Vice President of Conservation, Peter Riger is visiting Borneo to find out how the Houston Zoo can be of further assistance in the race to save Asian wildlife.
Why should I care? That is an odd question, but extremely relevant in today’s world. Some of the challenges we face are growing human population, water and food shortages, and competition for other natural resources between human-to-human and wildlife-to-human.
Why should we care about wildlife and wild places? There has to be some value in protecting not only species but complete ecosystems. Believe it or not, they really do sustain life and without animals – from insects to elephants – these systems will falter.
But if you live in a country that does not have a wild population of elephants, why should you care? They do not walk through your crops, threaten your livelihoods and other than viewing them at a zoo or on tv, they most likely are not something you think about.
I worry about this constantly. How do we make you care enough to want elephants or any other species to survive? I am not really sure of the answer. We can inspire you to care, individualize the animal, tell you it’s story and let you look into it’s eyes through photography or even a visit to the zoo. Your children can care enough to make you care but what is the conservation action that someone living in the US can take part in to protect elephants? Donate to a worthy project? Take a stand on banning ivory products? Is just caring enough? I do not have the answer.
This thought began again when I was at a colleague’s home here in Borneo and I picked up a book called London Zoo from Old Photographs 1859-1914 ( if you find a copy please let me know as Amazon has a used one listed for $265.00 which is $230.00 more than I am willing to pay). The photo depictions by today’s standards of zoo’s were not great by any means. Zoos in the late 1800′s collected an individual, did what they could to keep it alive, and then replaced it. Sad, tragic, and consistent with a mentality that prevailed 150 years ago.
What I was looking for were certain animals that they might have kept, species that are now extinct, and I thought to myself if they could have held on to these just a decade or two more until they could figure out their care and management, those species would still be with us. It was not the collecting of 5 individual Quagga that drove the animal to extinction, it was already gone from the wild. The last Thylacines on the planet, known as a Tasmanian Tiger, lived longer in the zoo then it’s wild counterparts. There were subspecies in the book I am sure are gone. There was a monk seal photo, if it was the Caribbean, then it is also extinct.
A few others I was amazed they had were collected back in the 1800′s. The Saiga Antelope most likely numbered near one million when London Zoo displayed theirs. Now the population is on the brink of extinction. The “Hairy” Sumatran Rhino, of which only ~100 now exist, is speculated to be in the numbers of 20-25 in Borneo. They had the Madagascar Aye-Aye and Fossa (both survive in the wild today) and some odd looking equids and antelope I fear may be gone.
I guess what I am rambling on about is if we have the ability to save a species, then we need to do so. It is on our collective conscience to do so if we can. As individuals or conservation organizations, we need to find a way to make it happen regardless of the delicate nature of local politics. We have enough tools at hand to work with local communities to protect their wildlife and reduce the illegal trade in wildlife parts as well as protect necessary habitat.
The last thing I want to do ten years from now is look at a book called Zoo Photos from the Year 1975-2015 and count the number of species that have gone extinct knowing we could have kept it from happening.