4 October is World Animal Day. But what are animals really and why do we have a day to raise awareness for them?

You might think it a stupid question to ask what animals are. My time as a conservation educator has shown me that many of us don’t really know what animals are. And certainly, we don’t seem to understand that humans are animals too. And why should it matter if we don’t really understand what animals are? Well, as animals ourselves, sharing the planet with millions of other animals, understanding is empowering. Understanding animals helps us to better understand our own species and our place in the world. As a particularly deep thinking and reflective animal species we have a responsibility to use our understanding and power to conserve, nurture and protect.

To go back to the question about what animals are, I think it useful to use the definitions zoologists and other scientists use. This Crash Course Zoology series is particularly useful in this regard, breaking down some quite complex ideas into bite-sized chunks we can all understand. I also appreciate how this series highlights both the insights and flaws scientific observation provides. This has a balanced approach.

The Crash Course Zoology preview video here also goes some way to answering the second part of the question we started with at the start of this post – why do have a day to raise awareness for animals? Zoologists are gathering the crucial science about animals we need to add to the other natural sciences to solve the environmental crisis we are living right now.

Sound scientific research continues to be vital across the globe to populate the reports written on the state of the planet like the latest IPCC report published earlier this year.

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species established in 1964 requires ongoing scientific monitoring of the state of animal populations to provide the focus for targeted conservation action. The Red List is often called the Barometer of Life.

The Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) came into force in 1975. One could argue its success at been limited, especially in regards to preventing the illegal wildlife trade of things like Pangolin scales, Rhino horn or Elephant ivory. However, it is the regulation that we have and for all its flaws it is better to have some regulation than none.

The CITES appendices rely on the research and data zoologists provide for the IUCN Red List. The latest multilateral drive for conservation action across the world is the Reverse the Red campaign.

This campaign launched at the IUCN Congress in September 2021. A highlight of the opening ceremony being this speech from actor and activist, Harrison Ford.

And so the fight to save our wildlife and wild places continues, as does the need for ongoing robust zoological and scientific data to help focus our action and measure our impact.

I love what Harrison says about young people being the hope we have. These emerging zoologists, conservation scientists and activists take up this cause and bring creativity, innovation and fresh energy!

COP26 is taking place in Glasgow later this month. PreCOP has already begun. Another chance for nations, leaders, scientists to get together and formulate action plans. The Goals of COP26 are ambitious. It is sometimes difficult to see how all these seemingly endless meetings and reports is resulting in any real action for change. But I think in this Optimistic October these conservation collectives continue to be important, especially as they gain momentum. What is certainly encouraging is the place for youth in these crucial conversations.

You and I may not be a part of these big meetings happening on the other side of the world, but we can still play an integral role in giving a voice to animals and Mother Nature.

If you are interested in research that will have an impact for the good of people and the planet, consider joining a GVI research internship. Do Cool Research is the theme of GVI’s October Virtual Open Day. Sign up NOW to find out more.

And if cool science and research is not your area of interest, please at least take a moment this World Animal Day to reflect on the immense contribution of animals in your life. That includes your fellow human animals too!