After exploring the Smithsonian National Zoo this past Monday, Alaskan natives Portugal. the Man performed “Endangered Song” for the first time live at a free concert courtesy of the zoo. The band, consisting of John Gourley (lead vocals, guitar), Zach Carothers (bass), Kyle O’Quinn (keys), and the returned Jason Sechrist (drums) played to a packed crowd of rock and roll conservationists, change echoed across Tiger Hill while Portugal. the Man tunes played over the zoo carousel as a part of the Endangered Song Project.
On Earth Day 2014, Portugal. the Man released, “Endangered Song” to help promote awareness about the devastatingly declining population of the Sumatran Tiger. As there are only 400 estimated left in the world (three of which are located at the National Zoo), the song was released in only 400 tangible copies encouraging digital sharing and reproduction.
But the band didn’t do it alone. The Endangered Song Project is the brainchild of The Smithsonian National Zoo and the Biological Institute with the help of creative minds at DDB Advertising who designed a campaign that shook traditional conservation to, as the #endangeredsong t-shirts put it, “ignite change.”
Fittingly, the song was released on polycarbonate vinyl that loses quality each time the record is played, literally going extinct with each listen. Even with crusading hipsters and music aficionados, vinyl has faced its challenges with extinction and survived, but will the Sumatran Tigers?
When I first caught noise about “Endangered Song,” from P.TM’s Instagram, I, like many others, was inspired. Although while sparking inspiration, I also faced a questions like, “Why the Sumatran and not the Bengal; why tigers period? Why not the Giant Panda or the African Elephant or the Great White shark?”
And while those questions were at first, valid (or at least I like to think so), Portugal. the Man put it best themselves in a Reddit AMA, “Because tigers are badass,” the real explanation is that it doesn’t matter what endangered species the zoo and Portugal. the Man are crusading for; what matters is that they are getting people of demographics that most conservation campaigns neglect to reach.
Craig Saffoe, big cat manager at the National Zoo said, “Money is great but ignorance is deadly.” Proving that you don’t need to make a giant donation (although any bit helps) to protect the depleted populations of endangered animals across the world. In fact, not spending money on certain products actually aids in the preservation of Sumatran Tigers. Aside from the obvious (i.e. pelts, tiger-bone products, meat, and hide), products with palm oil should be avoided as destroying palm forests for harvest also destroys the tigers’ natural habitat. And since the tiger is an umbrella species, protecting their environment protects the environment of tons of other animals as well. So while you may be like many who are struggling to account for their own survival without adding a donation to the ledger, there are easy ways to be proactive about saving fragile populations and ecosystems; the easiest simply being: spread the word.
And while the Sumatran Tigers are indeed badass (or super cute, depending on what camp you’re in), the Endangered Project is hardly just about the Sumatran Tigers, but actually about creating a conversation on conservation in a manner that it hasn’t been talked about before. “Endangered Song” has kids tweeting, and adults across all spectrums sharing; it’s viral, it’s inspiring, and it’s catchy. As a free song, “Endangered Song” also gives a nod to the declining music industry and how musicians need to adapt in order to make waves.
So while a free concert might not seem like the best way to save the Sumatran Tigers, the buzz created by it is inherently beneficial. Not to mention that this campaign, smartly marketed to reach a different audience, is ultimately succeeding in enlightening the uninformed that they too can make a difference.