Anti-Depressants For Docents
Laura Davis, Betty Dunger, Judy Fox, Richard Fox, Sharon Mulligan, Jan Nash, Lauri Pecsok, Barbara VonBenken, and Leonard VonBenken
Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, Cleveland, Ohio
Does it sometimes seem to you that the only news these days is bad news, especially when the subject is nature or the environment? The media are brimming over with stories of this and that environmental hazard, not the least of which is war, and of this and that species of animal teetering on the very brink of extinction. Everything seems to be heading toward planetary loss on a gargantuan scale. At least, that’s the way it has seemed to me (Barb) lately.
This issue was brought to the forefront of my mind at last year’s conference when I attended Katie Slivovsky’s presentation entitled “Save the Elephants: Don’t Buy Ivory Soap.” Katie’s paper recommended that docents interpret serious subjects and issues to children on a level that they can understand, without so overwhelming them as to cause them to either “tune out” the bad news or be “turned off” to nature altogether.
Although children were the subjects of Katie’s presentation, it struck me that I was in similar danger of either tuning out or being turned off. I shared this concern with some of my fellow docents, and we agreed that in our continuing desire to keep ourselves informed, we can’t help but hear more and more discouraging news about the planet under our stewardship.
What can we do to prevent burnout and depression?
At the risk of coming off like 21st century Pollyannas, our only defense against this problem is to consciously focus on the positive. With that in mind, we would like to share with you some of our favorite wildlife success stories:
Cheetahs. With only 12,000 cheetahs remaining in the wild, many efforts are ongoing around the world to ensure the future of this beautiful big cat. Laurie Marker’s Cheetah Conservation Fund, founded in 1990, has been working to preserve the cheetah’s habitat in Namibia by, among other things, fostering the use of trained guard dogs to protect the local farmers’ livestock. Ms. Marker’s success in convincing the local farmers to buy into this cooperative effort makes this a win-win situation for all involved.
In 2001, ten “unreleasable” cheetahs were sent from Namibia to the United States to participate in an international breeding program. Studies on these animals to date have been limited to hormonal analyses. Breeding is also a focus of Fossil Rim, a non-profit learning and conservation center located in Glen Rose, Texas, and British Columbia’s Mountain View Conservation and Breeding Center, one of the modern arks dedicated to the preservation of endangered genetic material for the future.
Finally, institutions like the New Orleans, Cincinnati, Henry Doorly, National, Riverbanks, St. Louis and San Diego zoos are freezing the eggs and sperm of endangered species, including the cheetah, to prevent their extinction. They are also saving these animals’ reproductive cells for use as “booster shots” of fresh genetic material for any species which might go genetically awry. Through these and other efforts at saving this beautiful animal, we have reason to be optimistic about the cheetah’s future.
Bald Eagles. Bald eagles were common when settlers first arrived in what is now Ohio. However, as forests were destroyed to make way for farms, the eagles lost the large trees they needed for their nests, and populations began to decline in the eighteenth century, through the nineteenth century and into the first half of the 20th century. Then the use of DDT after World War II, which impacted so much of our environment, either left the eagles sterile or so weakened the shells of their eggs that the shells broke under the weight of the incubating parents. This caused so critical a decline that bald eagles were officially declared an endangered species in 1967.
Once the use of DDT was linked to the decline of many wildlife species, the pesticide was banned in 1972. Unfortunately, this ban did not magically bring the bald eagle back, either in Ohio or the United States as a whole. In 1979, seven years after the ban, bald eagle numbers continued to be precariously low: from 15 pairs in 1959, Ohio’s population dropped to only four pairs in 1979.
In 1979, the Ohio Division of Wildlife began a bald eagle restoration project. One goal of this project was to add young eagles to the resident population and eventually increase the breeding population. Eaglets from various zoos and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service were placed in the nests of eagles whose eggs had failed to hatch. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources contributed to the project by building nesting platforms, acquiring and restoring wetlands in known eagle breeding areas, rehabilitating sick and injured eagles, spearheading intense education efforts aimed at landowners and the public, and increasing enforcement efforts around nest sites, especially during the critical nesting season. ODNR established a goal of 20 nesting pairs of bald eagles in Ohio by the year 2000.
By 1988, Ohio had twelve nesting pairs; and by 1990, twenty pairs. 47 pairs which produced 44 fledglings were recorded in 1998, and in 1999, 57 pairs raised 72 eaglets. In 2000, 63 breeding pairs reared 89 young; and in 2001, 74 nests produced 106 eaglets. 79 nests have already been located this year. Thus, Ohio’s goal of 20 nesting pairs of bald eagles by the year 2000 was actually reached in 1990, ten years ahead of schedule, and the actual number of nesting pairs in the year 2000 was more than three times the goal.
Rhinos. Several countries and organizations are working to save the rhino. Zimbabwe’s Sebakwe Black Rhino Trust was formed in 1989 to establish the Midlands Black Rhino Conservancy which, in its first 5 years, raised 100,000 Pounds Sterling to purchase land and equipment, install electric fencing, and train and employ guards and scouts.
