There are 191 animal holidays in 2015, according to the National Museum of Animals and Society in Los Angeles. The exact number depends on if you want to include things like National Estuaries Week and Dogs in Politics Day on your calendar alongside must-haves such as World Elephant Day, Earth Day, and the all-time favorite, Groundhog Day.
I started contemplating the animal holiday phenomenon after noticing that World Lion Day, on August 10, fell shortly after the killing of Cecil the Lion by American dentist Walter J. Palmer, which caught the media by storm in late July. It seemed opportune, if not serendipitous, for the lion celebration to occur in such close proximity to possibly the most attention America has afforded lions since the release of Disney’s The Lion King in 1994.
This led me to the interesting fact that International Tiger Day was around the same time, on July 29. Is there a reason the big cats are grouped together in the middle of the summer? I don’t know. What I do know is that International Tiger Day coincided closely with a new report revealing that there are only around 100 tigers left in Bangladesh’s Sundarbans forest, the world’s largest mangrove forest—far fewer than previously thought. Some 97% of all wild tigers have been lost in the last century, with as few as 3,000, an all-time low, found in the wild today.
With lions, tigers, bears, and many other animals facing the perilous dangers of a human-dominated world—itself reeling under the effects of human-caused climate change and environmental degradation—these animal holidays present a more lighthearted way to maintain a focus, year-after-year, on some very important issues.
In certain cases, as with the polar bear, the animals come to symbolize a greater cause, such as climate change. In other cases, such as Save the Eagles Day or National Animal Poison Prevention Week, the meaning is quite straightforward. Some, such as World Rat Day and World Ferret Day, we could probably do without.
In every case, the underlying issue is the challenge of co-existence between species in a world so dominated by humans and all of our needs, demands, wants, and whims.
Recent research has shown that in the last century, certain kinds of animals have gone extinct up to 100 times faster than usual. As of late, this has become known as the sixth mass extinction. Rather than being caused by natural disasters such as volcanic eruptions or asteroid collisions, this time around we have only ourselves to blame—a human-induced mass extinction.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List recently determined that more than 22,000 species of animals are threatened with extinction, with more than 1,400 of those threatened at least in part by climate change. If that doesn't paint a vivid enough picture, the WWF and the Zoological Society of London recently found that the number of wild animals on Earth has been cut in half in the last 40 years. This is about the same amount of time since animal holidays started gaining traction.
This correlation is likely to persist into the future.
“I think these animal holidays will become bigger,” Carolyn Merino Mullin, the founder and executive director of the National Museum of Animals and Society told Fusion. “It can be overload, but they also provide a platform for educators as well as fundraising opportunities.”
Mullin said the animal awareness events like animal holidays started to gain traction in the 1970s, especially with the Save the Whales campaign.
“Many humans didn’t connect with whales until then,” she said. “Then the first sounds of humpback whales were recorded and we realized they were really magical creatures.”
She also said the passage of the Endangered Species Act in 1973 boosted the movement.
In the four decades since, animal holidays have evolved to focus on other compelling and cute animals, but Mullin thinks climate change is shifting this trend to “the non-charismatic animals” that are also seeing a drastic change in their environment.
“Fish will be the next big animal holiday,” she said. “Fish numbers are plummeting.”
For now, there’s Crab Appreciation Day on February 17, Manatee Appreciation Day on March 25, and Save a Catfish Day on June 25.
From a humane perspective, Mullin said a few of these days are nothing to celebrate. For instance, Rattlesnake Round-Up Day in late January is traditionally a day when participants come together and kill rattlesnakes.
"It's super gruesome and barbaric," said Mullin. "Last year in Texas this particular event had almost 4,000 pounds of snakes."
In staying on message with their be-kind-to-animals mantra, the National Museum of Animals and Society renamed the day Rattlesnake Appreciation Day.
When not beating snakes, humans can also do good—and some of the most notable are acknowledged with their own days. There's a Henry Bergh Day honoring the founder of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. There's also Caroline Earle White’s Birthday, whom Mullin said opened the first animal shelter.
And then there's the designated months, to "raise super awareness," according to Mullin. September is National Disaster Preparedness Month. I've previously written about how Hurricane Katrina changed pet rescue forever. October is all about appreciating bats, a species that has been going through some hard times lately with millions of bat dying from white-nose syndrome in the last decade.
For a full list visit the National Museum of Animals and Society's website.