafficking officially became a serious crime. The United Nations Environment Programme executive director, Achim Steiner, called the resolution “a historic step forward,” and it could well be a defining moment. The resolution not only called on nations to legislate and cooperate on illegal trafficking enforcement but also recognized its link with organized crime and suffering in local communities. It could mean the world to species such as the rhino that are on the brink of extinction.
NGOs and Chinese Internet Kingpin Tencent joined forces for elephants.
The Nature Conservancy and the International Fund for Animal Welfare have partnered with Tencent, a major Chinese Internet company, to battle online wildlife trafficking and promote the conservation of elephants. In the bigger picture, the collaboration is the first conservation project Tencent has partnered on. It, along with the recent U.S.-China partnership, may be a sign of China’s changing attitudes on wildlife conservation, which could mean a whole lot more for wildlife from 2016 onwards.
And as a fun bonus…2015 also brought Taylor Swift’s “Wildest Dreams” music video, featuring a slew of beautiful African wildlife, including her very own lion friend. Now, celebrity endorsements can be a bit shallow, and the video may misguide viewers about the behavior of wild lions (we of course do not promote lion handling), but there’s something to be said for the reach of a music video with over 300 million views. An influencer is an influencer, and out of all the celebrities, Ms. Swift and her video are not bad to have on your side. Plus, all of the funds generated by the video went to the African Parks Foundation of America. Until now Swift has been very generous to humanities, but this is the first time she has donated to conservation efforts. Perhaps this could be the beckoning call we needed.
Have you seen our winter newsletter? As we say farewell to 2015, we reflect on our past 10 years of work in Tanzania. From our innovative operation headquartered in the rural community of Loibor Siret on the southeastern boundary of Tarangire National Park, we are expanding our impact to communities across Northern Tanzania.
This year, we celebrate over 600 Living Walls in place, protecting the lives of over 100 of Tanzania’s lions, and over 100 000 cattle for 10 000 rural community members. We celebrate our women’s entrepreneurial groups, who started harvesting honey from their eco-friendly hives this past year. We celebrate Magayane Revocatus, our Conservation Education officer who is our second staff member to be named a Disney Conservation Hero. We celebrate our growing team of Warriors for Wildlife, local community members who have chosen to commit to work towards a brighter future for the wildlife in their communities. And of course we celebrate you — who continue to stand beside us and help us grow as we embark on our next decade in East Africa.
Read the full newsletter here, including a heartfelt thank you from our executive director Dr. Laly Lichtenfeld, and a debate in the science community on fencing Africa’s National Parks.
With the expansion of human populations, instances of human-wildlife conflict become increasingly frequent. One proposed solution to protect both people and wildlife is the implementation of fences around established protected areas. Many conservation scientists argue that these fences may do more harm than good. A recent paper published in June by some of the world’s most renowned conservation scientists gives policy makers the guidelines they need to decide whether a fence is the best solution for them.
That is the question that has some members of the conservation community in knots. Subjects involving land use policy, such as the park size debate of the 1970s and 1980s, tend to garner attention both in and out of the scientific community, and fencing is no different. The outcomes of this particular battle have the potential to change the lives of millions of people as well as wildlife species dependent on some of the world’s most remarkable landscapes, so it might be wise to pay attention.
A recent paper co-authored by 45 scientists from around the world aims to help governments and policy-makers choose what protection plan is right for their parks by providing six critical factors to assess when making fencing decisions. The comprehensive paper, published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, accounts for social and economic factors in addition to environmental ones. The factors are: economics, edge permeability, reserve design, connectivity, ecosystem services, and communities.
In Africa, the subject of fencing is especially sensitive because many of its animals require large tracts of rangeland for seasonal migrations. The Serengeti-Mara ecosystem, for example, is home to the largest overland migration on the planet, with huge numbers of wildebeest and other hoofed animals moving around a 30,000-km2 area. The migration helps drive the regional patterns of biodiversity, including prey availability for the big cats. Closer to our headquarters on the Maasai Steppe, Tanzania’s Tarangire National Park makes for a perfect example of a dry season haven, with some of Tanzania’s highest concentrations of wildlife migrating into the area when the seasonal rains stop – including one of Africa’s only growing population of elephants. Fencing lands such as the Serengeti or Tarangire National Parks could significantly and permanently alter entire processes and landscapes by keeping ecosystem engineers such as wildebeest and elephants from their regular migrations. Those consequences would almost certainly trickle down to the communities inhabiting those regions and may also have unintended and ironic effects on the animals they’re built to protect.
