There seems to be hashtag for almost everything these days, some more effective than others. The #metoo movement has gained significant traction and shows the potential for a hashtag to gather people for a movement for change.
At the same time, there are concerns around social media making people feel good without actually affecting any change – people may post a picture of themselves holding a poster with a hashtag on it but not actually do anything meaningful to contribute to the cause, merely using social media for virtue signalling.
So, could a hashtag save wildlife? While social media can certainly engage more people in conservation campaigns to protect wildlife, it is the practical work carried out on the ground that is key to protecting species and their habitats. The rangers patrolling national parks and wildlife reserves to keep wildlife safe, the efforts of conservation scientists to identify critically endangered species and launch conservation plans, the vets that keep wildlife healthy and can help breeding programmes to expand wild populations and recover species from the brink of extinction.
Although it is the hard work on the ground that is critical to keeping species safe, we also need to share the stories of the fantastic work of conservation heroes around the world and, on that front, social media certainly has a part to play and hashtags can draw together and spread inspirational stories around the world.
For those of us not on the frontline of conservation but seeking to do as much as we can in our day-to-day lives, ways to become more engaged in protecting wildlife are very valuable. The most obvious way is to donate to conservation charities, either as one-off gifts or ongoing memberships and wildlife sponsorships. Events like David Shepherd’s Wildlife Artist of the Year and the Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibitions also offer an opportunity to see amazing images of wildlife and make purchases that support conservation work. A visit to a zoo can also be a chance to see some amazing species, and support work to protect wildlife in the wild and in captivity (although many people do not like seeing wildlife in captivity, so it’s a personal choice).
We also need to think about what we are purchasing – many products, such as food and shampoos containing palm oil or electronics equipment with coltan in it, often cause to wildlife (orangutans and gorillas respectively in those examples). Such products can be very difficult to avoid, so being able to also buy products that not only do no harm to wildlife, but actually help protect them can have a big impact.
What else can we do? At Tunza Games, we’ve tried to use gaming to provide a way for people to help protect wildlife with our app Conservation Crisis, which you can download from the appstores now. We use the hashtag #playtosave to try and spread word about the game, which you can play to test your conservation skills, safe in the knowledge that we pay a share of revenue from each purchase to our charity partners to fund real-world conservation.
So, hashtags cannot save wildlife on their own. But they can help to share stories and events (and games!) that can provide us with inspiration and ways to spend our money to help wildlife. Ultimately, though, it is the hard work of those on the frontline of conservation that is critical to saving wildlife, so the donations we make are more vital than the hashtags we share.