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Doyli and howler monkey

Kids and Wild Animals – A Natural Alliance

Greetings to all working with kids, nature, and endangered wild animals, and habitat preservation!

Cathleen Burnham, photodocumentary photographer and author

I’m Cathleen Burnham, founder of WAKA, which stands for World Association of Kids and Animals.

WAKA is a website & public outreach effort that offers engaging gateway stories, ideas for youth activities and projects in school or home, and other resources that highlight stories of kids involved in endangered wild animal protection.

It’s a way to share positive, inspiring stories about kids around the world active in wild animal rescue and conservation projects.

Why stories? Stories are powerful ways to carry messages and inspire others. As Philip Pullman said, “After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” We use stories to celebrate values we hold dear.

We can use stories to connect kids with nature. Stories – with individual kids as central characters – are tremendously effective teaching tools to draw kids in, building on the intrinsic interest that kids have for nature (in particular, for endangered wild animals), showing how kids & families around the world are taking action.

What WAKA stories do:

  1. WAKA stories engage kids’ deep empathy for endangered animals in need. Nature is an abstract concept. Small or baby animals are specific, and an animal in need of assistance is a compelling call to get involved. It’s a gateway; it’s an instinctive way to begin a lifelong involvement with animal and their habitats, and to consider the impact humans have, for good or ill, on the survival of wild animals.
  2. WAKA stories prove that kids can have a real impact on a wild creature’s survival. Kids may ask themselves what they can do to help nature thrive. Sometimes, it can seem discouraging to hear gloomy stories of global warming or loss of great areas of habitat. What can a single kid do? These stories show that a single kid can do something to save the life of an animal in need. It’s a small but real result.
  3. WAKA stories develop a better understanding of how the natural world works. The natural world is not a simple thing. It is an ecosystem of many elements. But by focusing on a single story, of a kid and some wild animals in need of help, a kid can begin to see how things are connected. It also opens a discussion about why animals may need help questions that can lead to discussions of habitat loss, hunting (legal and illegal), black market trade, and other ways that human activity affects and often threatens  animal survival. It also opens discussions of ways to protect animals, through sanctuaries, rehabilitation programs, and other efforts.
  4. WAKA stories celebrate kid empowerment. Kids have amazing dreams and vision for a better world. They have great energy when they follow their passions. They have the ability to inspire each other. We can see it in these stories, and we can be inspired to believe that each kid has the power to do something significant.

World Association of Kids and Animals


WAKA seeks to share your stories that build on those principles!

Contact us. Let us know what you are doing to connect kids and wild animals – teaching materials, habitat conservation, wildlife rehabilitation. Help us share your stories to motive all kids, parents, teachers, and community leaders to get outside, get involved, and respect the rights of wild animals!

Visit the WAKA website today for examples of stories about global kids taking action. You can leave a comment on this post and we’ll connect!

And if you know a child helping wildlife who you think would make a great subject for my next WAKA book, by all means, let me know!


I am often asked how this WAKA project came about.

Here’s the story behind the story.

A few years ago, our family vacationed in the Amazon. We spent pre-dawn hours scanning the jungle for jaguars and monkeys and the rivers for pink dolphins.

As we slowly motored along a tributary, we passed an island on which a red uacari swung on a wooden railing. A pair of saddle-backed tamarins chased each other over two tree stumps. A spider monkey sat in a small patch of grass in the dirt-swept yard of a stilted hut.

We asked our guide to stop there but he said, “Oh, no. That’s a private home.” He went on to say, “That family takes in orphaned and endangered monkeys on their own. They raise them and set them free again.”

What? Our family loves animals. We begged until the guide agreed to contact the owners. “I’ll ask,” he said with a shrug.

Next day, miraculously, we were invited to visit. Stepping onto the island, we met a young girl with one saddle-backed tamarin on her head and one perched on her shoulder. My kids were in awe that this girl, Doyli, spent her days caring for such rare creatures. I thought other kids might be interested in her story, and the idea of a book came to me. We returned to Doyli’s island several more times, documenting her life and her care of the monkeys.

This led to my first book, Doyli to the Rescue: Saving Baby Monkeys in the Amazon.

I started thinking that there might be other kids around the world like Doyli: young people doing what they can to protect local wild animals.

It turns out there are. As a documentary photographer, I’ve been privileged to get to travel around the globe to meet, interview, and photograph such kids going about their daily activities. Each child is fortunate to attend a school, just like kids you know, and has a loving family. And they do what they can, sometimes on their own, often with family and neighbors’ assistance, to find a way to help wild animals thrive.

I want kids to see that animals are worth championing. Animals aren’t just to be enjoyed in zoos, or to be sacrificed for our food, clothing and shoes, or to test beauty products and medicines. Animals should be afforded the same right to freedom as humans. We aren’t the only important animals on this planet. There’s a whole world of wise and wonderful creatures with whom we can connect, whether it’s rescuing orphaned animals or just enjoying learning more about an animal’s behavior through observation. Animals make the world a richer place.

The books and website posts, including many about the work of others, teach the value of working with others: friends, family, community members, grassroots organizations. And, of course, the books teach environmentalism: green living, stewardship of the land, and wildlife conservation.

These stories shine a light on young people who are kind, caring, and active in a wide variety of conservation projects – in many cases on a small-scale, grassroots level.

Stories are seeds. We hope they will inspire you to think about ways you and your family and friends can envision something to do, in a small way, to help protect wild creatures who might need a helping hand.



CATHLEEN BURNHAM has a mission: to share stories from around the world about kids who have decided to make animals a central issue in their lives. Besides developing the WAKA idea, she has authored a series of nonfiction picturebooks, using her own documentary photography, to introduce us to some real kids around the world involved in animal rescue projects.

The first book in this series is Doyli to the Rescue, about a girl helping to care for orphaned wild monkeys in a family-run sanctuary in the Peruvian Amazon. The second book is Tortuga Squad, about a group of kids involved in patrolling the beaches of their Caribbean island in Costa Rica to protect endangered sea turtles.

Tony and His Elephants is the third book, a story of an eight-year-old boy helping to protect young elephants brought to a small sanctuary in Thailand near the Mekong River.

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