National Geographic Society: Grants for Animals and Wildlife

OVERVIEW: National Geographic is a leading supporter of wildlife conservation, tackling projects that preserve threatened species and their habitats while working with local communities to find solutions that are likely to bring about long-term results. The long list of grant programs can be tough to parse, but many of them are open to online applications. 

IP TAKE: You'll find many opportunities for wildlife-conservation funding here. The society funds promising new ventures and proven, well-established ones alike over all corners of the globe. 

PROFILE: Having funded more than 10,000 scientific research, conservation, and exploration initiatives since its inception in 1888, the National Geographic Society is one of the oldest and largest scientific and educational nonprofit institutions in existence. National Geographic uses a variety of media outlets to reach more than 600 million people around the world each month.

The society pours money into several grant programs to benefit the world’s wildlife and their natural habitats. Each program’s efforts aim toward fostering a culture of environmental stewardship and respect for all creatures inhabiting planet Earth. All are potentially excellent sources of funding for scientists, researchers, and select wildlife conservation organizations. And best of all, most of them--while competitive-- are open to non-solicited application and tend to give many smaller grants.

For wildlife-focused grant seekers, the Big Cat Initiative is definitely one of the more apropos of the society’s programs. Its mission is to help restore big cat populations around the world after an alarmingly rapid decline in their numbers over the past century. Leading the effort are National Geographic Explorers-in-Residence Dereck and Beverly Joubert, who have both spent more than 25 years in remote parts of Africa as authors, filmmakers, and conservationists. Groups who are working on the ground to save lions and cheetahs with the support of local communities are ideal candidates for Big Cat Initiative grants.

Groups who are searching for funding in other areas of wildlife conservation will want to look into National Geographic/Waitt Grants, which support a variety of wildlife conservation programs, from saving tree kangaroos in Papua New Guinea to determining the conservation importance of bat species in Mozambique. Grants are available to scientists and researchers as well as to organizations working on the ground to protect threatened species. The great thing about this program, which is funded by tech billionaire Ted Waitt, is that it leans toward early career researchers, or those looking for venture capital, or "proof of concept" for a developing project, on a short timetable. The committee that makes decisions aims to respond within 10 weeks of receiving applications. Grants run from $5,000 to $12,000 each. 

Another grant program, National Geographic’s Conservation Trust, directs funding to cutting-edge programs in the field of conservation science that other funders may have overlooked. It's a relatively young program for the Society and looking for innovative solutions to conservation issues. Examples include studies aimed at solving the human-wildlife conflict in India; decoding nonverbal communication in elephants; and preserving parrot populations in Botswana. Most of the grants under this program vary from $5,000 to $20,000 each.

The Committee for Research and Exploration is a grant program that goes way back in Society history, and supports scientific field research and exploration. Projects must have a geographical dimension, relevance to an eligible field, and broad scientific interest. Grants range from $15,000 to $20,000, but there is no set amount. The Society makes about 250 per year. The applicable fields include oceanography, biology, and zoology, and environmental issues are prioritized these days. 

Next up is the Global Explorations Fund. Key word here is global. This fund is actually comprised of multiple programs in several international regions. The first was opened in Sweden in 2011 to support work done by scientists in Northern Europe. The second started a year later to back work on Air and Water Conservation in China

The National Geographic/Buffett Awards are focused on work in Africa and Latin America, created in 2002 to recognize the unsung heroes working as leaders in conservation. The program is funded by Howard Buffet, nominations are made to the Committee for Research and Exploration, and selected in a peer review process for annual awards of $25,000. The stories behind these awardees are incredible. 

And finally, one for the whippersnappers. The Young Explorers Grants go to people aged 18 to 25 for work in research, conservation, and exploration. All of these grants must be consistent with the first three grant programs on this list (CRE, CT, and EC), but there’s also a separate fund provided by the Luce Foundation that increases opportunities in 18 Asian countries.

The society accepts unsolicited applications for most of these grants. Each has its own official application forms and paperwork, though, and the application process for each varies. Consult the website for more about the program of your choosing, and the specific rules for how to apply.