Meet the New Generation of Kids Who Are Fighting for Animals

These children and teenagers are raising awareness and funds to help endangered wildlife.

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Taegen Yardley speaking at World Wildlife Day 2018 at the United Nations in Washington, D.C. All photos with permission from the families.

Kate Williams, age 9, believes there’s power that comes from an entire generation working together. The Texas native knows she can’t stop animal extinction alone. That’s why she’s teamed up with friends, teachers, family, and several major wildlife nonprofits to answer the question: “What can we do to help animals?”

She’s in good company. In Massachusetts, brothers Will and Matthew Gladstone, ages 14 and 11, co-founded Blue Feet Foundation to save the Blue-Footed Booby, whose population in the Galapagos Islands is declining.

In Vermont, Taegen Yardley, age 16, has been making wildlife documentaries for the past four years, earning the respect of the Audubon Society, National Geographic, and the United Nations. She was recently awarded Interpol’s “Fostering Partnerships in Conservation Award” by Prince William, Duke of Cambridge.

And Addison (Addy) Barrett, age 11, of Maryland, founded Gorilla Heroes to raise awareness and funds to protect endangered mountain gorillas. She has helped raise more than $7,000 for conservation groups such as the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund and The Ellen Fund.

Their approaches are different. But they share a deep love for animals, a commitment to protecting them, and a strong belief that age should not be a barrier to taking action.

“We cannot wait to become the leaders of tomorrow,” Yardley explains. “We must act now. We all have the power to do something.”

Here are their stories:

Kate Williams

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Kate Williams, co-author of ‘Let’s Go on Safari!,’ on the safari that inspired her to write her book.

The Texas native can recite a list of facts that are difficult for most of us to hear. “Did you know more than two million pangolins are killed every year for their scales?” she asks. “That 58 elephants are killed by poachers every single day? And that there are less than 8,000 cheetahs left in the wild?”

She credits Michelle Campbell, her tour guide, who taught her and her family about the local wildlife she viewed while on safari in the Sabi Sands region of South Africa and the Timbavati Game Reserve. Both are located close to Kruger National Park. “The most important thing she taught me,” she says, “was that humans were killing the animals. When I came home, I was determined to figure out some way to help save these animals.”

At the age of 8, she co-wrote a book with Campbell titled Let’s Go On Safari! to prove to her generation that advocacy has no age limit, and that kids can help save animals from extinction. Royalties from her book support the Jane Goodall Institute, The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, and Global Wildlife Conservation.

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Kate Williams with her safari game driver and co-author, Michelle Campbell.

Williams and Campbell exchanged cross-continental emails for months to create the book. It invites children to hop in a truck, experience the thrill of a safari, and discover how to advocate for animals. “Every kid loves animals,” Williams says. “We just need to tell kids how to turn this love into advocacy.”

Williams knew it would be hard to find a publisher “and for older people to take a kid seriously,” she says.

“My mom and I thought, ‘What if we partner with leading conservation organizations to show that this book is really serious. I got lucky when Dr. Jane Goodall read an early copy of my book. She gave me permission to write about her Roots and Shoots Program. Then Angela Sheldrick of The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and Brian Sheth of Global Wildlife Conservation agreed to formally endorse my book.”

She credits her friend Magdalene Ryan for helping her market the book. “We were practicing volleyball and she turned to me and said, ‘How can you promote your book if you don’t have a logo?’ She drew the amazing Kids Can Save Animals logo. The drawing includes kids from all over the globe holding onto the most endangered animals that need our help.”

Every time someone buys her book, the royalties go directly to help the nonprofits she partnered with. She and Campbell are currently writing book two. “We want to call it, Let’s Talk Conservation,” she says. “It will focus more on rhinos, with a special highlight on Care for Wild Rhino Sanctuary and Ol Pejeta Conservancy.” She visited those places with her family this past summer.

Williams doesn’t have a favorite animal. “It’s hard for me to pick one,” she says. “My three favorites are the cheetah, the elephant, and the rhino.”

Will and Matthew Gladstone

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Brothers Will (right) and Matthew Gladstone, co-founders of the Blue Feet Foundation, are wearing socks the same color as the feet of the Blue Footed Booby.

Since 2016, Will and Matthew Gladstone have sold more than 10,000 pairs of bright blue socks and raised more than $80,000 for the Galapagos Conservancy and the Charles Darwin Foundation, nonprofits working to protect the blue-footed booby.

Will’s inspiration began in fifth-grade science class, when he first learned of the blue-footed booby’s decline in the Galapagos, and of the lack of funds earmarked to find out why. “After I learned about them, I started to research them online,” Will says. “I even adopted one on the World Wildlife website. They seemed like a really cool and special bird and it made me sad that they might disappear.”

He decided to raise money by selling bright blue socks and persuaded his younger brother, Matthew, to join him. They found a sock manufacturer, set up a website, held a logo design contest, and excitedly awaited their first order. It took three months.

