Washington - WWF's Pennies for the Planet campaign kicks off today with a new Web site, new educational activities, and a new focus on three endangered big cats: the snow leopard, the Amur leopard, and the Sumatran tiger. Last year, kids from 40 states, the District of Columbia, and Canada raised more than $72,000 for conservation through Pennies.
Kids and educators logging on to the Pennies site at www.worldwildlife.org/pennies can learn about big cats and how to help protect them - from changing buying habits, to teaching others about big cats, to raising pennies that will go directly toward on-the-ground conservation. Money can be donated by using Coinstar machines in supermarkets around the country, by sending in checks and money orders, or, soon, by donating online.
"Pennies for the Planet is a great way for kids to do something meaningful and fun while helping to save endangered cats," said Judy Braus, WWF's director of Education. "Over the past 11 years, Pennies has given tens of thousands of kids a way to get involved in wildlife conservation."
The Pennies Web site is chock-full of features that include information about big cats, profiles of kids who have participated in the program, interviews with conservationists working to protect endangered cats, and crafts, like big cat masks, to help kids raise money and have fun. A monthly e-newsletter will feature updates on the program, amazing facts about big cats (Did you know that a tiger can eat as much as 70 pounds of meat in one sitting?), ideas for fund raising, and educational activities for teachers to download - including activities from WWF's award winning educational program, Windows on the Wild.
"The three cats targeted by Pennies are some of the most elusive and beautiful animals in the world. To top it off, they live in magical places like the Himalayan Mountains and the Indonesian rain forest," said Mingma Sherpa, director of WWF's Terai Arc program in Nepal and India. "People know what a precarious situation these cats are in and want to help. This program gives kids that chance - and it only takes pennies."
Last year, a fifth-grade class in Greenville, South Carolina raised over 220,000 pennies by performing skits on their school's morning news program, decorating posters, and sending letters home to parents about Pennies for the Planet. Meanwhile, a group of counselors-in-training at a summer camp in Wilmington, Delaware started a camp snack bar and donated the profits to Pennies. A five-year-old from San Jose, California, one of the youngest participants, sold handmade bookmarks at his parents' summer barbeque to raise money for the program.
Amur leopards once roamed throughout the Korean peninsula and northeast China, but are now found in just one province of eastern Russia. Scientists estimate that only 20-30 of these beautiful creatures are left in the wild, but thanks to relatively healthy forests in their vicinity, there is a strong possibility that numbers could rebound.
Snow leopards, the elusive feline residents of the Himalayas, are found in twelve mountainous countries of central Asia, including China, Bhutan, and Nepal. They are hunted for their fur and body parts and often killed by herders, who regard them as a threat to their livestock. But creative solutions to poaching - including financial rewards for those communities who do not kill snow leopards - may provide hope for the endangered species.
Sumatran tigers share their rain forest habitat on the Indonesian island of the same name with gibbons, elephants, tapirs, and a huge variety of birds. Like many of their neighbors, they are threatened by logging and hunting. The recent creation of the 212-square-mile Tesso Nilo National Park on the island, which WWF helped create, is a step toward their survival.