I am glad that you have made it this far, and I hope that our content grabs your interest! I am Eric (Zhu) Liu, the Founder and Executive Director of Leaders in Wildlife Conservation. I crafted this special letter to you to both bestow my sincere appreciation for your continued support of our mission and also to explain to you how I, a broke high school student, managed to create an international nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of our planet's ever-deteriorating biodiversity––all in the midst of a global pandemic. Hopefully, after reading it, you will realize that an individual, no matter how poor or insignificant, could yield a difference towards our society––a positive difference. But the lack of persistence and determination will rob anyone, no matter how intelligent, of the opportunity to succeed. So chase after your dreams, for your hard may disappoint you with a fruitless manifestation, but that only means you are not at it 300%.
Natural wildfires have been a part of Australia’s rugged landscape for thousands of years, acting as natural population control for many species. As such, many native species had evolved strategies to cope with such apocalyptic disasters, whether hiding in tree hollows or escaping to unaffected lands. Though much a spontaneous phenomenon whose impacts are checked by forces of nature, the wildfires have become more and more menacing as climate change worsens, magnifying the frequency and length of fire seasons. In the sweltering and arid “Black Summer” (Southern Hemisphere) between 2019-2020, the accumulating effects of climate change culminated in an ungovernable flame, whose path mercilessly scorched more than 12 million hectares of Australian forests, annihilating the haunts and lives of at least 1.25 billion individual animals. The fire, though finally terminated, possesses many ominous and long-lasting aftermaths. For one, the populations of many species who have evolved to recover from such annual fires may be at risk of failures to come back, for their habitats have been extensively destroyed, giving them little space to repopulate. Additionally, the crisis will also severely harm Australia's economy, which relies on its tourism industry, and residents, who are at risk of eye and respiratory irritation, exacerbated asthma, and even reduced lung function, due to the exposure of hazardous ashy smoke. And finally, the 2019-2020 bushfire crisis gives us an alarming glimpse of the world's grave future if wildlife conservation and environmental protections remain underemphasized.
In January 2020, news of the ravaging Australian bushfires along with sickening pictures of charred animals prompted me, Eric (Zhu) Liu, a wildlife enthusiast and high school junior at Great Neck South High School, to take the initiative to raise awareness about our world’s evolving mass extinction crisis. Noticing that my school did not have a club for wildlife activists, I attempted to create my vision, Leaders in Wildlife Conservation (LIWC), as a school club. Unfortunately, since Great Neck South had reached its maximum number of clubs, LIWC could not meet in school. I was beyond frustrated, as I had already invited LIWC’s club advisor, gathered together many dedicated members, and planned the club’s first projects. Without the school’s support, LIWC could not utilize the school platform for fundraising, rendering it impossible for us to make a difference through monetary donations. Alone, our nascent organization lacked a credible reputation to generate funds. But the team could not let simple roadblocks stop us from achieving our goal to raise awareness for the growing mass extinction crisis. After much discussion with my peers, I decided to shape LIWC into a non-profit organization, building it into an online platform for encouraging education and activism.
Before we could finalize our plans, however, COVID-19 swept the world, leaving devastation in its path. According to preliminary scientific analysis, the novel coronavirus was caused by people not paying attention to the protection of wildlife––hunting and eating unsanitary wild animals, which are vectors for diseases. With newfound motivation and realization of wildlife conservation's increasing urgency and importance, the gears of our young team were kicked off and grinding. Despite social distancing and lack of funding, we worked hard to build a solid foundation in isolation. In the initial stages, I held daily zoom conferences, uniting and encouraging the core members of LIWC. Over these conferences, the core team established a strong mission, drafted a plan for the next year, created a website, and agreed to organization bylaws.
Shifting our organization's aim from fundraising to education, we did not desire to create a blank organization of just fluff and slogan-yelling; we need an organization with reliable and engaging information that everyone can enjoy and learn from. The team knew that rewards will follow after hard work. Thus, we set a goal to publish one informative article per day, focusing on updating the world about the conservation statuses of different threatened wildlife, how specific human practices could have dangerous ecological implications, the scientific technologies and innovations that may help or harm natural environments and their biodiversity, and more. To support this effort, I established committees within LIWC to check the quality of the work created. My team and I hold ourselves to a high standard: unethical workers utilizing plagiarism are not tolerated, and there are various committees set up to oversee all writing efforts. Members’ individual motivations spur their work. By crediting each member proportionally to their contributions, members are encouraged to work diligently. The management rules are flexible yet principled. If members fail to fulfill their tasks without informing beforehand of legitimate reasons, we will take appropriate actions as outlined by the organization bylaws. In LIWC’s organization bylaws, the rules are stated clearly and members must agree before joining the organization.