Despite the uncertainty of fencing effects on ecosystems, certain African countries have already taken steps in new directions. Rwanda has fenced the 120-km border of its Akagera National Park in an attempt to stem human-wildlife conflict — at a cost of $2.5 million. Human-wildlife conflict may be the most common reason to fence protected areas; Uganda is leaning toward fencing all of its parks, and Malawi is contemplating using electric fence on all of its parks.
There are, as the authors do point out, multiple positive draws to fencing. Fences can be used to stop disease transmission, prevent the entry of invasive species, and curb direct resource extraction. In certain cases, such as the Australian drylands, fencing may currently be the best solution. However, because of the weighty financial and potential ecological costs of such an undertaking, it must be carefully evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
Dryland ecosystems such as those in the Serengeti-Mara system of East Africa account for 41% of the world’s land and house a large percentage of the world’s biodiversity as well as 2 billion of its people. As the paper points out, those 2 billion people include some of the world’s most marginalized communities, such as the semi-nomadic Maasai tribe that dominates the East African communities where we work. The African People & Wildlife Fund has spent the last 10 years developing strategies to reduce human-wildlife conflict that benefit both parties, with very encouraging results. In Northern Tanzania, access to resources such as seasonal water holes and grazing lands are necessary to support the communities of people and wildlife that have lived here for hundreds of years. In these landscapes, the reduced mobility that a fence might cause could mean the loss of either an iconic culture, or an iconic cat. This reinforces the need to develop solutions that promote coexistence, keeping both cats and cultures alive.
Borner, M. (1985). The increasing isolation of Tarangire National Park. Oryx 19: 91-96.
Durant, S.M., Becker, M.S., Creel, S., Bashir, S., Dickman, A.J., Beudels-Jamar, R.C., Lichtenfeld, L., Hilborn, R., Wall, J., Wittemyer, G., Badamjav, L., Blake, S., Boitani, L, Breitenmoser, C., Broekhuis, F., Christianson, D., Cozzi, G., Davenport, T.R.B., Deutsch, J., Devillers, P., Dollar, L., Dolrenry, S., Douglas-Hamilton, I., Dröge, E., FitzHerbert, E., Foley, C., Hazzah, L., Hopcraft, J.G.C., Ikanda, D., Jacobson, A., Joubert, D., Kelly, M.J., Milanzi, J., Mitchell, N., M’Soka, J., Msuha, M., Mweetwa, T., Nyahongo, J., Rosenblatt, E., Schuette, P., Sillero-Zubiri, C., Sinclair, A.R.E., Price, M.R.S., Zimmerman, A., and N. Pettorelli (2015). Developing fencing policies for dryland ecosystems. Journal of Applied Ecology52: 544-551.
Holdo R.M., Holt, R.D., and J.M. Fryxell (2009). Opposing rainfall and plant nutritional gradients best explain the wildebeest migration in the Serengeti. The American Naturalist173: 431-445.
Just ten years ago, two young explorers set up camp by a small acacia at the top of a hill given to them by the rural Tanzanian community of Loibor Siret. That camp was to eventually become a permanent base for the African People & Wildlife Fund’s conservation programs focusing on the lions of the Maasai Steppe – a program that now protects thousands of head of livestock and 100 lions every year with over 500 Living Walls. With one side of the hill looking to the community rangelands and the other side looking to the eastern edge of Tarangire National Park, a flagship haven for African biodiversity, the location was a perfect metaphor for the work they set out to do.
