In the pet world there are generally dog people, cat people and “other” people. In the zoo world it’s more expansive: elephant people, ape people, monkey people, hot (venomous) snake people, passerine people, raptor people, crocodilian people, invertebrate people, and the list goes on. Whatever it may be, there’s someone who is working for its continued survival.
I don’t know why we focus on what we do. I’m a bit of a generalist myself, although the path of my career has been dominated by mammals and primates in particular. I have to admit that snakes aren’t my forte. That’s probably rooted in a bit of a negative cultural bias, lack of exposure and lack of experience which leads to an uneasiness around them. All of which is a self-perpetuating cycle that maintains the status quo. Due to my line of work, I have gotten off that cycle a bit and respect and understand their place in nature. The Earth wouldn’t be what it is without them.
Snakes aren’t the only animals some people can’t get on board with, for whatever reason they may have. I have a friend who says she was scared by the flying monkeys from the “Wizard of Oz” movie when she was young, so she’d just as soon not work with primates. Another says primates are just too smart. Some colleagues who are enthusiastic about venomous snakes (even those that could kill you with one bite) wonder at the people who work with elephants, animals powerful enough to flatten you if the wrong situation arose and vice versa. But work with them or not, we appreciate each species’ place on the planet and their role in the grand scheme of things.
While each animal has those that aren’t interested or singing its praises, each also has its champions. Those are the folks that see the beauty and the wonder of the species rather than the perceived negatives, which, if we’re to be honest with ourselves, we all have, including us humans. Maned wolves at times have a musky smell that may make you want to turn and go the other way, but for the maned wolf, it’s how things are meant to be. It would simply be wrong if they smelled like a rose or a human for that matter.
The differences between all the species of the world is what makes the world interesting and able to handle most of the changes that occur. If an environment grows hot, one species may flourish while another does not. A disease sweeps through wiping out some but others survive to carry on. The differences make us stronger. Instead of not bothering to learn about something because it’s different or only focusing on what we see as the negatives, we should be intrigued and open to accepting and appreciating the differences as well as understanding the consequences of not maintaining that diversity. We’re all different and we’re all interwoven in the web of life.
Sometimes the relationships are hard to see, but they’re there. Bits and pieces of our trash find their way to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (a floating mass of trash between Hawaii and California). The plastics degrade and damage marine life over time. Birds and other animals will eat bits of the trash too, endangering or ending their lives. Many people count on fish as a major part of their food supply. See the relationship? Like the spider web that is weakened when a strand is broken, our web is also weakened when a species as a whole is harmed or disappears. It’s in our own interest to learn, understand and protect.
It all comes down to the sentiment expressed in the oft quoted statement of Baba Dioum, a Senegalese environmentalist, “In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; we will understand only what we are taught.” Come by the zoo and let us share with you the wonder of the diversity of nature.
Visit our website at www.leerichardsonzoo.org.