World Wildlife Fund Is Established Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The World Wildlife Fund was established to help maintain the biological diversity of plants and animals throughout the world by funding relevant conservation programs.

Summary of Event

Formation of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in 1961 resulted from the recognition that, unless conservation programs throughout the world were encouraged, established, and ultimately funded, much of the biological diversity on Earth would be lost. Impetus for such a program was a direct result of articles written in the British publication The Observer by Sir Julian Huxley. Though Huxley was concerned with the situation worldwide, he directly addressed the dangers then posed to wildlife in Africa. World Wildlife Fund Environmental organizations;World Wildlife Fund Conservation;organizations [kw]World Wildlife Fund Is Established (Sept. 11, 1961) [kw]Wildlife Fund Is Established, World (Sept. 11, 1961) World Wildlife Fund Environmental organizations;World Wildlife Fund Conservation;organizations [g]Europe;Sept. 11, 1961: World Wildlife Fund Is Established[07030] [g]Switzerland;Sept. 11, 1961: World Wildlife Fund Is Established[07030] [c]Environmental issues;Sept. 11, 1961: World Wildlife Fund Is Established[07030] [c]Organizations and institutions;Sept. 11, 1961: World Wildlife Fund Is Established[07030] Scott, Sir Peter Huxley, Sir Julian Philip, Prince Bernhard, Prince of Lippe-Biesterfeld

Huxley was one of many individuals who recognized the danger posed by encroaching civilization on plants and animals. The idea of directed conservation had its roots in the game preserves established by medieval kings, restricting hunting to only royal subjects. Such altruistic behavior, however, was more in line with royal privilege than that of true conservation. Such laws had the effect of preserving, in a pristine manner, large sections of the land.

Active wildlife conservation in both the United States and Europe began in the mid-nineteenth century. National parks Wildlife sanctuaries Italy established its first wildlife sanctuary in 1856, in an area now known as Gran Paradiso National Park. Yellowstone National Park became the world’s first national park in 1872. This was soon followed by the establishment of similar sanctuaries in other countries: Sabi Game Reserve in southern Africa and Banff National Park in Canada. The first federal wildlife refuge in the United States was Pelican Island, in Florida, established by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1903. The wildlife refuge system was expanded in 1916 into a large national park system directed by the National Park Service, within the Department of the Interior. The Fish and Wildlife Service, created in 1940, served to expand the system further. In 1966, the system of federal wildlife refuges was reorganized as the National Wildlife Refuge System. In addition to such federal systems, a series of private organizations such as the National Audubon Society and the National Wildlife Federation were also established during the period.

On the international level, organizations from various countries began cooperation under the umbrella of the United Nations (U.N.), established in 1945 after World War II. Both the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) UNESCO established wildlife conservation programs. In 1948, UNESCO was instrumental in founding the International Union for the Protection of Nature International Union for the Protection of Nature (IUPN, later known as the World Conservation Union World Conservation Union ), an agency with the purpose of establishing means for conservation. The IUPN began the yearly task of cataloging information on endangered species throughout the world and publishing this material in its Red Data Book. The underlying problem inherent within all these programs, however, was the lack of funds.

In 1946, Julian Huxley was appointed first director-general of UNESCO. In this capacity, Huxley was to travel extensively, lecturing on the importance of conservation. Huxley, a prominent naturalist by this time, was also the grandson of Thomas Huxley, remembered primarily as “Darwin’s bulldog,” but who was in fact a distinguished nineteenth century scientist. Julian Huxley is best remembered for his work in ornithology and the study of evolution, but he was also a popular lecturer, writer, and poet, being awarded the Newdigate Prize for English verse while at Oxford in 1908.

Huxley had a strong influence on the course taken by UNESCO in its first years of existence. Huxley could be controversial, as in his emphasis on birth control as a means to limit population, but it was primarily through his initiative that IUPN was founded. After he left office in 1948, Huxley continued to campaign for the organization.

The public response to his articles in The Observer convinced Huxley of the need to establish a stable source of funding for wildlife conservation. In discussions carried out by Huxley with E. M. Nicholson Nicholson, E. M. , director-general of the British Nature Conservancy, and Sir Peter Scott, vice president of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, it was decided that an international effort should be carried out for the purpose of raising funds for such an organization. Nicholson carried his appeal to the United States in March, 1961, and found similar sentiment. The draft of a proposal for a fund-raising organization was presented in April at a meeting of the executive board of the World Conservation Union in Morges, Switzerland.

The following month, a committee under the directorship of Nicholson was formed to determine the needs and establish the requirements for such an organization. The idea was to establish a worldwide fund-raising organization to serve as a source of funding for the conservation movement. The committee decided to name the organization the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), “An International Foundation for Saving the World’s Wildlife and Wild Places.” Peter Scott designed the logo for the organization: a giant panda. Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and husband to Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain, became president of the British National Appeal, the first national organization within the WWF. Philip recruited Bernhard, Prince of Lippe-Biesterfeld, consort to Queen Juliana of the Netherlands, to lend support for the organization. Bernhard became first patron, and later the first president of the WWF.

Loans and grants to the extent of approximately $30,000 allowed the organization to begin its work. Its first major appeal came in July, 1961. Ian MacPhail MacPhail, Ian , who had extensive experience in public relations, was hired to direct this first campaign. The outcome was the Morges Manifesto Morges Manifesto (1961) , a call for broad worldwide support signed by sixteen of the world’s leading conservationists. The document was primarily a call for action. It pointed out the presence of a wildlife emergency, which if not met with an immediate response, would result in the loss of numerous species. Funds necessary to acquire land and to pay guardians of the wildlife refugees was lacking. Money was also necessary to support education of the populations to recognize the problems.

