Nature Watch: Canisius conservation program inspires love of wildlife - The Buffalo News
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Nature Watch: Canisius conservation program inspires love of wildlife

The Canisius Ambassadors for Conservation (CAC) is a program that richly deserves the recognition it is gaining for the college. Only a few national programs like the World Wildlife Fund do more for wildlife preservation.

The CAC mission is to inspire the next generation of citizens with a love of wildlife and a commitment to conservation. For a college-based program led by a single faculty member who works with a small cadre of students, the CAC does a remarkable job in fulfilling that commitment.

I have written about one aspect of the CAC in the past: its program on wetland conservation for local school students that will be led by CAC members once again this year at the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge.

This program takes small groups of youngsters around the 1-mile Swallow Hollow Trail, along the way introducing them to the ecosystems through which they pass as well as the wide range of wildlife to be found there.

I talked with some of this year’s guides about their background and how they prepared for leading these trips. Before they joined the CAC none of them knew bird identification, but they told me how they had trained on cross-country field excursions. They also demonstrated how, in 15 seconds, they can find a field guide illustration of a bird on the trail. (I would be hard put to do that.) Although the students are loaned binoculars, quickly showing them an illustration gives them a close-up view of what they observe.

Although this Iroquois project has reached 11,000 students, it represents only a small segment of the CAC program. Its website,, provides a rich resource of conservation-related activities, information and games. You will be overwhelmed by the quality and the quantity of these postings. This site, and CAC activities at the Buffalo Zoo and Marineland in Niagara Falls, Ont., have reached more than a million people.

Additional school-related activities have the potential to reach a still wider audience. CAC-developed educational films are distributed free to classrooms through the support of Canisius and the Family Foundations of Clement and Karen Arrison, Al and Naura Gress, and R.M. and T.Y. Brown.

I have seen two of the full-length films the CAC has produced. In 2005, I watched “Elephas maximus: The Biology and Conservation of the Asian Elephant,” which was named the Animal Behavior Society’s non-commercial film of the year. And earlier this year, I attended the first showing of its latest project, “Forest Secrets Science.”

These are educational films of professional quality and the students who produce them have every right to be proud of their accomplishments. I met with the forest’s film production team to talk about their travels to Peru, British Columbia, Costa Rica, Colorado and northern Ontario.

They had to spend evenings refining scripts and, for narrator Elizabeth George, learning her lines, then lug heavy equipment into forests, locate appropriate filming sites, take establishing shots and do the filming. Most of these students plan careers in wildlife management, but Samantha Crawford adds film production to her goals.

Other projects include films about chimpanzees and other exotic wildlife in Indonesia, Australia and India as well as short films about restraining house cats and hunting with cameras.

None of this would be possible without the leadership of CAC founder and director Michael Noonan, Canisius professor of biology; chairman of animal behavior, ecology and conservation; director of the master’s program in anthrozoology; and founder and director of the Institute for the Study of Human-Animal Relations.

He has led more than 90 field trips to distant locales. Returning students go on to become advocates of wildlife conservation, having fallen in love with wildlife via unforgettable encounters. They spread that same love for wildlife through their infectious enthusiasm. Noonan’s credentials extend to the classroom as well.

Kyle Horton, his former student, said: “Professor Noonan is a remarkable teacher, the best I have ever met.”


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