Those two explorers were Dr. Laly Lichtenfeld and Charles Trout, now directors of the African People & Wildlife Fund (APW). What started as a tent on top of a land rover has grown into an operation that spans 19 communities across 30 000 km2 of Northern Tanzanian rangelands. The small two-man tent has been replaced by the Noloholo Environmental Center, a one-of-a-kind emblem combining traditional architecture and sustainable design that stands on top of the hill where it all started and marks the organization’s headquarters in Tanzania. The newly released 2014 Annual Report highlights the milestones of the last ten years, and as we celebrate a decade of success on the Steppe we invite you to share in celebrating Big Cats and Communities in Northern Tanzania.
This video highlights the journey we have taken over these past 10 years, and the strong relationships that have stemmed from it:
The Tanzania People & Wildlife Fund and the Honeyguide Foundation (HGF) have launched a partnership to strengthen our joint community-based conservation initiatives across northern Tanzania.
The long-term partnership will begin with joint programming for human-wildlife conflict (HWC) prevention and evolve into a comprehensive community-based conservation collaboration.
“Conservation challenges are numerous across northern Tanzania,” said Dr. Laly Lichtenfeld, Executive Director of the Tanzania People & Wildlife Fund. “Progress at a large-scale requires the efforts of multiple partners who commit to real, functioning collaborations.”
Both Honeyguide and TPW have developed highly technical and proven community-based strategies for achieving these ends, including Honeyguide’s Human-Elephant Conflict (HEC) Toolkit to protect farms from elephants and other animals, and TPW’s Living Walls to protect livestock from predators, such as lions and leopards.
Our organizations work closely with individuals at the household level on HWC mitigation. In addition, we couple these critical prevention projects with training and education outreach to transform communities’ perceptions on the importance of biodiversity conservation.
Honeyguide and TPW have already begun to collaborate with communities among Enduimet WMA, Burunge WMA, the nascent Natron WMA, and the migratory corridor between the Tarangire-Manyara and Lake Natron ecosystems.
“For years, our organizations have seen the potential of partnering together,” said Damian Bell, Honeyguide’s executive director. “It has happened gradually and organically, and now we’re moving full ahead with joint programming across multiple landscapes.”
Gathered women, waiting for a meeting to start, were quizzing Alison Nicholls, a visiting artist at APW’s Noloholo Environmental Center. Inquiries about children are common worldwide. However, to this group of Maasai and Swahili women, her answer was unthinkable.
“My husband and I chose not to have children.”
Rushed chatter in Kiswahili and Kimaasai immediately prompted several offers.
“You can have one of my children.”
“How about a girl? Only this high,” indicating just over knee height.
Alison fended off the well-intentioned offers. Commenting that she only had one plane ticket back to the U.S. was her escape from an unsought adoption.
Where we operate on Tanzania’s Maasai Steppe, choosing childlessness is unthinkable. According to multiple Maasai staff at APW, eight is the minimum number of children a woman must have to be considered respectable. “More are better,” says Joyce Ndakaru, APW’s Conservation Enterprise and Development Officer anda very unconventional Maasai woman. “If you have five children, people will always ask: ‘why not more?’ You must have enough children to accommodate one or two deaths, and a few that do not have good personalities. Family planning is a bad word around here.”
Tanzania’s population is growing rapidly and shows no signs of slowing. Current UN estimates rank Tanzania as the world’s 26thmost populated country. But by 2050, Tanzania is predicted to jump to 13th place. Escalating human demands place increased stress on already limited big cat habitat. More people need more space and more food, but lions and cheetahs also need lots of room to wander. On the Maasai Steppe, more humans usually mean more cattle or cultivation, pushing out native lion prey and reducing grasslands. With fewer wildebeest and zebra to eat, lions are more liable to prey upon livestock, triggering retaliatory killings. Our Living Wall project is one initiative aimed at preventing such conflict. However, we also tackle conservation issues more broadly and in less obvious ways, for example by addressing women’s position in society.