Initially, it was difficult to manage all of this with such a small group, but rather quickly the team expanded, as many of my peers were committed to this wonderful cause. Additionally, the quality of LIWC’s work soon spoke for itself: within just three months, LIWC had accumulated 2500+ supporters with members spanning across four continents. The organization’s meaningful mission, intriguing content, credible foundation, and online presence have also connected us to collaborators around the world, including activists in Australia, the United Kingdom, India, Canada, and even Tanzania. Thus far, we have been collaborating with nature bloggers, wildlife photographers, and even field researchers hoping to share their work with a broader audience. With our increased popularity and attention, we expanded our organization’s content to not only include informative essays, but also relevant artwork, research studies, and film productions. Yet still, we have stayed true to our mission and continued the tradition of publishing one article everyday, having already posted 90+ quality articles oriented around our theme.
Early on, LIWC allied with the Junior Chamber International (JCI), where it absorbed student members from India. This ultimately allowed for the establishment of LIWC India inside the Symbiosis University of Nagpur, India. It was also through JCI that LIWC made contact with Dr. Jerryl Banait, a famous wildlife activist, TEDx speaker, and RTI Human Rights Activist who has been monumental in strengthening India’s wildlife protection laws. Our partnership with Dr. Banait ultimately culminated in our documentary about his works on Indian tiger conservation, titled “Voice for Voiceless”, which is now accessible on YouTube. We also partnered with Long Island Laboring Against COVID-19, an organization that has raised $62,000 for the delivery of PPE across Long Island and NYC. As the two organizations promoted each other, LIWC members have written many articles detailing the interconnectedness between the pandemic and wildlife conservation. As such, we prize LIWC as a positive platform where nature activists worldwide corporate and fight for wildlife and environmental awareness. Considering all the hurdles the group had faced in LIWC’s founding, I am particularly impressed by our team’s progress.
Nowadays, we are proud to have proponents internationally, and we have been overwhelmed with the positive reactions to our work. For example, one teacher has even asked us for permission to use our articles to educate her students, to which we gladly agreed. Others have left kind and encouraging messages for us, notes of positivity that encourage us to keep going with this important work. The most memorable messages include: “I love your blog! Your posts rock”; “I absolutely love your page. It is so informative and so very interesting. Stay blessed and carry on the good work!”; “Love these quick reads about wildlife, very passionate!”; “Thank you for raising awareness about such important issues!”; “Stunning artwork, after so much abhorrence from the bushfires, it’s lovely to hear this story.” On our social media platforms, commenters have even engaged in thought-provoking discussions: “Amazing article! One problem with aquaculture that rarely gets discussed…Atlantic salmon in Washington state and steelhead trout in Norway...”; “I think it is important to start implementing these animal crossings…”. Furthermore, we try to answer every question that our readers ask, maintaining a productive relationship with our supporters and keeping our commitment to education. For this, they often give positive responses that fuel our motivation: “Thank you for your useful answer. It was very interesting to read. I learned something new today. Now it is clear in my mind. If you don't mind, I’ll take a screen print, this was so good!”; “Thank you very much for taking the time to answer me. Keep up the good work. I enjoy your postings. I am sure I’ll have more questions.” The feedback we have received confirms our hard work’s value in spreading knowledge and encouraging activism in wildlife conservation.
Since LIWC has already built up an informative and accessible database of content, and have more meaningful events coming soon, we hope to garner grander publicity for our organization. In today’s society, practicing sustainability and protecting our planet’s nature and wildlife is almost exclusive to a small group of individuals: scientists, conservationists, and intellectuals. We often forget that change starts from the roots––the day-to-day activities of regular human beings. Yet such content is routinely neglected in today’s school academic curriculums. Students are not cultivated in an environment that makes them realize the importance of their own sustainable practices on wildlife and environmental conservation, which makes it particularly hard to create change. As such, educating the mass about the world’s most pressing yet underemphasized issues, wildlife conservation, and environmental protection, became one of our biggest goals. Essentially, we seek to teach what elementary and secondary educational institutions will not teach.
As LIWC grew from a concept into a reality, my members and I grew too. Dealing with consecutive defeats in the early stages of this enterprise, I’ve felt like giving up multiple times. In the end, I’ve come to realize that the lack of persistence and determination will rob anyone, no matter how intelligent, of the chance to become successful. My team and I's hard work has pushed the organization through its difficult times and, with that, we have learned that we can find the solution to anything if we just try hard enough. On a personal level, this process encouraged me to develop new skills, and I have not only learned how to write professionally and edit films, but I’ve also increased my abilities in graphic design, website building, promotion, networking, and communication. Lastly, since LIWC has members spanning across 4 different continents (North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa), it was essential for me as the executive director to become an organized leader. To manage my organization efficiently, I created a shared content schedule for our members to access. To make sure nobody feels overwhelmed, I employed a rotational schedule so workloads can be shared across the organization. Finally, I’ve also taken measures to ensure that every member gets credit proportional to their work, empowering members to feel proud of their work. The experience of founding LIWC has been nothing short of fantastic for the LIWC team. We were able to achieve our original goal of helping the voiceless animals by calling the attention of thousands to wildlife and environmental conservation. Along the journey, my colleagues and I were also able to garner many invaluable personal improvements and memorable stories that will eternally enrich our work and life.
Leave no stone unturned,
Eric (Zhu) Liu, Founder and Executive Director of Leaders in Wildlife Conservation
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