SunSpecial: Give and Take   Leave a comment

The Endangered Species Act, enacted in 1973 to preserve and protect plant and wildlife species threatened by habitat loss; pollution; pesticides and poisons; environmental change; and other challenges, has succeeded in saving dozens of species from extinction – plants and animals that would be gone today if not for protection the Act provides. Yet the law is neither a sharp-edged sword, nor an impregnable shield. For the action to be passed by Congress, considerations and concerns had to be addressed (just as they are with any law as it’s virtually impossible for Congress to agree on anything). One concession written into the law is, unfortunately, the acceptance of a certain number of individuals allowed as ‘take’; which is a less shocking way of saying ‘harm’ or ‘kill’. ‘Take’ has been defined as any actions that: “harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture or collect” endangered, threatened, or otherwise protected species. The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has also determined that “harm” includes “significant habitat modification or degradation.” Therefore, any actions that could harm an environment that is home to a protected species is itself, protected, and this has been put into action at times when entire ecosystems have been set aside for the benefit of individual species.

But just last month, this aspect of the law was applied not to a developer wanting to fill in wetlands for construction; nor a logging company planning to clear-cut a forest; nor in response to re-routing streams and the distribution of water; but to, of all organizations, a zoo for mistreatment of animals. Today’s modern zoos and animal parks, by definition, are committed to the care, management, protection, and sustainability of wildlife and wild places, and to public education of the species in their care. Any officially recognized zoo (and we’re talking both large and small organizations) has to achieve significant and often very difficult standards of animal care; management and leadership; development and planning; educational programming; community service; health and safety for animals, staff, and guests; and be financially stable to achieve these standards. The zoological accreditation agency – the AZA – applies continuous checks and balances to help zoos reach and maintain these goals and if the zoo should fail at any obligation, its accreditation could be withdrawn and support lost.

A wolf confined to a small cement and wire cage while some random person sticks his fingers through the wire. Who's in more danger, the wolf or the person?

A wolf confined to a small cement and wire cage while some random person sticks his fingers through the wire. Who’s in more danger, the wolf or the person?

Not any place who calls themselves a ‘Zoo’ holds, or even attempts to reach, these high standards. Many roadside attractions that advertise ‘pet the bear’ or ‘feed the tiger’ or ‘play with the ostriches’ (which, themselves, are all activities expressively prohibited by the AZA as being potentially dangerous to both animals and guests) are not ‘zoos’ but just animal collections. In these ‘mom and pop’ animal sideshows, care is often poor; health not addressed; living conditions a minimum; and it’s not unusual for animals to suffer and die with no one knowing (or particularly caring). The animals, themselves, are usually pets someone thought would be fun to have as babies, but soon grow into large, hungry, powerful adult animals that are always wild (there’s no such thing as a ‘tame’ wild animal). In some situations, animals were purposely bought and sold for use in roadside zoos, never knowing freedom – or taken from the wild to live a life being poked and prodded while confined within in a small plywood and cement enclosure. So on February 11 when the United States District Court ruled the Cricket Hollow Zoo of Iowa had violated the Endangered Species Act by failing to provide adequate sanitation, veterinary care, and appropriate environmental conditions to tigers and lemurs, it was a significant step forward toward upholding the Act not only as a rule for species in the wild; but for all threatened wild species. By lack of care, the Court determined the animals had suffered harassment within the regulations of the Endangered Species Act and this decision was supported through experts in animal care and zoological management including veterinarians and Department of Agriculture inspectors. The final decision stated that the endangered species held at Cricket Hollow must be transferred to a licensed facility with the ability to properly care for the animals and the zoo could no longer hold nor display endangered species.

Accredited, well-managed, and responsible zoos are somewhat of a contradiction; their entire purpose is to protect, preserve, and educate us, the public, about wildlife and wild places while at the same time holding animals that may never again return to those wild places (Most experts believe that within the next 50 years the only surviving polar bears will be in zoos, the entire wild population extinct due to climate change; and in only 20 years rhinoceros may be gone from the wild with only a small population living in zoos). The last individual Passenger Pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius), only 200 years ago widespread in the millions across much of North America, survived a natural lifespan only because it was protected in a zoo. But there are success stories too, such as the California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus), once down to only 22 individuals but through the help of zoos and research institutions now established within portions of its historic environment. No one wants a wild, free animal held in a space only a fraction of its normal territory. But the world these species knew for generations is gone, forever changed by man. And for some animals to survive – and for humans to learn and understand these wild-life; our decisions, and our actions, and our management today might be their, and our, last hope.


Michonne Says: I’ve never seen one of those ‘zoos’, but it doesn’t sound like anyplace I’d like to live, even if you do get all you want to eat and no one’s going to eat you. The zooses sound crowded and noisy and hot and without very much adventure. Sometimes men say they live in places like that too. Are those zoos for men?

Posted March 20, 2016 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in SunSpecial

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