Tuesday, January 18, 2011

shine on you crazy diamond

Youthful enthusiasm is not attractive in a simple minded 20-something art school drop out. But it's very attractive, and even inspiring, in an intelligent preteen girl. I had the most awesome conversation with such a girl at the zoo recently. I was in my docent uniform, and she came right up to me and said, "Isn't this just all bunk?" She then launched into an angry critique of zoos, zoo visitors, and the legitimacy and purpose of keeping captive animals for our own amusement. Love that youthful righteousness! And I love that she was then willing to listen to everything I had to say, and to discuss the topic at length and consider alternate views. Smart girl! I told her that all of her passion and opinions were totally valid, and then explained why I think quality zoos are important. We talked about education and conservation; how zoos support research, both within their own facilities and out in the wild, that helps to preserve species and ecosystems worldwide; the history of zoos and how standards have improved dramatically in recent decades; how zoo keepers work hard to provide enrichment activities to keep our animals healthy and stimulated; the impact of population growth, the ivory trade, and the bushmeat industry; Jane Goodall, and the abstract concepts of patience and hope. Yes, lots of people come to the zoo and laugh at the funny animals, eat some popcorn, and go home without any thought beyond their own immediate pleasure. But if we can reach even a fraction of those people, and turn on a tiny light in a new part of their brain about how awesome animals are and how important it is to respect and protect our planet, maybe it's all worthwhile. Maybe. You can still debate it, but personally, that's what motivates me to be involved with the zoo. But change doesn't happen over night. You have to be patient, and help effect change in whatever small ways you can, with the underlying belief that eventually human consciousness will make that crucial shift and find a way to live more harmoniously with this planet that is our only home. By the end of our conversation, my young friend was telling me that she wants to be a scientist (What kind? All kinds!), and a politician, and a singer. Why the hell not? And then she gave me a little lollipop and thanked me for talking with her. Made my day.

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