Environment: The U.N. of Conservation

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It is an odd company. Hairy-nosed wombats in southern Australia. Giant turtles on the Galapagos Islands. Polar bears in the Arctic. What each species shares with the others is an improving prospect for survival due to the efforts of a unique conservation organization. That group is the World Wildlife Fund, whose members gathered last week in Manhattan's Waldorf-Astoria hotel to celebrate with deserved pride their tenth anniversary. From an obscure club of wealthy do-gooders, W.W.F. has grown into a United Nations of conservation, whose efforts on behalf of hundreds of endangered species are felt from Scotland to Sumatra.

Under the guidance of softspoken, spectacled Prince Bernhard of The Netherlands, the fund's international president, W.W.F. has launched 550 rescue projects for threatened species in 60 countries. In addition to exotic animals like the wombat, the organization has also helped more common species. Last year, America's largest furriers union reached an agreement with W.W.F. to stop accepting pelts taken from spotted cats, thus ensuring that the big felines would be able to hold their own in the wilds. The members have even prevailed upon some of the world's major airlines to stop promoting safari tours on which endangered species would be killed.

Plug for a Park. On occasion, W.W.F. members have used their prestige to help stem the destruction of endangered species. Charles Lindbergh singlehanded stopped the slaughter of the blue whale off Peru in 1966 by going directly to its President and persuading him to order a stay on the hunting of the species by all whalers. Prince Bernhard has pressured the heads of state of several countries to become more active conservationists. When he visited Ethiopia a few years ago, he sent advance notice that he wanted to visit a national park—knowing full well that none existed in Ethiopia. By the time he arrived, however, a national park had been set aside and prepared for his inspection.

W.W.F. is not without its critics, many of them environmental activists who feel that fund members take a dilettante view of conservation. "What they do is fine," says Joan McIntyre, a member of the New York City-based Friends of the Earth. "The problem lies more in what they haven't got around to doing." W.W.F., she says, does not feel that all wildlife is threatened. Instead, it spends "vast amounts of money saving a few pitiful animals as curiosities and putting them in game preserves."

That criticism was answered indirectly last week when the fund announced a campaign to protect biotopes, or animal habitats. Under the W.W.F. plan, governments will be encouraged to purchase biotopes and protect them against the incursions of man, thus enabling many species to survive and multiply in their natural environments.