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Posted January 19, 2012
Dispatch #8
Funding the Wild

This is one in a series of dispatches sent from the road by photographer Joel Sartore.

Help Joel rename the Biodiversity Project

My zoo escort, Renee Bumpus, and I were sitting in a solar-powered golf cart near a café at the Houston Zoo. It was her birthday, so I bought her a hot dog, a small bottle of water, and a bag of chips. I ate most of her chips though, because she just wasn’t getting to them fast enough.

That’s when Rick Barongi stopped by. He’s the zoo’s director, and a nice guy. I don’t think he even commented when I finished off Renee’s chips by pouring the salty remnants directly into my mouth. We talked about the latest things: news, mutual friends, and especially the role that zoos are now playing in conservation. Zoos can no longer afford to be just places where the public goes to view animals in exhibits, Rick said. Going forward, zoos must actually put funds and manpower into both research and saving habitat in the wild all over the world. Otherwise, for many species, there will be no place left outside of captivity for these animals, period.

The Houston Zoo is putting its money where its mouth is. Several years ago they helped found El Valle, a breeding center for rare amphibians in Panama. They still fund that center, which is home to many species of colorful frogs that have been hit hard by an amphibian-killing fungus over the past few years. In other parts of the world, the zoo is funding work that’s equally important: research on clouded leopards (below) in Asia, wild dogs in Zimbabwe, lions in Mozambique, chimps in Senegal, tapirs in Brazil, cheetahs in Botswana, and the list goes on.

Photo: Clouded leopard
Clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa) at the Houston Zoo.

Many other zoos are active in “funding the wild” as well. The Bronx Zoo/New York Zoological Society spends more money than any other zoo. They too know how critically important it is to go beyond their walls and out into the world if they’re to save what’s left.

In the future, zoos will not only serve as arks, but also as key educators of the public about our place in the world and how we can affect the outcome for all creatures great and small. We’ve got a long way to go, but zoos—and the people who work there—are trying every day.

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