Updated on November 27, 2023

When you think of a conservationist, you may envision a scientist in a lab or a wildlife expert out with animals in their natural habitats. But are conservationists limited to scientific careers? Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom Protecting the Wild Co-Host Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant doesn’t think so.

“A conservationist isn’t necessarily a job or a role, but it is a belief system and a lifestyle and way of being,” Dr. Rae said. “You can be a scientist and be a conservationist. You can be a teacher or a grandparent or a preschooler or a cross guard and be a conservationist.”

dr rae wynn-grant in front of palm trees


What is conservation?

First, let’s take a look at what conservation is. It’s the conserving, restoring and protecting of wild species and wild places.

“There’s a science behind it,” Dr. Rae said. “You can’t just see a forest and say, ‘Oh we should protect that forest’ and just go do that. There’s a study that needs to be involved in science to do that.”

It takes people, like Dr. Rae, to establish conservation methods to protect wildlife and wild places. Dr. Rae is a conservation scientist with a Master of Arts in conservation biology. As you’ve seen in Protecting the Wild, Dr. Rae is actively out in the field, working with animals to protect them.

“But not all conservationists are scientists,” Dr. Rae said. “It just means that I’m someone who believes in it; that the things I do in my life inspire a certain belief system.” You don’t always have to be the person implementing those beliefs, she adds.

two people on grassy hill using a scope

How to be involved in conservation without a science background

Because conservationists are individuals with a belief in conserving, protecting and restoring wildlife and wild places, you don’t need to have a background or degree in science to help our planet’s future.

“Conservation has a space for everybody,” Dr. Rae said. “Whatever your skillset is, there is a place for you in wildlife conservation.”

Different ways to get involved in conservation include:

  • Education: Teach kids, college students and community members about conservation.
  • Art: Inspire others to love nature through your art.
  • Marketing: Be a graphic designer, copywriter or web designer working to create websites, flyers and presentations for conservation organizations.
  • Fundraising: Gather donations to support conservation nonprofits.
  • Politics: Vote for policies and advocate for our wildlife and wild places.

teacher with kids in red hats in a garden

How to get started in conservation

If your children or grandchildren are interested in nature and you think they may be curious about a career in conservation, Dr. Rae says they can start by making observations. This can be anything from looking out your window to observe the world around you to visiting a national park to watching a wildlife show.

“I got started as a conservationist by watching Wild Kingdom!” Dr. Rae said. “People don’t need to go on crazy adventures to start making observations.”

She suggests you start with making notes of what you see and any patterns you notice. Then, you’ll start to realize what you’re more drawn to in nature and will find a corner of conservation that’s right for you. Even in an urban environment, it’s possible to find nature all around. Check out ways to find wild places in urban spaces.

moose standing in a river

History of conservation

If you don’t think you were born to be a conservationist … think again!

“Most people’s cultural backgrounds have some kind of history of living off the land,” Dr. Rae said. “For a lot of our ancestors, the idea wasn’t just to survive the winter, it was to live in perpetuity off the land.”

This concept may not have had a formal name back then, but we now know it’s conservation in practice. So, many of us are actually descended from early conservationists!

When did the word conservation come into play? Around 150 years ago, thanks to conservationists like Aldo Leopold and Theodore Roosevelt.

“They said, ‘Wait a minute. Not only is nature beautiful and majestic and important, but it’s also very, very necessary to keep around.’” Dr. Rae said.

Leaders saw the destruction of forests and natural resources, as well as the overhunting of animals, and knew they needed to start a movement — conservation — a new word for a familiar concept.

“Conservation is an American term that started 100 years ago, but the principles of it are very familiar and were commonplace for indigenous groups and a lot of societies,” Dr. Rae said.

When the conservation movement started, it grew momentum through the creation of the protected areas and later the national park system. And although this system did a good job of protecting ecosystems, it was devastating for the communities who lived in these areas and were forcibly removed.

“Space for nature to thrive is really good,” Dr. Rae said. “But the people who were removed from those places were not the people who were destroying nature.”

Today, the U.S. government is working to return land back to indigenous groups who were displaced — groups who are using the land to enhance nature and create healthy, thriving ecosystems.

condor flying wild kingdom

Indigenous tribes promote conservation in Washington, California

One of those groups is the Tulalip Tribe in Washington state, that created the Tulalip Beaver Project. This project focuses on human and beaver coexistence. Stay tuned for more of this story on an upcoming episode of Protecting the Wild.

Likewise, the Yurok Tribe in California has partnered with the Redwood National and State Parks to form the Northern California Condor Restoration Program. The condor is an important part of the tribe’s spiritual world and its ancestral territory. Learn more about these tribes’ efforts to restore balance in the ecosystem.

three woman and one man outside, smiling at each other

Conservation starts with you

From indigenous tribes to educators to scientists, there are many people who are working in conservation. If you’re someone who believes in conservation, promotes it and supports it, you’re a conservationist.

“A conservationist doesn’t have to be someone who can hike to the tallest mountain, it can be someone who’s wheelchair-bound who educates, who studies, who advocates,” Dr. Rae said. “Every single person on this planet who has interest in conservation is a conservationist. If it’s in your heart, you’re already making a difference.”

Watching Wild Kingdom Protecting the Wild is one way you show your interest in conservation. Share the magic of Wild Kingdom with your friends and family to help inspire the next generation of conservationists. Watch new episodes of Protecting the Wild

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