One of the enjoyable things we did on our recent vacation was to visit the San Diego Zoo, which is really a most impressive place that I can recommend to all those who find themselves in that neck of the woods. The Zoo covers 100 acres and has thousands of plants and animals from all over the world.
At each animal station, in addition to identifying the animals in the exhibit, the signs also tell how far along any given animal is on the road to extinction and what the causes of extinction are. Impressively for those of us here in America, most of the animals closest to extinction got there, not because of global warming or because of our lust for teak or mahogany, but because of cultural norms in the animals’ native habitats, norms over which we have no control. To put it plainly, they are being hunted to extinction by people who like to eat them or wear them at the local level. This is true for animals in Africa, the Philippines, and various places in Asia.
In terms of animal survival, the only thing we can do is convince indigenous populations that their habits are destroying the animals around them. Failing that, our only other option is to collect those animals and place them in zoos, so that their survival is ensured someplace, if not in their places of origin.
Incidentally, on the subject of preservation, one of the things I liked about the zoo was the fact that the endangerment message, while omnipresent, was not overboard. The zoo acknowledges that humans have to live. So, rather than advocating a return to a pre-industrial world with a limited number of human inhabitants, the zoo simply encourages good stewardship. It advises people to lessen their beef eating, since that requires a lot of water; to recycle aluminum, since aluminum production is apparently responsible for a lot of rain forest destruction; and to think twice about decorative goods made from exotic animals. In other words, my two favorite concepts — (1) waste not, want not and (2) avoid ostentation.
(And, by the way, the message about rain forests seems to be reaching some source countries, since Brazil is boasting that its rain forest destruction is slowing.)
UPDATE: This sweet little guy is a perfect example of the point I’m making in my post.