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Matthew Gladstone writes a thank you card to enclose with a sock order.

Undeterred by slow sales, they resisted the urge to scrap their idea and tried new tactics to make it work. The breakthrough came when they connected with the Galapagos Conservancy, which agreed to partner with them. Today, the boys have received sock orders from 50 states and 46 countries. “I hear about the world being so divided but when I look at all the places we’ve received orders from, it feels a lot more friendly,” says Will. “If people in all these countries can care about a seabird with blue feet that they’ll likely never see on an island they’ll likely never visit, then people are a lot more similar than we’re led to believe.”

Their donations, which can be made online at Blue Feet Foundation, are fully funding the first-ever research expedition to the Galapagos to study the bird’s decline. “The world expert in blue-footed boobies is Dave Anderson, professor of biology at Wake Forest University,” Will says. “We gave the money to the Galapagos Conservancy and they gave it to Professor Anderson. He and his students are doing the study. They went in the summer of 2019 to count the birds and look for chicks. They’ll go back next summer to see if the numbers are going up or down.”

Will had the privilege of going to the Galapagos last June. He only saw blue-footed boobies from far away. He and his family are planning another trip when Matthew is older. “If people find things they agree about,” Matthew says, “then they can solve problems together and get along better. They realize they have more in common than they thought.”

Taegen Yardley

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Taegen Yardley at an event she initiated, the Global March for Elephants and Rhinos, in Burlington, Vermont. She is pictured here with 192 tusks, representing the 96 elephants killed each day.

Taegen Yardley started making documentaries at age 12. Today, the 16-year-old’s films have been shown around the world and have earned her annual invitations to speak at the National Geographic Society, the Department of the Interior, and the United Nations. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services uses some of her films in courses being taught in San Salvador, Budapest, and Vietnam.

Her documentaries focus on the planet’s most critically endangered species and the impact of decreasing biodiversity. “I’m working to show today’s youth that there is power in their voices,” says Taegen, “and that the ripple effect we create will enable us to build a more sustainable, environmentally viable, and biodiverse world for all of the creatures who call it home.”

Her activism started even earlier. “When I was 11,” she says, “I attended a screening of the documentary Battle for the Elephants. It was this movie that inspired me to act. Within a few days of the creation of my first documentary, Kids Battle for a World With Elephants, it was seen and shared around the world hundreds of thousands of times.”

That’s what sparked interest and opportunities from wildlife conservation leaders from Africa, Southeast Asia, and beyond. “Through my communications with them,” she explains, “I learned so much about other critically endangered species which prompted me to create four additional documentaries. I have created two which have a more general focus on extinction, one about the plight of big cats, and one about the state of our oceans and marine species.”

Her efforts have given Yardley a platform to address conservation. “The more I learn,” she says, “the more I find additional ways in which I can educate, raise awareness, and make an impact. What started off as a child’s passion for saving elephants, soon turned into a broader effort to combat the extinction of our most critically endangered species and to raise global awareness about critical issues.”

Yardley wants others to get involved with causes that are close to their hearts. “We will soon be inheriting a world of human-induced global environmental degradation,” she says. “The power of our voices can make an impact today. Education is the solution and we can all do our part to educate as many people as possible.”

Addison (Addy) Barrett

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Addy Barrett, founder of Gorilla Heroes, viewing gorillas at Zoo Atlanta.

Addison (Addy) Barrett loves mountain gorillas so much that in her foundation’s early days, she took a pie in the face each time someone made a donation to her foundation, Gorilla Heroes. That was more than 100 pies in the face!

She also raises funds by selling Goodies for Gorillas (homemade cookies and lemonade), designing and selling T-shirts, and organizing an annual Gorilla Gala. Barrett’s annual Gorilla Gala features gorilla-themed interactive games, an information booth, and a virtual reality gorilla experience. It also includes a raffle, with prizes such as tickets to King Kong Alive on Broadway (which recently closed), and a painting created by a gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo. All funds are donated to the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund and The Ellen Fund.

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Addy Barrett at her annual Gorilla Gala.

Her love for mountain gorillas began in first grade after reading a book about them. She remembers coming home from school and creating a “Save the Gorillas!” poster. That was fun, but she wanted to do more, and began brainstorming with her friends and family. At school, she presented a hands-on gorilla conservation station at a school-wide STEM event, and her latest social media campaign, High 5s for Gorillas, asks gorilla lovers around the world to post selfies giving an air high five. She has received photos from people in nearly 20 countries and has compiled them into short videos. “I’ve learned there are people everywhere who are determined and kind and willing to help gorillas,” says Barrett. “My hope is that at least one person who I have touched might also take action to help gorillas.”

Barron Prize Winners

These amazing kids are recipients of the Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes, which honors 25 outstanding young leaders ages 8 to 18 who have made a significant positive difference to people and our planet. This year’s winning projects also address the environment, science, health, and hunger.

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I’m a journalist covering pets, wildlife, health, mental illness, and social justice.

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