Anthony J. Giordano of Ventura has been a biophiliac from early on, in that, he has an innate tendency to connect with nature. He remembers a strong desire to learn about wildlife and specifically carnivores that translated into a life dedicated to conservation and preservation. He founded SPECIES (Society for the Preservation of Endangered Carnivores and their International Ecological Study) and launched several projects all over the world and right here in Ventura County to protect some of nature’s finest, from fishing cats to skunks and bears. Giordano is currently seeking volunteers for a variety of tasks to continue the work of ensuring a diverse population of wildlife. For more information and to get involved, go to https://carnivores.org.
This week, Giordano shared the details of his life’s work and the contributions of SPECIES.
VCReporter: How did you get into wildlife conservation?
Anthony J. Giordano: I’d have to say that moment happened when I was very young, but it wasn’t one tied to any incident in particular. Rather, it was just there: a growing obsession with the diversity of life all around us. Given that both my mother and father are originally from Brooklyn, you can imagine the enigma I must have been to them, especially when concepts like evolution and extinction became important to me at an early age.
Tell us about SPECIES’ current projects.
Today SPECIES is working in some capacity in 14 countries to protect populations of endangered carnivores. The clouded leopard, the basis for our logo and a poorly understood carnivore, is an important species for us, and we have just launched a new initiative to establish a conservation project in every country where they occur over the next five years. SPECIES is also now a leader in the research and conservation of fishing cats, a little-known, endangered wetland species of cat for which basic natural history data is lacking. And our Chaco Jaguar Conservation Project is integrating the protection and restoration of forest in the Gran Chao, the fastest-disappearing habitat in the western hemisphere, with the reduction of threats to jaguars posed by ranchers losing livestock. This project is one of our longest-running projects, and has led to a lot of “firsts” for jaguars and the country of Paraguay.
What do you and SPECIES do in Ventura County to help native wildlife?
SPECIES is launching its first domestic activities here in Ventura County as part of a broader effort to draw attention to carnivores in California. One of these initiatives, WildPulse, is a citizen science-based effort to integrate the local public into our wildlife monitoring and recording activities. The goal is to train folks in the use of trail cameras, or “camera-traps,” as the scientific community often refers to them, to record what species are using along the urban-wildlands interface. This includes places like the Ventura River and Santa Clara River watersheds, the hillsides here in Ventura, even people’s backyards. In fact, one of our key partners in this effort is the Ventura Hillsides Conservancy. We are, of course, particularly interested in the diversity of carnivores that make use of these areas, including gray foxes, coyotes, bobcats, badgers, ringtails, skunks and even black bears and mountain lions.
People seem to be divided about zoos and taking animals out of their natural habitat. What are your thoughts on that?
This is an important topic for me. I’ll start by saying that I think there are a lot of misconceptions about zoos, particularly among those who have never been to one. There are critical roles for modern zoos to play in today’s society, and many of these aren’t or haven’t been satisfied in other ways. Moreover I’d argue they likely never will be. Chief among these are the incredible financial resources they generate for a diverse pool of international conservation efforts. Collectively, the money zoological societies invest in conservation far exceeds that of most other sources, save maybe for world governments. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll say that SPECIES in part owes its early start to support from zoos, and they continue to support our work around the world. Modern zoos are also committed to responsibly breeding and managing their animals, not removing them from the wild. Over the years, information gathered from the behavior of their animals has also led to breakthroughs in conservation strategies for many threatened and endangered species, cheetahs among them. Finally, zoos are the bridge between the public and biodiversity. They have played a pivotal role in creating opportunities across my career, and I always knew I was going to do this with my life. Imagine their importance to children who haven’t yet figured that out for themselves.
What should people be mindful of when it comes to wildlife conservation and carnivores in nature?
Conservation strategies that focus on maintaining diverse carnivore communities, sustainable populations of its large and rare carnivores, and a healthy, diverse base of prey species, have tremendous potential to connect everything from the rainforests of the Amazon to the open chaparral and sage hillsides of Ventura County. The frequent deaths of mountain lions due to vehicle strikes, bioconcentrated rodent poison, and other members of their kind: That indicates we have a bit more work to do here to make that happen.