Canisius College Ambassadors for Conservation


(This 1208th Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on May 18, 2014.)


Michael Noonan and Elizabeth George

on the Forest Secrets Science set


The Canisius College Ambassadors for Conservation (CAC) is a program that richly deserves the recognition it is gaining for the college. Only a few national programs like the World Wildlife Fund do more for wildlife preservation.


The CAC Mission is to inspire the next generation of citizens with a love of wildlife and a commitment to conservation. For a college-based program led by a single faculty member who works with a small cadre of students, CAC does a remarkable job in fulfilling that commitment.


I have written about one aspect of CAC in the past: its program on wetland conservation for local school students that will be led by CAC members once again this year at the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge. This program takes small groups of youngsters around the one-mile Swallow Hollow Trail, along the way introducing them to the ecosystems through which they pass as well as the wide range of wildlife to be found there.


I talked with some of this year's guides about their background and how they prepared for leading these trips. Before they joined CAC none of them knew bird identification, but they told me how they had trained on cross-country field excursions. They also demonstrated how in fifteen seconds they can now find a field guide illustration of a bird they find when leading the school students. (I would be hard put to do that.) Although the students are loaned binoculars, quickly showing them an illustration gives them a close-up view of what they observe.


Although this Iroquois project has reached over 11,000 students so far, it represents only a small segment of the CAC program. Its outreach website,, provides a rich resource of conservation-related activities, information, resources and even games. If you visit this site, you will be overwhelmed by the quality as well as the quantity of these postings. This site, together with CAC activities at the Buffalo Zoo and Marineland of Canada in Niagara Falls, Ontario, have reached over a million people.


But there are additional school-related activities that have the potential of reaching a still wider audience. These are CAC-developed films that serve educational purposes and are distributed free to school classrooms through the support of Canisius College and the Family Foundations of Clement and Karen Arrison, Al and Naura Gress, and RM and TY Brown.


I have seen two of the full-length films they have produced. In 2005 I watched Elephas maximus: The Biology and Conservation of the Asian Elephant, which was named the Animal Behavior Society Non-commercial Film of the Year. And earlier this year I attended the first showing of their latest project, Forest Secrets Science.


These are educational films of professional quality and the students who produce them have every right to be proud of their accomplishments. I met with the forests film production team to talk about their travels to Peru, British Columbia, Costa Rica, Colorado and northern Ontario. Theirs was clearly not the usual tour of world attractions; rather, it was a serious working trip. They had to spend evenings refining scripts and, for narrator Elizabeth George, learning her lines, then lug heavy equipment into forests, locate appropriate filming sites, take establishing shots and do the filming.


Most of these students plan careers in wildlife management, but Samantha Crawford adds film production to her goals.


Other film projects include films about chimpanzees and other exotic wildlife in Indonesia, Australia and India as well as short films about restraining housecats and hunting with cameras.


None of this would be possible without the leadership of CAC founder and director, Michael Noonan, Canisius Professor of Biology; Chair of Animal Behavior, Ecology and Conservation; Director of the Master's Program in Anthrozoology, and Founder and Director of the Institute for the Study of Human-Animal Relations.


Dr. Noonan has led more than ninety student field trips to distant locales. Returning students go on to become advocates of wildlife conservation in the wider community having fallen in love with wildlife via unforgettable encounters. They spread that same love for wildlife through their infectious enthusiasm.


Mike's credentials extend to the classroom as well. His former student, Kyle Horton, once told me, "Professor Noonan is a remarkable teacher, the best I have ever met."-- Gerry Rising