For Eco-Tip 10-27-19
Local Zoos Place a Priority on Teaching to Help the Environment
By David Goldstein
A few weeks ago, at the Santa Barbara Zoo, I carried my nearly two-year-old son to the elephant enclosure, telling him about the times I went there with his older brothers and remembering the amazement we felt when visiting these majestic animals. My toddler, my wife, and I arrived, stood on the overlook, and saw that the enormous wire gates of the elephant enclosure were wide open.
A tractor drove into the enclosure and plowed the ground. The only remnant of the former inhabitants was a sign memorializing Little Mac, an Asian elephant, who died at the zoo last month. Her companion elephant, Sujatha, or Suzi, died a year before. Both lived past the average age of elephants in zoos, which is 46, according to Chris Abbott, the zoo’s Education Associate.
The memorial sign on the enclosure featured a photo of Little Mac, with a statement of tribute, noting she “inspired countless individuals to care more about the world around them.” Lauren Gonzales, the zoo’s Marketing Associate, later provided me with a quotation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, amplifying this text; animals in the zoo serve as “ambassadors for their wild counterparts.” People emotionally connect with zoo animals, and, she maintained, this leads to action to help the environment.
Further explaining the zoo’s educational message, painted on a nearby wall, on the path to the zoo’s exit, is a quotation from Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax. “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
The Santa Barbara Zoo is great at explaining more specifically what needs to “get better” if we are going to help animals in the wild. Nearly every exhibit carries a sign, not only identifying the animal and the animal’s natural habitat, but also providing examples of what zoo patrons can do to help those animals in the wild.
At the gorilla habitat, the sign explains the importance of recycling your old cell phone. “By recycling your cell phone and other small electronics in our ECO-CELL drop boxes, you can reduce the need for materials mined in and around gorilla habitat.”
At the zoo’s penguin pool, the sign says, “Choose Sustainable Seafood: There are only so many fish in the sea… Pick up a Seafood Watch card at either of the Zoo’s restaurants: it will help you make good choices for you and our oceans.
On the rail overlooking the zoo’s gibbon island, the sign explains a problem with palm oil. “…Indonesian and Malaysian forests are being cut down to create more farmland for palm oil, causing habitat loss for many animals. Choose treats made without palm oil, or that contain sustainably produced palm oil.”
Other signs urge zoo patrons to buy shade grown coffee, stay on trails when hiking, pick up old fishing line, use biodegradable detergent, and choose certified lumber.
Ventura County’s other local zoo, America’s Teaching Zoo and the associated Exotic Animal Training and Management program at Moorpark College, have a more obvious focus on education. In addition to the opportunities they provide for humans to form connections with animals, the zoo and program exist to train the next generation of experts in exotic animal care.
This career training program prepares student for jobs in a variety of animal care fields. The program’s approximately 50 annual graduates go on to care for and train animals for zoos, theme parks, wildlife education programs, movies and television, animal hospitals, wildlife rescue organizations, animal shelters, and research facilities.
Many animals at America’s Teaching Zoo were rescued from owners who had them illegally as pets. For example, Neil the Tiger was rescued last year, and the zoo is fundraising to provide a spacious, naturalistic habitat in place of his current enclosure.
The Moorpark College program is modest in its claims about likely salaries for graduates, emphasizing people go into these types of careers because of their love for animals, not out of a desire to get rich. The program’s web site admits many graduates start their careers at little more than minimum wage, and even “once you find your niche,” a typical salary may be only “upwards of 50,000 dollars per year.” However, the good news is, about 80 percent of graduates “find work in the field within six months of graduation. Many of the rest continue their education.”
Both zoos not only teach and preach about care for the animals and the environment, they also take responsibility for their own actions. The Santa Barbara Zoo keeps its animals’ manure separate from all other waste and has their hauler, MarBorg, take it to farmers who use it for fertilizer, according to Derek Carlson, MarBorg’s Business Manager. America’s Teaching Zoo at Moorpark College has an extensive recycling program on site and hosts a local chapter of the American Association of Zookeepers, holding fundraisers benefitting animals in the wild, according to Moorpark College Zoo Operations Supervisor Michlyn Hines.
The Moorpark Zoo, at 7075 Campus Rd, Moorpark, is open Saturdays and Sundays, 11-5, with Wildlife Education Shows at noon and 2 p.m. (805) 378-1441
The Santa Barbara Zoo, at 500 Ninos Dr, Santa Barbara, is open every day, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with earlier closure for holidays and special events. (805) 962-5339.