THE BLOG
10/07/2011 11:12 am ET Updated Dec 07, 2011

The Future of Animal Welfare Depends on Keeping Our Kids' Eyes Wide Open

A few things we know about kids: They say the darndest things. They're smarter than we give them credit for. They are the future. They can, and will, make a difference.

Okay, so these adages are well-worn or possibly even trite. However, they resonate with me today as we launch the International Fund for Animal Welfare's annual Animal Action Week and set out to inspire millions of children in eight languages and more than 15 countries to learn about elephants, conservation, and animal welfare.

Wait, animals and children?

They go together like peanut butter and jelly. Researchers at the University of Virginia found that most infants prefer to look at films and photos of animals over images of vehicles, toys and pretty much any other objects.

In the U.S., children aged 6-14 would rather donate money to wildlife than win a sweepstakes, according to a market survey I came across recently (though children younger than nine were more altruistic than 10- to 14-year-olds).

Unfortunately, this strong connection starts to weaken for many people somewhere on the way to adulthood.

One disturbing result: too many grown-ups have shut their eyes to the consequences of their behavior -- the impact of human activities -- on animals and our shared environment.

Some recent examples:

  • According to a 2011 poll commissioned by IFAW, almost 3 in 10 adults in the U.S. and several European countries didn't know that an elephant must die in order to remove its ivory tusks.
  • In China, the largest market for ivory trinkets, almost 70 percent of people didn't know that elephants are killed for their ivory, according to an earlier IFAW poll in 2007. Many thought elephants shed their tusks like a child loses teeth.

This is a shocking reminder of why it's so important to better educate and inspire our children about conservation and animal welfare -- in a way that stays with them as they grow into the next generation of leaders who will be making important decisions about the fate of animals around the world.

If we don't make sure that today's young people enter adulthood with their eyes wide open to the importance of protecting our living planet, then we are all -- elephants, animals, ecosystems, people -- in deep trouble.

It comes down to another wise saying:

We will only protect what we appreciate, and we can only appreciate what we know.

I hope you will join me and our global ambassador for Animal Action Week, Leonardo DiCaprio, in engaging young people worldwide to 'join the herd' and protect elephants.

Fred O'Regan is the President of IFAW.

To join Fred O'Regan and Leonardo DiCaprio in supporting the International Fund for Animal Welfare's Animal Action Week, visit http://ifaw.org/education.

This post first appeared on IFAW's Animal Wire.