Monday, May 09, 2011

Wildlife: A Love Story

I get that there are huge problems with zoos. And I can imagine that dealing with crowds of people isn't fun for the animals. But I also get that if we don't convince our young people that nature and wildlife really matter, on a visceral, emotional level, we're headed for really bad trouble.

What's your take on this?


Makarios said...

They took all the trees, and put 'em in a tree museum
And they charged the people a dollar and a half to see them
No, no, no, don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got till it's gone
They paved paradise, and put up a parkin' lot

--Joni Mitchell, "Big Yellow Taxi"

Zoos aren't nature, and zoo animals aren't wildlife, except perhaps in a technical sense.

I suspect--although I could be wrong--that the disconnection of consciousness and emotion from nature is less of an issue for rural kids than for those who live in the city.

Perhaps urban youngsters could be sent, at an appropriate age, to work at a farm during the summer break. Yes, farm animals are domesticated, and the natural environment has been shaped and molded to fit human requirements, but the children would still have daily, interactive contact with fur, feather, and fin, with earth and water, wind and tree. They might just begin to develop a healthy understanding of the relatedness of one thing to another.

And it would help, of course, if the parents set a good example. At the very least, they could, every now and then, pull the plug on the Nintendo and shoo the kids outdoors to get acquainted with the local flora, fauna, and geography.

Morwyn said...

Though I love zoo's and will be visiting one this month on a field trip with daughter, I always feel sad upon leaving. I feel bad for the animals that will never be able to roam free.

I am not sure about the interaction with animals in the zoo. It looks fun, but again, I feel bad for them.

thalassa said...

The last class I took for my biology degree was in conservation biology, and the last topic that we discussed was that of zoos. I understand that people have some issues with zoos for various reasons...but I think a lot of that comes from the mistaken idea that a zoo is just a place with a bunch of animals in a cage to point at or something. And, for some people, I'm pretty sure that is all they see when they go.

But, in truth, zoos play an incredibly important role in maintaining diversity (both genetic, within the species and biological, between species) and preserving areas in the wild as well though their partnership with other institutions and their educational programs both at home and abroad.

For part of its WildCare Institute, the St. Louis zoo operates several programs in the Midwest to breed and release organisms that are in decline in their natural habitat, as well as to study why they are in decline and what can be done about it--two of note are for the conservation of the Hellbender and the American Burying Beetle. Additionally, the zoo operates several international centers that work in conjunction with the local governments and organizations to protect organisms, such as their lemur conservation program in places Madagascar and their Humbolt Penguin program in Peru, with the intention of making these programs self-sustaining by the local populations.

Whether you like them or not, zoos do a very important job--the IUCN's Red List (the "official" global listing of threatened and endangered species) is long, and if not for their efforts, many more species would be extinct.

...and now that I'm off my soapbox, I'll just say that think a good start for parents (because I think people forget how much they can do in their own backyard or neighborhood park) would be the Green Hour/Be Out There campaign by the National Wildlife Federation.