Backyard biodiversity. The bobcat, timber rattlesnake, trumpeter swan, cave salamander, and pirate perch. No one would blame you if you assumed these species reside only in zoos. Actually, they are some of the endangered species native to Ohio. But whatever state or country you live in, chances are there are nearby species struggling for existence.
How to Setup Your Own Nature Reserve – Backyard Biodiversity
Although you could search high and low to witness creatures like this in action, they may be closer than you think. By becoming familiar with the endangered species in your area, you can help protect both them and their habitat—maybe even provide them a sanctuary, literally in your own backyard.
Endangered vs. Threatened
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) oversees the federal Endangered Species Program. Under this program, a plant or animal has labeled an endangered species if it is under imminent threat of becoming extinct. It is designated a threatened species if it’s likely the plant or animal will become endangered in the near future.
When the status of certain animals and plants changes, they are added or removed from the Threatened and Endangered Species Database. You can check it to determine how many and which species are vulnerable in your region.
Creating a Backyard Habitat
Land development, deforestation, water, and noise pollution are all forms of habitat destruction that can cause animals to be displaced from their homes. Creating a backyard habitat for these creatures is one way you can share the earth with them.
Animals require four essential elements for survival: shelter, clean water, food and a safe place to raise their young. Depending on the diversity of plant and animal life in your backyard, you may have to create a sustainable habitat from scratch. If so, recruit your family and friends to assist in the process—a fun learning experience!
Reintroduce Native Plants
First, it’s important to reintroduce native plants to your backyard, because these plants will attract and supply native animals and insects with food. Consider plants that bear seeds, berries, nectar, pollen and sap, all good meals for wildlife.
Supplemental feeders for squirrels, butterflies, and hummingbirds can be placed in your yard if you aren’t able to maintain plants. If you live by a lake, ocean, river or stream, you have a natural water source for creatures to drink and bathe. If not, you can set up a birdbath, rain garden or pond.
Offer Appropriate Shelters
To prepare for the new arrival of animals, birds, and insects, you can offer appropriate shelters for them. Keep in mind that mature evergreens, caves, dense shrubs, rock piles, and meadows are all natural shelters for animals to live in and raise their young.
Bat and birdhouses are simple to create, but be sure to have the correct style of housing for the birds in your area. For example, purple martins nest in colonies, so birdhouses for them should have multiple nesting rooms. You might consider building a home for your state’s state bird. If so, check out this handy list of state birds.
After supplying these basic elements, you’re likely to see an increase in wildlife. You may go a step further by certifying your backyard habitat with the National Wildlife Federation. As long as your space meets the application requirements for food, water, places to raise the young and sustainable gardening, your family, school or community can honor the wildlife habitat you have restored in this way.
Other Ways to Help
If you don’t have space or funds to create a backyard habitat, there are other ways to dedicate yourself to the cause. According to Chief of the Division of Endangered Species at the USFWS, “One of the best ways is to contact your state legislature and have them put endangered species on their highest priorities.” In order to get action, you may have to contact them several times and follow-up regarding what steps have been taken.
For more ways to help from home, “Don’t use harsh chemicals near streams, and keep at least a 50-foot strip of forest or unmowed grass on the sides of streams.” The trees and grass hold excess water from the streams and prevent aquatic life from becoming displaced during flash floods.
Develop an Animal Connection
Another fun option is to visit a local zoo or animal sanctuary, as your admission fee will support their efforts to feed, house and care for a variety of creatures. You can also donate money to one of your favorite wildlife organizations.
The Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, for instance, has a program called A.D.O.P.T., that allows you to ‘adopt‘ an animal at the zoo. Development Manager says, “The most important part is that the money goes directly to the animals.” These donations are used for items such as food and toys, which help improve their quality of life.
If you’re unable to donate money, consider giving your time instead. According to Volunteer Educator Coordinator at the Cincinnati facility, after 10 weeks of volunteer training, you can educate people about zoo animals by being a tour guide for school groups.
With recommendations and an additional three weeks of training, you can become an animal handler. So if teaching others about, or working with animals has been one of your dreams, contact your local zoo for more information.
Our diverse wildlife is a treasure we must value and preserve for future generations. One important step is to take an active role in helping prevent more species from being added to the threatened and endangered species lists, and improving the chances of survival for those already on the list. When you put forth the effort to provide them with a safe haven, you will be doing this—and you might be pleasantly surprised the next time you step outside your door.
Many threatened and endangered animals might not be the exotic species you would find at a zoo, but they are still our fellow creatures struggling for and deserving of survival.