Join the Nation today and help support our current conservation priorities.

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Our 2019 Priorities

Join the Nation today and help support our current conservation priorities: tracking and testing Asian elephants; turning the tide for marine mammals; protecting the vulnerable Lowland tapir; preserving critically endangered black rhinos; and tracking the iconic Eastern meadowlark.

Track and test Asian elephants

Elephants out of a job? It might sound like a joke, but for endangered Asian elephants trained to work in logging camps, unemployment is a serious problem. Smithsonian scientists have launched a pilot program to test these pachyderms. In addition to tracking elephant movements using GPS collars, scientists will send a researcher to conduct behavioral and personality tests on some of the unemployed elephants. This way, they can gauge whether the animals fear and avoid humans, as well as how they cope when faced with obstacles, such as gathering food. This cautious and thoughtful approach will save lives by giving researchers the best idea of whether these pachyderms are potential candidates for future release into the wild.


Turn the tide for marine mammals

Dolphins and porpoises living off the coast of Peru face daily threats: industries expanding into their native waters and a lucrative poaching trade. To help, Smithsonian researchers need to study at least three species—namely, the bottlenose dolphin, the elusive dusky dolphin and Bermeister’s porpoise—that have been spotted near a busy maritime port. With two acoustic instruments and a hydrophone, they plan to record the animals’ underwater sounds, gauging how they’re impacted by maritime infrastructure, as well as identifying other species in the area. The sensors only listen, so they’re safe for marine mammals. This project will help scientists provide guidance to those living and working on the water about how best to coexist with these animals, giving them the best chance to rebound.


Protect the vulnerable Lowland tapir

The Lowland tapir is critical to the biodiversity of the Paraguayan Chaco’s rich ecosystem. But because of habitat loss and poaching, this species’ numbers are falling. That’s why we want to send a nationally recognized Smithsonian zoological veterinarian to the region to learn more about the tapir’s habitat use. As part of this three-year project, a research team will evaluate and track these animals using GPS collars. The information gathered will allow researchers to provide local communities with guidance on how to craft tapir-friendly policies and enact effective conservation plans.


Preserve critically endangered black rhinos

You are what you eat. And for dwindling numbers of the southern black rhinoceros, that saying is true now more than ever. The black rhino is critically endangered – fewer than 5,500 remain. Without the preservation of rhinos in human care, leading to their successful reintroduction, it’s likely this species will go extinct in the wild. To protect these majestic creatures, researchers are studying how the wrong diet can compromise their immune system and ability to reproduce. To do that, Smithsonian researchers are collaborating with groups in South Africa to get microbe samples from wild black rhinos. This will allow them to gain a better understanding of how to keep this at-risk species as healthy as possible, so we can work toward a future in which rhinos live and thrive in their natural habitat.

black rhinoceros mother with calf

Track the iconic Eastern meadowlark

The song of the Eastern meadowlark sounds like a flute that drops its pitch—beautiful and distinctive. These days bird enthusiasts hear the meadowlark’s sweet call in the wild less and less, as its population has declined by 70 percent since the 1970s. This is likely because of habitat loss, and conservationists predict the meadowlark’s plight will only be worsened by climate change. To protect this iconic grassland species, known for the bolt of bright yellow around its chest, scientists want to use tiny transmitters to track where they travel year round across North America. That way, they can recommend land conservation in those critical areas, and with your help, we can set the stage for the meadowlark to sing its song in healthy numbers again.