The ladies chatting with Alison were waiting for a micro-grant award ceremony to start. So far this year, APW has provided start-up funds to 10 women’s groups as part of our environmentally friendly business initiative. To some, supporting women’s businesses might seem like an indirect step for women’s rights and wildlife conservation. Of course, encouraging sustainable livelihoods is an important part of what we hope to achieve with these grants. But by giving local women something they desire — additional income — we can also subtly change their position in society. Managing a beekeeping business, for example, gives many local women their first opportunity to have something completely their own, completely apart from male family members.
Joyce, our indefatigable Conservation Enterprise and Development Officer, is a fantastic example of how hard a Maasai woman must work to escape her society’s female norms. For several years she was her family’s black sheep. Joyce defied her parents to obtain a secondary education and thereby avoided marriage at 15 (a common age for Maasai girls to marry). Years later, she reconciled with her family. Marrying a Maasai man — “of my own choice,” she is quick to point out — undoubtedly helped. Today, she is proud of her two – yes, only two – children.
Now, Joyce routinely shocks young Maasai men as she works. Watching her switch among Swahili, Maasai, and English while directing emergent women’s groups, they comment, “How can a Maasai woman know so much?” Hopefully, through projects like the recently funded beekeeping businesses, young women choosing their own path will be less of a shock to the community in the future.
Along with supporting female empowerment and local economic development, these beekeeping businesses also promote habitat retention – the bottom line for big cat survival outside of protected areas. Tanzania’s National Beekeeping Policy of 1998 prevents people from cutting down trees around hives. So, each new beekeeping venture helps keep important lion, cheetah and leopard habitat open.
A win for women and wildlife – well, that’s exactly what we are hoping for.
Colors make life brighter, and our Loibor Siret Simba club just added a whole lot more color to their school walls. Over three days, some very committed Wildlife Club members decorated two classrooms and one very large outside wall with letters, numbers, and local wildlife.
We had the great pleasure of hosting wildlife artist and conservation advocate Alison Nicholls at Noloholo for just over a week, and as soon as she arrived we hit the ground running with three long days of taping walls, stenciling, mixing colors, and painting.
The classrooms of standards 4 and 6 were filled with the animals that not only represent their own wildlife club but the relationships that make up the Tarangire ecosystem. Impalas were placed opposite to hyenas, and livestock faced off with lions in a symbolic representation of the predator-prey system that shapes not only the environment but the culture of the Maasai Steppe. Ungulates followed each other in lines that may (perhaps unintentionally) represent the great seasonal migrations of the region.
Later in the week, wildlife club members of Loibor Siret, Kangala, and Narakauwo got a life drawing lesson from Nicholls herself, which was a very special treat for schools that don’t offer art as a subject. The lessons revealed some hidden artistic talent within the stack of sketches.
The end of the week coincided with the closing of the primary schools, and Loibor Siret primary school played host to the town’s first ever art gallery. Alison presented her work inspired by the people and wildlife of the area, and showcased in the gallery were the works of 59 Simba Club members, two of which were selected by Alison to receive art supplies for their excellent drawing skills. A game of wildlife trivia selected 33 wildlife club members who would receive a laminated print of one of her special works. Undoubtedly, the first to go were the animal paintings. If the week was any indication of what the future holds, the enthusiasm and dedication of the students as they carefully painted in stencils of elephants and lions, the smiles on their faces as they learned how to draw a rhino, and the murmurs as they listened to the story behind Alison’s pink elephants* bodes well for wildlife conservation in this town.
As animals mark their territories, so did the students of the primary school this week. On the wall facing the village road, big enough for any passerby to see, a large map of Tanzania has been painted containing its green, blue, black, and yellow flag. And below the name of the school is none other than the mark of the Noloholo Simba Club — a pair of lions, which stand overlooking a parade of African wildlife.
*The story behind the elephants can be found on Alison’s website under “Artwork,” “Original Paintings,” and “Elephant!”
Earth Day this year may have been the biggest to date; it certainly was for the citizens of six towns in our part of the Maasai Steppe. This year marked the first inter-village soccer tournament here, with two preliminary rounds and a final on Earth Day that drew 1500 people to the school field – that’s a pretty big deal for a small community of less than 6000.