Among its patrons are Jane Goodall and Anna Merz. The Conservancy is comprised of 100,000 hectares of land owned by 18 local farmers and supports forty black rhino, several white rhino, and other wild species integrated with grazing cattle. These farmers have removed their internal fences and contribute financially to the Conservancy’s security and protection against poachers. They have also built several small lodges for visitors interested in walking and photographic safaris. Kenya’s Tsavo Research Center, whose primary focus is lions, is also working on black rhino conservation, with goals similar to those of the Sebakwe Trust.
The World Wildlife Fund, who is helping the countries of Namibia and Tanzania coordinate their efforts to provide rhino safe refuge, has set up an Emergency African Rhino Fund to provide emergency and strategic response to rhino conservation and management demands on short notice.
Thomas Foose, Program Director of The International Rhino Foundation, which is exclusively concerned with rhino conservation worldwide, has reported that two kinds of rhino that have prospered the most in recent years, the southern white and the Indian, have recovered very well. The population of each of these had gone down to 20-40 individuals in the early part of the 20th century due to over-exploitation.
On September 13, 2001, a 63-pound baby Sumatran rhino was born at the Cincinnati Zoo; this is the first captive birth of a Sumatran rhino in 112 years. The baby’s mother had previously miscarried five pregnancies within the first 3 months. The zoo staff plans to carefully document the calf’s physical and behavioral growth, including regular plaster casts of his widening hooves. This data will help rhino census-takers track and protect calves in the wild: Sumatran rhinos are so elusive they’re counted by hoof prints.
Andean Condors. Andean condors have been extirpated in Venezuela since the early 1900’s and they are endangered in the other significant parts of their range. Although they are the national bird of Venezuela, until recently most citizens of that country could not tell you anything about the bird. Efforts to reintroduce the bird in 1992-93 were unsuccessful; ten condors were released and 50% of them were shot within a few months.
In 1996, a non-profit organization called BioAndina was formed, funded by Cleveland Metroparks Zoo (CMZ) and currently directed by an energetic and passionate woman named Maria Rosa Cuesta. BioAndina instituted a massive education program in Venezuela to acquaint the populace with their condor and then began a reintroduction program.
The education program includes an interpretive center near the holding and release site of new birds. The center receives visits from school children and adults. The manager of the center also goes out to schools in the country, often taking one of the non-releasable birds with him. As a result of the education program attitudes have changed greatly. There are now multiple businesses throughout the country proudly using the condor as a business logo. 15 birds have been so far released, with only one loss. A pair of condors (brought in from the U.S.) in the zoo in Mèrida produced a chick on Earth Day 2001. She is the first chick to hatch in Venezuela in over 100 years, and her hatching was greeted with great appreciation by the media, the government and the citizens who came to view her. She will soon be released in the mountains and her parents are again sitting on eggs.
Additional good news is that in the neighboring country of Columbia, the condor population has doubled in the past 10 years. Furthermore, multiple countries in South America have come together for a conference on condors, sharing information and looking for ways to improve the situation of the condor in their own countries.
While the problem is not resolved, things are definitely looking up for the condor.
Wolves. The reintroduction of the gray wolves is considered to be the greatest reintroduction success story in history. Although there was a time when, through ignorance, we drove wolves almost to extinction in the lower
48 states, there were still great numbers in Alaska and Canada, and there remained a viable population in Minnesota. Today, the Minnesota wolves have recovered almost two-thirds of that state and even spread into Wisconsin and Michigan. Canadian wolves are making their way across the US border back into some of our northwestern states.
The Rocky Mountain Reintroduction in Idaho and Yellowstone have done much better, much earlier than originally anticipated. While we haven’t yet reached the goal of 10 breeding pairs for 3 successive years, there are over 250 wolves in 25 packs, distributed between Yellowstone and the surrounding area. One female from Yellowstone was recently found to have traveled as far as Washington State, while another female from Idaho wandered into Oregon.
The Mexican wolf was also near extinction. Through captive breeding programs and an active Species Survival Plan, the year 2001 brought the birth of the first wild-born pup, and thirty wolves in eight packs now roam the forests of New Mexico and Arizona. The red wolf once faced a similar fate, and now 60-100 roam wild in North Carolina.
Golden Lion Tamarins. The combined effects of the pet trade and deforestation have made the golden lion tamarin one of the world’s most endangered mammals. Happily, the Golden Lion Tamarin Conservation Program was established in the early 1970’s to give this beautiful animal a second chance. Once teetering on the brink of extinction, the wild population of tamarins has been brought up to 1,000 since 1974 by this collaboration among the United States National Zoological Park/Smithsonian Institution and two Brazilian environmental organizations. These animals are secure, for the moment, at Poco das Antas, a biological reserve in Mata Atlantica, a patch of Atlantic Coastal Forest about two hours from Rio de Janeiro.
Supported by international conservation organizations including the World Wildlife Fund, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Wildlife Preservation Trust International, the Frankfurt Zoological Society, the Canadian Embassy in Brazil, and various Brazilian institutions, this program celebrates the birth of every animal.
