All About the World Wildlife Fund

By: Robin Brett Parnes
black rhinoceros
Beverly Joubert/Getty Images
Black rhinos are endangered.

News about the environment is dismal these days. Air pollution is threatening the survival of plants and animals and the welfare of people around the world. Millions of acres of forests have been burnt in the last three decades, costing a huge number of lives and a tremendous amount of money. By the year 2025, up to two-thirds of the world's population is predicted to experience water shortages. And every day, loss of habitat, illegal trade, over-hunting, and economic development destroy wildlife to a greater extent.

Is there anyone doing anything to address these issues and save us from global disaster? Discover why, where, and how WWF, or "The Conservation Organization," is keeping our world's natural resources safe from loss, destruction and waste.

Find out what you can do to take positive action on behalf of the planet.


WWF Background

­The World Wildlife Fund for Nature (known as WWF) safeguards nature and ecological processes. Its mission is "to stop the degradation of the planet's natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature." Through policy work, advocacy, grass-roots action, education, and capacity building, WWF acts to:

  • conserve the world's biological diversity
  • ensure that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable
  • promote the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption

How WWF Began

WWF was started after a trip was made in 1960 by the renowned British biologist and first General Director of UNESCO, Sir Julian Huxley, who went to East Africa to report on wildlife conservation in the area. Huxley was not pleased by what he observed and warned that much of the region's wildlife could disappear within the next 20 years.

­In response to his admonition, early the next year, a group of committed experts gathered to establish an organization that would support conservation efforts. The group decided to base its operations in Switzerland.

At the same time, a panda named Chi-Chi was a widely popular attraction at the London Zoo. The group decided that a panda would make a superb logo for the new organization.

And so, in September of 1961, the World Wildlife Fund was officially formed. In its first three years, WWF raised and donated almost $1.9 million to conservation projects. Its first grants went to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, the International Council for Bird Preservation (now Birdlife International), the International Waterfowl Research Bureau, and the International Youth Federation for the Study and Conservation of Nature. Other early substantial donations went to the Charles Darwin Foundation for the Galápagos Islands and Kenya's Masai Mara Game Reserve.

Natural Facts

  • As much as 20 percent of the world's species could be gone in the next 30 years.
  • The over-exploitation of forests for timber, fuel, agricultural land, and other basic needs has wiped out more than half of the world's original forest cover.
  • 1998 was the warmest year ever measured in history, and all 10 of the warmest years recorded over the last 120 years have occurred since 1981.
  • Nearly 60,000 whales, dolphins and porpoises are killed each year worldwide by entanglement.
  • In the last 50 years, more than 75,000 chemicals have been developed and introduced into the environment.
Source: WWF

WWF Today

Currently, there are 24 affiliates of WWF International, plus five organizations that are associated with WWF but operate under a different name. In addition, WWF has primary offices and associates in over 40 countries.

Two offices of note are the WWF office in Brussels, which deals with the policies and activities of the European Union (EU), and the WWF office in Washington, D.C., which works to influence global institutions involved in international economic issues.

WWF outgrew its headquarters in Switzerland after its first two decades, and in 1979, thanks to an anonymous donation, the organization moved from Morges to the city of Gland. In 1986, WWF changed its official name from "World Wildlife Fund" to "World Wildlife Fund For Nature," though the U.S. and Canada have continued to use "World Wildlife Fund." In 2001, the organization won a legal claim against the World Wrestling Federation (now World Wrestling Entertainment) over use of the initials WWF.


How WWF is Structured

The founders of WWF established the National Appeals, now known as National Organizations. These are separate legal entities that are responsible to their own boards and accountable to their donors. They give up to two-thirds of the funds they raise to the international secretariat (at WWF International) and keep the remainder to spend on whichever conservation projects they choose. WWF International is accountable to the National Organizations, donors, and the Swiss authorities.

Offices of WWF fall into one of two categories:
  • Those that can raise funds and carry out work independently
  • Those that must work under the direction of one of the independent WWF offices

All offices, however, carry out local conservation work such as practical field projects, scientific research, advising governments on environmental policy, promoting environmental education, and raising awareness of environmental issues.

To keep operations going, in 1970, the President of WWF International, Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, otherwise known as the "Flying Prince of Conservation," set up a fund known as "The 1001: A Nature Trust," to which 1,001 individuals each contributed $10,000 (totaling just over $10 million). Interest from the trust fund helps WWF International to meet its administration costs. Since 1983, WWF has collaborated with postal authorities in more than 200 countries to feature select threatened species on official postage stamps, so far raising over $13 million. In total, contributions from individuals remain the organization's most important source of funds, making up approximately half of its annual income. Governments and aid agencies provide 20 percent of WWF's income, while 16 percent comes from trusts and legacies and 17 percent comes from other sources, including donations from corporations and royalties on merchandise.


