“Save an Individual, Save a Species” Revisited

Fostering a Desire to Help Wildlife

Posted on: May 15th, 2020

Sheltering-in-Place Blog Entry #6

Animal Rescue
An orphaned baby porcupine is so prickly that one can only hold it by the tail.

I want to take you today to the northeast corner of Costa Rica on a sunny day in June 2012. I had just started a new job as the director of a world-famous (to biologists, at least) research center, the La Selva Biological Station, one of four research facilities of the Organization for Tropical Studies. There, surrounded by the familiar and mind-boggling diversity of the tropical rainforest, I encountered again the challenges of helping people understand their impact on wildlife and why they should care.

At that time, I wrote an essay that I published on my website, explaining what the issues were to me. Here are some excerpts:

“I often think about the value of rescue centers, those places that collect orphaned or injured wildlife and spend a tremendous amount of energy and resources in saving their lives. While many centers will attempt to restore the animal to health and then release it back into the wild, many animals will never be able to survive on their own again, or reproduce, or contribute to the population’s gene pool. So, why do we do this? Is it really worth it for the conservation of species?

Besides the innate human drive to nurture and care for helpless creatures—a parental instinct genetically

A rescued Slaty-tailed trogon in northeastern Costa Rica, wrapped in a soft cloth so it would not injure itself.

inherited by many animals including many invertebrates—saving an animal can do something else of great value to the conservation of species. It reaches deep into our emotional centers and puts us in touch with information while in a highly emotional caring and attention state. Having a baby sloth, or a monkey, or an injured bird in our hands while someone tells us their story becomes a powerful and memorable experience. And this creates changes, in our attitudes, in our behaviors, in our priorities, and even in our beliefs. It may galvanize us to want to do something, to help, to donate our time or money or talents to saving wildlife species. It may make us ACT.


I think here lies a lot of the value. These actions can make a difference in the species, in the populations, and the ecosystems. As I start a new life surrounded by jungle and animals, giant ancient trees, and minute insects and everything in between, I wish people could experience the deep, powerful feelings of caring that I feel when I see an injured peccary straining to keep up with his tribe. Or witnessing a slaty-tailed trogon with a broken wing being helped by a caring local businessman who desperately spends his money and time to find a veterinarian to save this bird. Or the caring for an orphaned parrot, or a macaw, or a young sloth.

My daughter showed the ‘rescuer gene’ early in her childhood. She saved anything and everything that needed saving, whether it was a smart thing to do or not (mix a rat, a pigeon, a cat, and two dogs in a one-room apartment, and you’ll understand what I’m saying). But her drive to save an individual could (and did) become, quickly and seamlessly, a drive to save a species, a journey to teach others how to do it, once the knowledge, the understanding, and the resources are at hand. She put her time, money, and skills to use for the greater good. And so can other people, even entire communities.

There is, then, a great value in saving an individual, in using it to teach others, making them ambassadors, colorful and charismatic representatives to the Big Species that have the power to change things for the better.”

Back to today, exactly eight years later. I’m still astounded by the prescient language that would mirror my future. I even used words like “injured wildlife,” “rescue center,” and “ambassadors,” which are now defining parts of my work and daily life. My daughter also became a professional rescuer, working in a veterinary hospital in California while completing her vet tech degree. Her dream is to work at a zoo, taking care of animal ambassadors. And my son is also working with nature, as manager of the San Diego Zoo Preserve, a tract of California wilderness next door to the Safari Park. There, he is exposed daily to the challenges of maintaining healthy ecosystems, doing research on invasive species, and ecosystem-level management. I could say “those apples didn’t fall far from the tree,” but that would be a disservice to their independence and the unique paths that both followed to arrive at their current passion and careers. Early exposures to nature, wildlife, forests, and science, left an indelible mark on them.

That first up-close contact leaves indelible impressions in children and adults.

Lindsay also creates unforgettable memories for the children who visit our museum and meet our animal ambassadors up close. It leaves lasting impressions when they hear the stories about the animals and connect directly and personally to them. Lindsay provides parents and other family members with tools to help their children and grandchildren further explore the natural world. These tools include our programs, some of which can now be experienced online. As these children grow up, they can continue their ecological journey through our youth programs and early career experiences.

And let’s not forget the adults. Anyone who lives in the East Bay is close to or surrounded by nature and wildlife. Our volunteer opportunities, our outreach programs, our wildlife hotline, and our friendly approach to wildlife issues make Lindsay the place where people can learn that they too can save an injured animal, and thus can contribute to saving a species.

Until we see you in person again,

Carlos L. de la Rosa

A young parrot being rehabilitated in Costa Rica.

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