Preservation and conservation are both processes that protect the environment, but their approaches are somewhat different. The goal of preservation is to protect the environment from the harmful effects of human activity.


9 - 12


Biology, Ecology, Earth Science, Climatology, Geography, Human Geography


Buffalo and Crane

Wildlife and land preservation efforts help protect diverse wildlife populations such as this Asian water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis) and grey heron (Ardea cinrea) in Yala National Park, Sri Lanka.

Photograph by Cezary Wojtkowski
Wildlife and land preservation efforts help protect diverse wildlife populations such as this Asian water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis) and grey heron (Ardea cinrea) in Yala National Park, Sri Lanka.

The words preservation and conservation are often used interchangeably, but the two concepts are quite different. Conservation protects the environment through the responsible use of natural resources. Preservation protects the environment from harmful human activities. For example, conserving a forest typically involves sustainable logging practices to minimize deforestation. Preservation would involve setting aside part or even all of the forest from human development.

Why is preservation necessary? In 1800, the world’s population was one billion people. Today it is over seven billion—and continues to rise. An increase in people means greater demand for water, food, lumber, and other resources that come from natural environments. Increasing demand can drive people to exploit resources, even in regions well protected by preservation laws. Dzanga-Ndoki National Park is a protected region in Central Africa. Yet in 2013, poachers entered the region and killed 26 elephants for their tusks.

Successful preservation efforts often rely on shared responsibility between communities, organizations, and governments. In China, preserving the giant panda’s (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) habitat over the last decade has increased the panda population. As a result, in 2016 the panda was removed from the endangered species list and reclassified as “vulnerable,” which is a step in the right direction.

Wetlands are also hotspots for preservation. Wetlands improve water quality and minimize flooding and erosion. The Okavango Delta is the largest freshwater wetland in Africa. In 2015, National Geographic Explorer Steve Boyes launched the Okavango Wilderness Project to preserve a region that provides over 95 percent of the water to this delta.

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Tyson Brown, National Geographic Society
National Geographic Society
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Gina Borgia, National Geographic Society
Jeanna Sullivan, National Geographic Society
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Sarah Appleton, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
Margot Willis, National Geographic Society
Last Updated

May 9, 2024

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