The Touching Reason National Wildlife Day Is Celebrated in September

Let's be honest: You probably don't spend all year counting down the days until National Wildlife Day. But there is one heartwarming reason why you should start.

Mark your calendars, animal lovers—each September and February, environment enthusiasts across the country celebrate National Wildlife Day with a wide range of earth-friendly activities, from visiting their local zoos to reading up on the wild animal species you didn’t know were endangered.

Never heard of it? Allow us to fill you in. Founded in 2006 by animal behaviorist Colleen Paige, National Wildlife Day aims to raise awareness for endangered species around the world. Paige was the brains behind several other animal-themed holidays, including National Dog Day and National Cat Day, as well.

Celebrating National Wildlife Day twice a year might sound a bit strange, but this biannual holiday is no accident. Not only does it double the nationwide effort to protect endangered animals, but the dates themselves also have an incredibly touching story. By the way, even tried-and-true animal lovers get these “facts” about animals all wrong.

Back in the early 2000s, Australian conservationist Steve Irwin was a household name thanks to his TV show The Crocodile Hunter, a documentary series hosted by the fearless wildlife expert and his wife, Terri. Irwin was filming a new episode near Australia’s Great Barrier Reef on September 4, 2006, when a startled stingray stung him in the heart and killed him.

Crocodiles In A Crocodiles Farm ,Thailand Vacancylizm/Shutterstock

Paige founded National Wildlife Day shortly after Irwin passed, choosing to mark the occasion on September 4th in his honor, according to NationalWildlifeDay.com. Yet one day was simply not enough to celebrate the life’s work of the beloved Crocodile Hunter. February 22nd , Steve Irwin’s birthday, was recently added as the second National Wildlife Day of the year.

In Irwin’s memory, spend the next National Wildlife Day learning more about endangered species and conservation efforts, donating to your favorite wildlife organization, or visiting a local zoo or sanctuary. After all, there’s no need to travel far when some of the world’s strangest animals can be found in your very own state.

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Brooke Nelson
Brooke Nelson is a researcher at PBS FRONTLINE in Boston, Massachusetts, and writes regularly about travel, health, and culture news for Reader’s Digest. Previously she was a staff writer at Reader's Digest. Her articles have also appeared on MSN, Business Insider, and Yahoo Finance, among other sites. She earned a BA in international relations from Hendrix College. Follow her on Twitter @BrookeTNelson.