Friday, June 01, 2012

Conflicted Interests

I started this post a few weeks ago, but after the NYT just took the subject on, I decided I should go for it. I thought it was a little too negative, but the stakes with endangered species are high no matter how you look at it.

I went through orientation to work at Zoo Boise this summer as a "Zoo Naturalist," and I went in with  few reservations.  I wasn't sure that even the best enclosures were quite good enough for wild animals.  I'm still not sure that they are, but now I have a slightly different attitude about it.  Zoos create an educational opportunity that can't be replicated anywhere else, and raise a ton of money for conservation.  I think of it a little like I do animal dissection in biology classes - it puts a few animals at a disadvantage so that people can learn more about them and be inspired to take the next step and really get into science and conservation.

As a kid, I was a totally annoying environmentalist who would give you crap for littering, and simply didn't understand why people use pesticides in producing food.  Through my life, I've gotten really alienated with environmentalism in general, and have struggled to understand it in a pragmatic way.  I'm hoping my time at Zoo Boise will help me get back in touch with my environmentalist side (it is extremely fun so far), and yeah, conservation is quite expensive, but that's why part of your admission to Zoo Boise goes to their conservation fund.

One thing that I was very impressed with is that one of the nature preserves Zoo Boise works with, Gorongosa National Park, is administered in such a way that things are tolerable for the people who live there.  Money doesn't just go to maintaining park grounds, but to health care facilities for neighboring people.

Mostly, I've never been able to balance out the human needs with the environmental ones, morally.  In general, I lean much more toward helping people than I do animals, and I've always been extremely grossed out by the imperialist overtones in a lot of conservation movements.

To illustrate something I think should work pretty well, The US is trying to reintroduce wolves to their natural range in the Western US.  A lot of Idahoans don't like it.  Even our governor wants to kill him some wolves.  Frankly, I don't get it.  We have replaced a lot of the herbivores that used to roam around here with domestic ones that we like to eat.  Oddly enough, wolves like to eat cows too.  Sometimes they kill one - usually the gov't will pay damages, and so will an environmental group.  What's the harm done, if you pretty much don't lose money on the venture?  Camping is a little scarier, but it's supposed to be a little tiny bit scary.  (Last week, a cougar was seen gallivanting around downtown Boise quite near my home.  Frankly, I stayed off the greenbelt for a few days.)


2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Your opinion toward animals just lost you a reader.

Sara E Anderson said...

So, I rarely get many comments, and I thought I'd engage this in case someone else has a similar opinion. I can understand, but I think I may not have really explained myself well. The ultimate goal of zoos and other study of nature is to make sure that we can figure out a reasonable way to allow biodiversity and humans to be on the same planet. That's going to take some innovation and continued enthusiasm from new thinkers. And definitely it takes some sacrifice on the part of people involved in biology and conservation, but in the end there are a lot more amur leopards stalking the forests of northeast Asia than there are in zoos.

If we don't have people working on this, these animals go extinct very, very soon. I don't know how one could prove the importance of the experience of seeing these animals close-up, but it's hard to match.