I feel ambivalent about wild animals in captivity. I understand the argument that people need to encounter these animals on some level in order to care about them, and that modern facilities are vastly superior (if funds are available, of course…) to what I remember as a child. But one can argue that the public can get a more authentic and less expensive view of wildlife in its natural habitat through 3-D IMAX theaters. Wouldn’t it be preferable to invest in preserving the species in its native habitat, benefiting its own local/regional/continental economy, rather than recreating limited imitations primarily for public entertainment? I appreciate that modern zoos and animal parks contribute to research and breeding programs for many species, and that funds from visitors fuel this work, but if the original habitats disappear altogether, what’s the point? It’s a difficult issue, compounded by the fact that for better or worse, fascinated animal watching is part of our cultural and genetic heritage. As a society we are making progress by criminalizing cruelty and addressing exploitation, but we have a long way to go. So I hope that my membership dollars will contribute to the big picture while we enjoy the day observing these amazing creatures.
An extraordinary creature, giraffes are threatened by habitat loss and poaching.
Following the megafauna K-strategy of slow reproduction rates, high maternal investment, and longevity, elephants face their greatest threats from human over-exploitation.
Designed to be less obtrusive on the habitat areas, the tram in the background replaces the old monorail system.
The gene pool of cheetahs is drastically restricted in the wild — captive animals represent an important reserve.
Finally, a Flamboyance of Flamingos…
Kites and Kimonos, an obscure children’s book published in 1936, describes a fictional family in pre-war Tokyo. I remember reading it around age 8, and in spite of the pedantic text, I was enchanted by its description of a culture so different from my own. A lifelong interest in Japanese culture took root. While studying Japanese art and traditional textiles in college, I purchased the same book for a quarter at the library’s discard sale. Now, thirty years later, it rests beside the keyboard as I reflect upon my recent trip to Japan. Zen philosophy offers that “every step of the journey is the journey.” From the first page of Kites and Kimonos to landing at Narita Airport on October 27, 2010, the route was long and full of unexpected detours, making the destination more valued as a result.
The final impetus for this trip comes from a professional project. Currently, I am engaged in a long term plan to renovate the grounds surrounding the Palmer House in Ann Arbor, Michigan, a Frank Lloyd Wright Usonian masterpiece. Inspired by their travels, Billy and Mary Palmer’s garden reflected a Japanese sensibility. Unfortunately, the property became overgrown over the past decade and threatened by invasive species. Although some details of the garden have disappeared, the majestic trees and layout remain. My time in Japan focused on visiting gardens, experiencing the spaces with an eye to restoring the Palmer House garden’s Japanese aesthetic.