On September 11, 1961, the World Wildlife Fund was legally established at Zurich, Switzerland, as constituted by the laws of Switzerland. It was registered as a tax-exempt organization on October 16 of that year. Establishment of the fund was announced to the public at the Royal Society of Arts in London on September 26. Julian Huxley presented a lecture addressing the importance of the fund. The World Wildlife charter was also adopted at the meeting. The mission of the WWF would be to raise funds through national appeals for the purpose of conservation. Working with the World Conservation Union and other existing conservation groups, the WWF would then provide financial support to the conservation movement.


Once the charter for the WWF was adopted, the agency began the task of convincing the public of the need for such an agency. The United States was recognized as an important potential source of funding. For this reason, the WWF sponsored a dinner at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York on June 6, 1962, with the purpose of generating support within the country. The dinner was attended by Prince Philip of Great Britain and Prince Bernhard (WWF president) from the Netherlands, along with approximately fifteen hundred persons. In his speech, Prince Philip pointed out that hundreds of species were marked for extinction, including species such as the American bald eagle and the golden eagle, both native to America. The major problem was the encroachment by man and his pollutants on the habitats of animals; proper game enforcement and education could help stem the problem.

In the first year following its inception, the WWF funded five projects, totaling more than $33,000. In the United States, funding was approved for projects dealing with such species as the bald eagle and southern red wolf. Other projects in the Americas dealt with the giant grebe of Guatemala, the Tule goose in Canada, and various sea birds. A nature preserve was established in Colombia.

Dr. Thomas Lovejoy Lovejoy, Thomas was hired as project administrator in 1973, the first scientist hired by the WWF. He recognized that since the nature of the conservation problem was so widespread, a system of priorities was necessary to channel funding to those areas in which it could be put to optimal use. A conference of scientists and conservationists was set up in order to establish basic guidelines which would be followed. The panel concluded that, while the organization should be international in its scope, initial priorities should be placed in Latin America and the Caribbean, since these areas had the least amount of private funding for conservation. Focus should be placed on the tropical rain forests, which contain a significant portion of the world’s biological diversity.

As the panel noted, the focus on individual species could quickly drain funds, and indeed was often destined for failure unless the underlying problems could be addressed. Consequently, the WWF began to focus on the habitats themselves, with establishment of national parks and game preserves being the goal. The WWF also became aware that with the increasing populations in many of the targeted countries, economic and social pressures for development of resources often had a higher priority. Rather than opposing development, the WWF began to seek means of accommodation between economic development and conservation.

As the WWF became better known and more international in its scope, the trustees differed as to their views on its mission. Some favored the traditional view of saving both habitats and species; others believed the basic causes of the crisis—nuclear proliferation, pollution, overpopulation, and economic needs—should first be addressed. Peter Scott was able to focus the WWF on concern for the natural environment. Other problems exacerbated the need for programs in conservation, but with limited funds, WWF would need to place priorities in saving habitat and promotion of public awareness.

The WWF funded thousands of projects in more than one hundred countries. These projects included the establishment of hundreds of national parks and nature reserves. Reflecting the early priorities set up by the fund, most of these parks are found in Central and South America: Darien Frontier National Park (Panama), Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve (Honduras), La Planada Nature Reserve (Colombia), and Manu National Park (Peru). Costa Rica established its national park service in 1974, and is said to have one of the best national park systems in the world.

The World Wildlife Fund has been associated with several major international treaties and laws to promote conservation, including the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the Endangered Species Act, and the Migratory Bird Treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union. Though not always successful in its endeavors, the World Wide Fund came to be considered the major resource by which numerous species may be saved from extinction. World Wildlife Fund Environmental organizations;World Wildlife Fund Conservation;organizations

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Baker, John R. Julian Huxley: Scientist and World Citizen. Paris: UNESCO, 1978. A biography of one of the founders of the WWF. An excellent description of the career of one of Great Britain’s most notable scientists. The role played by Huxley in UNESCO is given a prominent place within the book. Extensive bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Flippen, J. Brooks. Conservative Conservationist: Russell E. Train and the Emergence of American Environmentalism. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2006. Biography of the cofounder, president, and chair of the World Wildlife Fund detailing his decades of devotion to environmentalism alongside his devotion to the Republican Party. Bibliographic references and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Medley, G. J. “Strategic Planning for the World Wildlife Fund.” Long Range Planning 21 (1988): 46-54. Written by the director of the WWF in Great Britain. Primarily a synopsis of the goals and plans of action of the WWF, the article also includes listings of its strengths and weaknesses.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Prince Philip, H.R.H. The Duke of Edinburgh. “Man’s Wildlife Heritage Faces Extinction.” National Geographic Magazine 122 (November, 1962): 700-703. Numerous magazine articles are available concerning the WWF. This is an early description of the WWF and the importance of its mission.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Scott, Peter. Observations of Wildlife. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1980. The author provides an overview of the work he did during the course of a long career in natural history. Much of the book is highlighted with paintings and drawings by the author. The importance of nature in Scott’s life culminated with his role in the founding of the WWF, a discussion of which makes up the latter part of the book.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______, ed. The Launching of a New Ark. London: Collins, 1965. The first report published by the World Wildlife Fund. Scott was one of the founders of the WWF. This report, the first of an annual series, described the mission and successes associated with what was then a new agency. A short history of the formation of the WWF is included. Particularly useful in that documents and statements relevant to the founding are included.
  • citation-type="booksimple"


    World Wildlife Fund: Annual Report. Washington, D.C.: World Wildlife Fund, 1993. The annual report released by the Washington branch of the WWF. An excellent publication that briefly outlines the worldwide strategies of the WWF. Each issue includes highlights of the year’s activities both in the United States and around the world. Also included are lists of officers, financing, and budgets.

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Categories: History