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Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Endangered America

"Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn't mean politics won't take an interest in you."

- Pericles

I'm concerned.  Very concerned., if I'm going to be honest about it.  The Trump Administration is less than a week old, and already we've witnessed several moves against the Environmental Protection Agency, a reversal of the former administration's climate change policies, and more than a little noise about targeting the Endangered Species Act. 

I can't imagine that, in the current political climate, there's going to be too much support for reintroduction programs - the California condor program is doing well enough, but I fear very much for the future of wild red wolves.  Also, with the increased emphasis on "America First" and pulling back our involvement in the international community, I worry about our country losing our leadership role in the fight to save endangered species on a global level.

... and, if that weren't enough, the federal government also oversees the Smithsonian National Zoo.  While I'd very much doubt that the zoo - perhaps the single most popular aspect on the federal government - is in much danger, I do worry about it's Front Royal facility, the Conservation Biology Institute.  So overlooked, so seldom seen, so... easily swept away.  It's not idle paranoia, either.  The facility, which has done so much to save so many endangered species, from the avifauna of the Marianas to the endangered antelope of North Africa, was almost shuttered during George W. Bush Administration, part of the cost-cutting measures favored by Bush's Secretary of the Smithsonian, Lawrence Small.

It's very easy for zoo and aquarium folks to hide their heads from the problems surrounding us.  We can maintain that we have to be neutral, or that it's not our place, or that we risk the wrath of politicians if we speak up.  All of that is true.  What is also true is that we risk losing species that we value and the habitats that support them.  But then again, as a cynical buddy of mine recently quipped in response to the announced changes,  "The good news is that, pretty soon all the animals will be extinct in the wild, then everyone will support zoos, right?"

Zoos and aquariums need to be leaders for conservation, and they need to be smart about it.  That means not ignoring the issues, and it also means not making self-destructive statements.  We need to engage - not only our visitors with educational messages, but our political leadership.  Lobby for responsible environmental management.  Reach out to local politicians about local environmental issues.  Champion local endangered species, then work our way up.  Make sure we are setting an example of proper environmental stewardship.

Presidents and politicians come and go.  Some will be supportive of wildlife and wild places.  Others... less so.  No matter who sits in the Oval Office, no matter if it is an election year or not, zoos and aquariums need to make sure that they are campaigning for the animals.

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