Bipolar. That’s how I felt after tonight’s presentation by Amy Gotliffe, our Director of Conservation.
On the one hand, we heard heart-breaking stories of what is happening to animals everywhere.
On the other hand, we heard heartwarming stories about what our Zoo is doing to protect and preserve animals and their habitats.
Which would you like first? The good news or bad? I’ll give you the bad first so we can end on an upbeat note:
One in five animals is in danger of extinction. That’s 20%, right? We are losing animals faster than their species can evolve to adapt to the changes humans have made to the planet in the last 35 years.
Illegal killing and collection of animals for Asian medicine, bushmeat and the pet trade is a huge cause of animal death and suffering. Sun bears are placed in “crush cages” so their bile can be extracted. Chimps are trapped in snares where their limbs are torn off, and everything from parrots to monkeys to lions are captured to sell to stores, auctions, and over the internet.
I was shocked to learn that the money made off the black market for pets is second only to the drug trade. In Central America up to 80% of the tropical birds captured and exported die before they reach their destination, but there’s still enough profit left to make the pet trade a major cause of animal endangerment.
Fashion is another killer of wild animals and a high-profit industry that supplies the endless market for ivory, leather, snakeskin, fur coats and other status symbols.
Amy suggested that we not lecture our friends who have these items, but we shouldn’t compliment them, either. There’s nothing beautiful about killing animals for vanity.
We have to ask ourselves where we Westerners fit into the economics of all this. Amy pointed out that seafood is our version of bushmeat and we are wiping out entire species of fish like Chilean sea bass and King crab by unsustainable fishing and fish farming.
If we accept as pets animals like Amazon parrots, Gila Monsters, and even ocelots and tigers, which either come directly from the wild or were bred from parents that did, how can we criticize Africans for selling their own wildlife? Every time a wild animal is bought as a pet, a slot opens up for another one to be captured and killed in transit or sold.
I told you this was depressing.
Habitat loss is another reason species are disappearing daily. Entire forests are being cleared so that we can mine the Coltan mineral used in our cellphones and electronics. As a result, the Mountain Gorilla population in the Congo has gone from 258 five years ago to 130 at last count. This mining is just as bad for people: it has brought slavery and violence to the Congo.
Habitats are being destroyed every day to give us lumber, paper, palm oil, precious metals… things we use without giving it a thought. People need to feed their families, though, so many of our projects abroad are to help locals develop alternatives to killing their wildlife.
Our own wild animals here in the Bay Area—bobcats, coyotes, mountain lions—are losing out like grizzlies, elk, and wolves did a century ago. We want to build on their land,
hike on their hills and then when they are forced to meet us face to face, we want them killed. More often than not, they are killed because of property damage, not because of threats to human safety. As Amy said, we are hardly role models for the rest of the world when our needs conflict with animals’.
That brings me to the good part
Whew! Thought I’d never get to this but our Oakland Zoo is involved in dozens of projects here and around the world to stop this steady death spiral. I’ll just name a few we learned about tonight:
The Budongo Snare Removal Project is supported solely by the Zoo to help chimps in Uganda who are being swept up accidentally in snares left for animals that are wanted for food. This project has turned former hunters into conservationists and is a model for programs in other countries.
The Zoo supports with staff and supplies the Kibale Fuel Wood Project to offer residents in Uganda an alternative to clearing their forest for cooking fuel.
In the Bay area our Zoo supports The Bay Area Puma Project to help protect our local wildcats through research and judicious use of dart guns.
California Condors are coming back from near-extinction and our Zoo is building a facility to help treat those that have lead poisoning from the buckshot they pick up in their food.
We already learned about our Head Start program for the Western Pond Turtles (ZAM Day 4) and there are many, many more conservation efforts the Zoo supports through donations, supplies, staff and public education.
Our new “Quarters for Conservation” program is raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for projects Zoo visitors vote for with tokens they receive on admission.
On top of direct help to animals, the Zoo does its part by recycling, composting and using solar panels and hybrid or electric vehicles.
If you’re like me, you might feel overwhelmed by the size of the need and how urgent it is. I have an ache in my stomach just thinking about it right now. At least as a docent and volunteer I will be able to get directly involved in helping people understand that our choices have consequences.
A few easy things we can do right now
• Don’t flush kitty litter. The bacteria in cat feces isn’t killed by sewer treatment and is sickening the endangered sea otters.
• Don’t buy exotic or wild pets including reptiles and tropical birds. Here’s the listing of illegal pets in California.
• Recycle your cellphones at the Zoo and demand that electronics companies develop gorilla-friendly technologies. You’ll get a free train ticket and the phones will go to a group that refurbishes them to reduce the need for more Coltan. Write a letter to your cellphone maker today.
• Eat sustainably harvested fish. To get a list of what to avoid, go to Monterey Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program. You can print a pocket guide that makes choosing the right fish easy.
• Buy handmade products from the Zoo’s Conservation section of the gift shop. Sales of jewelry and other items help support people in Africa so they won’t have to kill wild animals to live.
• Volunteer to make a difference.
I’m sure Amy’s complete list of things we can do would take a hundred blogs, but we have to start somewhere and I am going to go write Apple this minute about Coltan mining.