My kids just want to play videos games and watch TV all day. Do you have any tips for getting them outside to appreciate nature more? – Sue Levinson, Bowie, Md.
Getting kids away from computer and TV screens and outside into the fresh air is an increasing challenge for parents everywhere.
Researchers have found that U.S. children today spend about half as much time outdoors as their counterparts did 20 years ago. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that kids aged eight to 18 spend on average more than seven and a half hours a day, or some 53-plus hours per week, engaging with so-called entertainment media.
Meanwhile, the Children & Nature Network, a nonprofit founded by writers and educators concerned about “nature deficit disorder,” finds that, in a typical week, only 6 percent of American kids age nine to 13 play outside on their own.
According to Richard Louv, a founding board member of C&NN and author of the book, Last Child in the Woods, kids who stay inside too much can suffer from “nature deficit disorder” which can contribute to a range of behavioral problems including attention disorders, depression and declining creativity as well as physical problems like obesity.
Louv blames parental paranoia about potential dangers lurking outdoors, restricted access to natural areas, and the lure of video games, websites and TV for “nature deficit disorder.”
Of course, one of the keys to getting kids to appreciate nature is for parents to lead by example by getting off the couch and into the outdoors themselves. Since kids love being with their parents, why not take the fun outside?
For those kids who need a little extra prodding beyond following a parent’s good example, the National Wildlife Federation, a leading national nonprofit dedicated to preserving and appreciating wildlife, offers lots of suggestions and other resources through its Be Out There campaign.
One tip is to pack an “explorer’s kit” complete with a magnifying glass, binoculars, containers for collecting, field guides, a notebook, bug repellent and Band-Aids, into a backpack and leave it by the door to facilitate spontaneous outdoor adventures. Another idea is to set aside one hour each day as “green hour,” during which kids go outside exploring, discovering and learning about the natural world.
NWF’s online Activity Finder helps parents discover fun outdoor activities segmented by age. Examples include going on a Conifer Quest and making a board displaying the different types of evergreen trees in the neighborhood, turning an old soda bottle into a terrarium and building a wildlife brush shelter.
Another great source of inspiration is C&NN. It encourages people of all ages to spend more time outdoors at various family-friendly events as part of its nationwide Let’s Get Outside initiative. Visitors to the C&NN website can scroll through dozens of events within driving distance of most Americans and anyone can register an appropriate event there as well.
Researchers have found that children who play outside are in better shape, more creative, less aggressive and show better concentration than their couch potato counterparts. And it is also the most direct route to environmental awareness for adults is participating in wild nature activities as kids. So do yourself and your children a favor, and take a hike.
Dear EarthTalk: How are populations of African elephants faring these days? What conservation efforts are under way and are they working? – Libby Broullette, Salem, Mass.
A century ago some five millions wild elephants roamed Africa. Today fewer than 500,000 remain, a result of poaching for meat and ivory as well as habitat loss due to expanding human development. A worldwide ban on ivory sales in 1990 under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species allowed some populations to recover briefly, but a recent resurgence in illegal poaching means the iconic species is still in hot water.
The United Nations Environment Programme reported recently that African elephants are “under severe threat” with double the number killed and triple the amount of ivory seized in recent years over previous decades. And the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, which maintains the international “Red List of Threatened Species,” categorizes African elephants as “vulnerable” and warns that conservation initiatives are not working to stem declining population numbers.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, poachers kill tens of thousands of African elephants each year to meet the growing demand for ivory products across the Far East.
“Asia stands behind a steadily increasing trend in illegal ivory and there are still thriving domestic ivory markets in Africa,” says WWF.
In addition to the demand for ivory, war and natural resource exploitation across Africa contribute to poaching as increasingly larger numbers of hungry people turn to wild elephant meat as a source of food. WWF reports that limited resources, along with the remoteness and inaccessibility of so much elephant habitat, make it difficult for governments and agencies to monitor and protect elephant herds.
Beyond poaching, habitat loss looms larger and larger over Africa’s diverse fauna, especially elephants as they require large ranges and dine on copious amounts of tree and plant life.
“African elephants’ natural habitat is also shrinking as human populations grow and forest and savannas are cleared for infrastructure development and agriculture,” says WWF.
Researchers estimate that elephants’ range across Africa has been reduced from three million to just one million square miles in the last three decades.
“Commercial logging, plantations for biofuels and extractive industries like logging and mining not only destroy habitat but also open access to remote elephant forests for poachers,” adds WWF. “In addition, extensive logging of forests leaves elephants with a very limited food supply, which results in high levels of human-elephant conflict when hungry elephants enter villages and destroy local farmers’ crops.”
In 2011, U.S. Congress reauthorized the long dormant African Elephant Conservation Act, putting $1.7 million into rescue efforts. Green groups raised another $3.6 million and now 29 on-the-ground projects are working to help restore elephant herds across Africa.
Efforts include promoting partnerships between African and Far East wildlife and law enforcement agencies to detect and intercept illegally trafficked wildlife and improve prosecution rates, installing radio networks to improve communication between wildlife protection personnel, and aerial surveillance to rapidly detect and respond to poaching. Let’s just hope efforts like these will bear fruit in the face of rapidly continuing habitat loss.
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- African elephants face extinction ‘within a decade’ (itv.com)
- Elephants (ecofriendsmne.wordpress.com)
- Poachers kill at least 26 elephants in Central Africa (mnn.com)
- GRAPHIC PHOTOS: Massive Elephant Slaughter Strikes Sanctuary (huffingtonpost.com)
- African leaders must emulate Chinese celebrities to save elephants | Paula Kahumbu (guardian.co.uk)
- At Least 26 Elephants Killed by Poachers in Central Africa (livescience.com)