The first preliminary round took place on Saturday in Loibor Soit, between its wildlife club and those of Emboret and Mbuko primary schools. With the hill called Lolkisale situated nearby behind fields of tall-growing corn, and Maasai warriors watching dressed brightly in their traditional ‘rubega’, that first day was nothing short of romantic. This was the first soccer game ever for the students of Mbuko. So, the idyllic scene was only slightly contrasted by the innocent spirit of the team, who as one might expect, followed the ball in a single cloud with no thought of covering their opponents. As a result, they did not make it to the Earth Day final, but they tried, they learned and they laughed, which is worth so much more.
Our own home town of Loibor Siret played host to the second and final rounds, where small clumps of goats scattered the field before the days’ events. Unlike the open field and gentle grasslands of Loibor Soit, the ecology of Loibor Siret is slightly more defensive. Acacia trees shielded by thorns abound, not to mention the prickly plants that dot the school field. The two field locations inadvertently represented the main landscapes of the Maasai Steppe, which was fitting for a celebration of the environment. There on the school field, with lines prepared impeccably for the occasion by the members of the wildlife club themselves, Loibor Siret competed with Kangala and Narakauo clubs to qualify for the final. And when the final came on Tuesday, it was Loibor Siret and Kangala who played against Saturday’s qualifying teams.
On the morning of the 22nd, the sun shone brightly, the crowd cheered loudly, and each wildlife club competed for the title of Noloholo Earth Day Champion. However, despite the action, the pressure, and the penalty shootouts, the most extraordinary part of the day’s events was not the soccer. Before the games began, armed with gloves, rakes, and brooms, the students and teachers of Loibor Siret, Loibor Soit, Kangala, and Emboret flocked the village roads. As the massive wave of blue and green sweaters swept the village clean in a matter of minutes, it was impossible not to be filled with a powerful sense of hope for the rest of the human race. Perhaps, if four school clubs can clean up an entire village in such a short time, cities and countries can work together to clean up the world.
The lesson was the power of teamwork. Whether picking up trash or playing ball, things always go better when you work together. The final match against Loibor Soit proved that the members of our original wildlife club, the Loibor Siret Lion Club, already know that. Perhaps now it’s the rest of the world’s turn – but we might need a bigger trophy.
Often, the image of education in Africa is portrayed as shabbily clad children sitting at marked and aged wooden desks haphazardly arranged in a broken-down classroom. It is not an image that brings about feelings of well-funded programming and high standards of teaching. However, at a seminar we hosted at our environmental center last week, eight teachers displayed levels of both knowledge and wisdom that are severely underestimated in the stereotypical African classroom.
Together with the Jane Goodall Institute’s Roots and Shoots program, we hosted primary and secondary school teachers from Loibor Siret, Kangala, Narakauwo, Emboret, and Loibor Soit, for a seminar on environmental conservation education. Our guests arrived on Thursday evening, and after a tasty dinner and a good night’s sleep, they were ready to learn.
The weekend was focused on the development and advancement of present and future environmental clubs based on progressive teaching strategies that encourage participatory learning styles. In an area where much of the teaching has been done with lectures alone, and discipline enforced with punishment and not reward, the teachers were not only open, but also excited to learn about alternative methods. They were brought together in an unfamiliar environment to learn new concepts and new teaching styles for two intense days, and were exposed to self-criticism and the possible anguish of watching videotapes of themselves on a projector screen, and did it all with respect and smiles on their faces.
Nevertheless, the thing that stood out above all others was the amount of critical thinking each and every teacher demonstrated. Blind acceptance is often a trait of people who don’t know or don’t care, and these teachers were not afraid to pose tough questions.
The great scientist Carl Sagan once said: “It seems to me what is called for is an exquisite balance between two conflicting needs: the most skeptical scrutiny of all hypotheses that are served up to us and at the same time a great openness to new ideas. Obviously those two modes of thought are in some tension. But if you are able to exercise only one of these modes, whichever one it is, you’re in deep trouble.”
And when the eight teachers sat on top of the hill called Ngahari at the end of the second day, I saw the true state of education in Tanzania, and it’s looking very bright.
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