National Wildlife Week runs April 5-9. Here are four facts about this 83-year-old observance, designed to remind Americans of the importance of conserving our natural treasures:
1. A cartoonist laid the groundwork. We have Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling, an editorial cartoonist and conservationist, to thank for the first National Wildlife Restoration Week, as it was then called. Darling considered conservation a hobby but had a deep and lasting effect on the field. President Franklin D. Roosevelt recruited him for the President’s Committee for Wild Life Restoration in 1934; two years later, Darling persuaded FDR to help gather conservationists of all stripes together for a conference. There, the General Wildlife Federation was born. (It became the National Wildlife Federation, or NWF, two years later). This was all in Darling’s spare time — at work he was busy winning two Pulitzer Prizes for editorial cartooning.
2. Stamps played a role. For the first wildlife week in 1938, Darling created a sheet of 16 colorful, gorgeously illustrated stamps for the NWF to commemorate the new observance. Throughout the 20th century, the federation released similar nonpostal stamp sheets to share the beauty of nature and to raise awareness of, and donations for, its mission. Today, its annual wildlife photo contest serves much the same purpose; this year is the contest’s 50th anniversary.
3. Celebrities get in on the act. Some bold names have helped raise the profile of National Wildlife Week through the decades. Walt Disney starred in several public service announcements (PSAs) and was an honorary chair for many years; and Shirley Temple, Bing Crosby and Robert Redford all lent their voices for PSAs. Fittingly, Kermit the Frog was honorary chair in 1984 and he and the Muppets took part in a series of memorable PSAs.
4. Every year has a theme, and 2021’s is unusual. “This National Wildlife Week we’re celebrating some of the most unusual animals, unique behaviors, and unexpected facts about the wildlife you thought you knew,” the foundation says on its website. And there’s a lot of odd to choose from. For example, did you know that manatees have very little fat? (All that girth is mostly stomach and intestines.) A few other oddities to kick off the week: The Greenland shark can live up to 400 years, snails can take three-year naps and cows moo with an accent.