Recently we shared about a great new book from our friend Anna Clark, Green, American Style, and some of the creation and creature care themes it touches on, including endangered animals. This thoughtful post from Anna explores the critical implications of that last concern further ...
The zoo, the aquarium, the arboretum … it’s springtime and I’ve been thinking about activities to do with the kids. We have memberships to these places, so it’s easy to pop in and out to admire the exhibits. Today we might visit the “Wilds of Africa” at the zoo. Or perhaps we’ll take a look at the tropical fish tanks, the manatees, and the penguins at the aquarium. Or we could have a picnic in the lush gardens of the arboretum. How blessed I am to have such an abundance of flora and fauna within 15 minutes of my front door.
Then it occurred to me. There are many others – most, in fact - who don’t have that kind of access. When did nature become a luxury item?
I may never swim with the manatees in the Florida tributaries, dive with the sharks in Australian reefs, go on photo safari in Tanzania, take in the toucans in the jungle, see condors soar over South America, or mingle with penguins in Antarctica. Seeing these creatures in captivity might be my only chance, unless I have the good fortune to do more travel. In lieu of that, I use my memberships to support the organizations that can bring the wildlife to me.
But when preserving wildlife in captivity is left to the private sector, even fewer people will have access to the natural bounty of God’s creation. Entrance fees and time off are luxuries that most folks can’t afford. Besides, can we still call animals “wildlife” when they live in a cage? Is it still “nature” when it’s a man-made exhibit? What exists today runs a distant second to what God intended.
And God said, "Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky." So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living and moving thing with which the water teems, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. (Genesis 1:20‑21, NIV)
What is happening today is very bad. There are now 405 identified dead ocean zones worldwide, up from 49 in the 1960s (the Gulf of Mexico has a dead zone the size of New Jersey). Grey reef shark numbers have declined to around 3 percent of unfished levels, and they could collapse to one thousandth of their unfished levels within 20 years. In the last 100 years, leopards declined by 90 percent. Over half of Europe’s amphibians could be gone by 2050. At the current rate, half of all living bird and mammal species will be gone within 200 or 300 years.
Scientists have reached a consensus that this is not your typical “cyclical” occurrence in nature. Nearly one third of the world’s wildlife has been lost since 1970, according to a study released by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), World Wildlife Fund (WWF), and the Global Footprint Network. Tracking nearly 4,000 population trends for about 1,500 species, scientists found that populations of wild species have declined by 30 percent on land and in freshwater and marine ecosystems.
The current extinction rate is 10,000 times faster than the biological norm recorded in the fossil record. "You'd have to go back to the extinction of the dinosaurs to see a decline as rapid as this," said ZSL scientist Jonathan Loh, editor of the report. "In terms of human times-scales we may be seeing things change relatively slowly, but a decline of 30 percent in the space of a single generation is unprecedented in human history. Even at a more conservative rate of several hundred to 1,000 times over the natural rate of species loss, we are approaching a mass extinction.
Well, thank heavens for the zoo, the aquarium, and the arboretum. They may be the only places left on earth that can help me teach my kids about the world God intended. But where does that leave everyone else? Conservation will not be understood by many as long as so few have access to the natural wonders we’re seeking to conserve.
If we are blessed to be a blessing to others, then I’ve got some work ahead of me in order to bring knowledge, raise awareness, and engender appreciation for these creatures for as many as possible. I’m gratified by the field trips of students, many from disadvantaged backgrounds, who I see touring through these sites. But can one or two field trips per year cultivate enough appreciation to protect imperiled species? As ecologist Baba Dioum observed, “In the end we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught.”
There is no easy answer. I remind myself all the time that simply having access to nature is a luxury beyond measure. Next time I catch myself yearning for something material that I don’t have the money to buy, I’m going to run – not walk – to these places where I can see, at least for a time, the remainder of God’s most colorful wonders. They are treasures that money can’t buy, and they are disappearing.
(many thanks to Anna, a regular and valued contributor, for sharing "Creation in Captivity," originally posted at SustainLane Creation Care; Anna is president of EarthPeople, a Dallas-based sustainability consulting firm, and has a resource-rich personal site and blog Being the Change; photo of myself and sister courtesy our father Daryl DeVries, photo "Tomato Frog (Dyscophus antongilli), Maroansetra, Madagascar" courtesy Flickr user Frank Vassen (CC BY 2.0), via Wikimedia Commons)