What WWF Does


­Throughout its more than 40 years, WWF has contributed significantly to the development and impact of the world conservation movement and to sustainable development. Here are a few examples of the impressive work WWF has done:

2008 HowStuffWorks
Project Toger worked to protect the tiger population.
Project Tiger - Launched in 1973, WWF set up a task force with Indira Gandhi to put aside land for nine tiger reserves in India. India later added six more reserves, while Nepal followed suit with three, and Bangladesh with one. Today, there are 23 tiger reserves in India spread over an area of about 33,000 square kilometers (12,700 square miles). Outside of India, WWF is working to protect Sumatran tigers in Indonesia, Indo-Chinese tigers in Malaysia, Bengal tigers in Nepal, and Siberian tigers in Russia. To find out more about Project Tiger and other global tiger concerns, check out these sites:
2008 HowStuffWorks
The WWF has actively worked to save rainforest habitats around the world.
Tropical Rainforest Campaign - Launched in 1975, WWF raised money and arranged for several dozen representative tropical rainforest areas in Central and West Africa, Southeast Asia, and Latin America to be managed as national parks or reserves. A second tropical forest campaign was launched in 1982 at the opening of the national parks congress in Bali (Indonesia), which mobilized roughly $2.5 million for projects in 11 countries. Forest conservation has been taken seriously as a major habitat issue ever since. For more on tropical rainforests, check out these sites:

The Seas Must Live - Launched in 1976, WWF set up marine sanctuaries for whales, dolphins, and seals, and to protect marine turtle nesting sites. Currently, WWF is working around the world to save our seas and marine life by building up political will to end chronic overfishing, reducing the use of destructive fishing methods, rebuilding devastated fisheries, and improving resource management. For more information on this important issue, click here:

Save the Rhino - Launched in 1979, WWF raised over $1 million to combat rhino poaching. Thanks to the efforts of WWF, the number of rhinoceroses in Kaziranga National Park, India, rose from 400 in 1966 to 1,300 in 1995; in Chitwan Park, Nepal, from 60 in the late 1960s to 600 today; and in southern Africa, from 20 at the turn of the last century to nearly 8,000 today. For more on rhinos, check out:

World Conservation Strategy - In 1980, WWF published a recommended set of strategies that suggest taking a holistic approach and highlight the importance of using natural resources in a sustainable fashion. The strategy defined the three chief goals of conservation: maintenance of essential ecological processes and life support systems; preservation of genetic diversity; and sustainable use of species and ecosystems. Since the launch, 50 countries have formulated and initiated their own conservation strategies based on WWF's recommendations. Click here to found out how you can obtain a copy of WWF's strategy series.


The Ivory Trade and Other Efforts

2008 HowStuffWorks
The WWF is a major opponent of the ivory trade.

In 1990, WWF helped bring about an international moratorium on the ivory trade.

In 1992, WWF took part in pressuring governments to sign conventions on biodiversity and climate change at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

Today, WWF focuses its efforts on six global issues. They fall into three categories:

  • Three Biomes - WWF is working to conserve forests, freshwater ecosystems, and oceans and coasts, which contain the bulk of the world's biodiversity and provide the environmental goods and services upon which all life ultimately depends.
  • The Question of Species - WWF has identified a small number of flagship species whose conservation is of special concern.
  • Two Global Threats - WWF is working to address consequences resulting from the spread of toxic chemicals and the phenomenon of climate change.

For each of the six global issues, WWF has established a "Target Driven Programme" (TDP for short) that identifies actions needed to be taken by WWF to achieve its mission. TDPs recommend such strategies as the formation of partnerships, involvement in politics, or campaigning to the public.

At the same time, WWF has identified a list of priority ecoregions known as the Global 200 Ecoregions, constituting the most valuable and sometimes vulnerable areas of the world in terms of breadth of biodiversity and ecological processes. WWF is carrying out conservation efforts on a selected subset of the Global 200 and encourages others to take up the challenges of conserving the rest of the Global 200 ecoregions.


How You Can Make a Difference

It may seem daunting, but there's a lot you can do to help save our natural resources if you're interested. Listed below are a few suggestions to get you started.

Learn about the issues.
Knowing about the problems facing our planet and how you can solve them will likely inspire you to get going and encourage others to do so as well. Read through the WWF Web site for information about the issues, as well as the Web site of other organizations doing similar work on behalf of the environment (see the next page for ideas).

Get involved.
Work or volunteer for WWF or other organizations doing similar work. If you don't have the time or qualifications, make a donation to an organization you think is doing excellent work. Do your part at home and at work by switching off lights, recycling, and using safe household chemical alternatives.

Take action.
Don't wait another minute! Contact your local representative or governor and urge him or her to protect the natural resources in your area or take a particular stand on policy matters related to conservation. (Visit to look up the contact information for elected officials in the United States.) Another option is to write to the chairman of the board of a company whose environmental practices you disagree with.

For more information on WWF and related topics, including some great ways for you to get involved, check out the links on the next page.