10 Things You Can Do to Help Wildlife

In the face of species loss and habitat destruction, it's easy to feel overwhelmed and powerless to change things for the better. But any action you take, no matter how small, will help restore the world to its natural balance — and if millions of other people do the same, there's hope that we can permanently reverse current trends.

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Think Twice Before Landscaping Your Yard

A nicely landscaped garden

 Jacky Parker Photography / Getty Images

If you have just purchased or inherited a house or a piece of land, you may be tempted to chop down unsightly trees, pull up weeds and ivy, or drain puddles and swamps. But unless you're confronting a genuine safety issue — say, a dead oak is poised to topple onto your roof during the next hurricane — bear in mind that what's unpleasant to you is home, sweet home to squirrels, birds, worms, and other animals that you may not even know are there. If you must landscape your yard, do so gently and thoughtfully, in a way that won't drive away native wildlife,

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Keep Your Cats Indoors

cat with a bird in it's mouth

 Jill Ferry Photography / Getty Images

It's ironic that many people who profess to love wildlife have no problem allowing their cats to roam freely outside — after all, cats are animals, too, and it seems cruel to keep them shut up inside the house. The fact is, though, that outdoor cats don't think twice about killing wild birds, and they won't even necessarily eat their victims afterward. And in case you're thinking about "warning" the birds by attaching a bell to your cat's collar, don't even bother — birds are hardwired by evolution to flee loud, startling noises and cracking branches, not jingling pieces of metal.

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Don't Feed Any Animals But Birds

Squirrel in a trash can

 Paul Marotta / Getty Images

That deer or raccoon that wanders into your backyard may look hungry and helpless, but if you feed it you won't be doing it any favors. Giving food to animals makes them accustomed to human contact, and not all human beings are as warm-hearted as you are — the next time that raccoon visits a house, it may be greeted with a shotgun rather than a sandwich. Feeding wild birds, on the other hand, is perfectly okay, as long as a) you don't have any outdoor cats (see above), and b) you provide a meal in keeping with the bird's natural diet (think nuts and seeds rather than processed bread).

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Turn Off That Bug Zapper

A bug zapper

John Lamb / Getty Images

No one likes to get bitten by mosquitoes or plagued by flies on their front porch, but that doesn't always justify the use of bug zappers and tiki torches. The fact is that the light and heat of these contraptions will attract far-away bugs that never had any intention of visiting your house, and when they get fried, this deprives other wildlife (frogs, spiders, lizards, etc.) of their accustomed meals. It takes an especially compassionate human being to make this compromise, but if bugs are really a problem, consider screening off your porch or applying a topical bug spray to your arms and legs.

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Clean Up Litter (And Not Only Your Own)

Picking up litter

 Sawitree Pamee / EyeEm / Getty Images

If you're concerned about protecting wildlife, you already know enough not to litter. But it's not enough to keep your own yard or picnic area clean; you'll have to go that extra mile and pick up cans, bottles, and debris left by other, less thoughtful people. The reason is that small animals can easily get trapped in, or injured by, these artifacts, making them easy pickings for any predators that come along or dooming them to a slow death — and, of course, when piles of garbage accumulate beyond anyone's control, the result is near-complete habitat loss.

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Plant a Garden — And Stock It With Water

Ladybug and mushroom

mikroman6 / Getty Images

Granted, most people who plant gardens *don't* want wild animals to destroy their roses, azaleas, and holly bushes. But there are web resources that will teach you how to plant gardens that nourish and protect bees, butterflies, birds, and many other animals that don't begin with the letter "b." And unlike the case with food (see #, above), it's perfectly fine to keep your garden stocked with fresh water since animals can have a hard time slaking their thirst in the heat of summer or the freezing cold of winter. (The trouble is, water can also help breed mosquitoes, and you've already given up that bug zapper!)

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Set Up Your Own Wildlife Shelter

birdhouse in a tree

Lars Baek / EyeEm / Getty Images

If you want to go a step beyond the previous slide (planting a wildlife garden), consider building a shelter on your property for birds, bees, or other animals. This will involve constructing birdhouses to the appropriate scale, hanging them from the proper height, and stocking them with the right food, and if you want to keep bees, you'll need to invest in a fair amount of equipment (for which our rapidly collapsing wild bee populations will thank you). Before you start hammering and sawing, though, read up on your local regulations; some townships restrict the kind of animals you can keep on your property.

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Join a Wildlife Conservation Organization

WWF logo


Different wildlife conservation organizations have different objectives — some work to protect small plots of habitat or shelter specific animals like whales, while others focus on establishing good environmental policies by local government. If you have a specific area of interest, you can usually find an organization devoted to the species or habitats you're most concerned about. Even better, most of these organizations rely on volunteers (to help sign up new members, lobby government bodies, or scrape the oil off seals), so you'll always have something to do with your time.

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Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

Industrial smokestacks


DKAR Images / Getty Images

One of the gravest ongoing threats to wildlife is pollution: carbon dioxide emissions cause oceans to become more acidic (endangering marine life), and polluted air and water has an outsize impact on terrestrial animals. By keeping your home a little warmer in the summer and a little cooler in the winter, and using your car only when absolutely necessary, you can help reduce the impact of greenhouse gases and do your part to decelerate the pace of global warming — and just maybe, a few years from now, you'll be amazed at the resurgence of wild animal species around the world.

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Get Out and Vote

Voting booths

Hill Street Studios LLC / Getty Images

The simplest thing you can do to help protect wildlife is to exercise your constitutional rights and vote — not only for candidates who actively support conservation efforts, but for those who willingly fund the Environmental Protection Agency, seek to curb the excesses of global business interests, and don't deny the truth of global warming. If we don't have people in government who are invested in restoring the balance of nature, it will be all that much harder for grass-roots efforts, like the ones detailed in previous slides, to have any effect in the long term!