However, experts have estimated that the minimum population size for self-sustaining wild species is 2,000, and that this number must be reached by 2025 to ensure continued viability for the tamarins. Nearly 120 zoos all over the world (including CMZ) are involved in this breeding and reintroduction program. Also needed is about four times the present area of the reserve to support this larger population, about 60,000 acres. Through continued efforts by the participants of this program and continuing education of the human population, hopes run high that this elegant primate can be permanently saved from extinction.
Trumpeter Swans. Once plentiful over much of the northern third of North America, a century of unregulated killing nearly wiped out the entire population of this continent’s largest waterfowl by 1900. They were killed for meat, but even more so for their plumage, which was used to make powder puffs, writing pens and fashionable trim for hats and other clothing in Europe.
Passage by Congress of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 1918 provided some protection for swans in the U.S., but even so, only 69 trumpeter swans were known to exist in the lower 48 states by 1932. This remnant population was helped when the U.S. government established the Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in Montana, an area of remote mountain valleys where the states of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming meet. Since then the states of South Dakota, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Missouri, Michigan, Iowa, Ohio and the Canadian province of Ontario have initiated reintroduction programs to restore trumpeter swan populations in the Midwest.
CMZ, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, The Wilds and Ducks Unlimited began a cooperative effort to reintroduce the birds to Ohio in 1994. It was hoped that the reintroduction of this flagship species would help to focus attention on saving wetland habitats and enhance the diversity of wildlife in Ohio. One and two-year old birds were sought from zoos and aviculturalists, and three trips were made to Alaska to retrieve 50 eggs per trip.
The eggs were hatched at CMZ, kept for two to three months, then sent to The Wilds to be raised in relative isolation until the age of two years. They were then taken to a number of wetland areas in the state and released. The goal was to have at least 15 breeding pairs in the state by 2006. We are somewhat ahead of schedule. In 2001, 37 hatchlings fledged, some of them second generation. They will continue to be monitored closely at least until 2006.
Otters. One of the 13 extant species of otter, the North American river otter, has shared the fate of its neighbors the wolf, the bald eagle, and the trumpeter swan. Once endangered in much of its range due to fur hunting, pollution and loss of habitat through the filling of natural streams with cement because of human encroachment, the otter has also fought its way back from the brink of extinction. Although the species is still endangered in some areas, including Ohio, reintroduction efforts have succeeded in making river otters more common in Ohio’s rivers and streams.
Between 1986 and 1993, 123 river otters were obtained from cooperating live-trappers in Louisiana and released in four eastern Ohio locations. In the winter of 1999-2000, otters were reported in 40 Ohio counties; in the winter of 2000-2001, they were reported in 42 counties, with evidence of reproduction in at least five watersheds; and in the winter of 2001-2002, otters were reported in 51 Ohio counties, with evidence of reproduction in 52 watersheds.
The New York River Otter Project released 279 otters in central and western New York State where otters disappeared over 100 years ago. The Missouri River Otter Reintroduction Project released 845 river otters along the Missouri River between 1982 and 1992. The River Otter Alliance estimates their current population at 11,000-18,000 animals.
The River Otter Alliance is a volunteer-based non-profit organization which promotes the survival of the North American river otter though education, research, habitat protection and reintroduction. Ongoing restoration efforts for endangered wildlife species by this and other organizations continue to show positive results.
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Focusing on success stories like these, brought about by the effort, determination and dedication of so many people around the world, it becomes easier to believe that our cause is not lost, that our efforts will make a difference. But sometimes, that might not be enough. On those days, we may have to try harder, to strive to generate our own spirit of hope, in order to keep a positive attitude and keep fighting the good fight. One way to do this is to call to mind what others have had to say.
We are all familiar with Margaret Mead’s hopeful words, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world: indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
In his latest book, Ethics for the New Millennium, the Dalai Lama writes about what people all over the world have in common – their quest for happiness. He goes on to say that all that sustains mankind in this quest is hope. When so much about our world today seems to be discouraging, he writes: “Increasing recognition that we cannot forever continue to mistreat our natural environment without facing serious consequences is likewise a reason for hope.” We can draw hope from this wise man’s belief that the number of those who care about our planet is growing.
Jane Goodall, who is often asked how she keeps her own spirits up, shares her four reasons for hope in her latest book, Reason for Hope, A Spiritual Journey. Ms. Goodall’s reasons are “(1) the human brain; (2) the resilience of nature; (3) the energy and enthusiasm…among young people worldwide; and (4) the indomitable human spirit.” We would like to add a fifth reason for hope to Ms. Goodall’s four, all of us who volunteer.
But perhaps the most important thing we have to remember about our role in saving Spaceship Earth is that we have no choice but to go on trying. If the people who are working to save our planet, including us volunteers, stop working, there is no hope. It really is up to us!
As Beverly Sills has said, “You may be disappointed if you fail, but you are doomed if you don’t try.”