The Big Picture

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Zoo InternQuest is a career exploration program for high school students.  For more information see the Zoo InternQuest blogs.  For more photos see the Zoo InternQuest Photo Journal.

The problem with feeding giraffes is that the moment you unveil an acacia leaf, they tend to swarm.  We would hold out a handful of leaves and a second later they would disappear, grasped by a giraffe’s long blue tongue.  By the time our leaf supply was depleted, there were about half a dozen giraffes surrounding the keeper truck, swooping in and out of the vehicle in search of more tasty morsels.  I would turn from one giraffe only to find myself face-to-face with another.  It was a disconcerting, but undeniably incredible, experience.

The San Diego Zoo Safari Park is markedly different from an ordinary zoo.  Its exhibits are vast and natural, and, in my opinion, amazing.  The African enclosures in particular seem to be a piece of Africa transported to San Diego.  Across its enormous interior, a wide variety of animal species intermingle just as they would in the wild.   Lumbering rhinos chase giraffes while gazelles carefully observe from their alert circles.

Such enclosures also play a scientific role.  When animals are in a naturalistic habitat, they tend to display natural behaviors.  This can help scientists learn more about certain species, interactions between species, or even an ecosystem without traveling to distant and potentially dangerous countries.  For example, the zebras were originally in the same enclosure with the rest of the animals.  Later, one of the zebras bit off the end of a giraffe’s tail and it became clear that zebras are actually quite aggressive, something that may not have been realized before.  After all, enclosures at traditional zoos tend to be smaller and separated by species, and such interactions are not possible.  By learning more about an animal, scientists can discover how to better care for and breed that species in captivity or even the wild, important components of the conservation effort.

Of course, large enclosures can make it difficult for visitors to see animals, as the animals can congregate in areas far from the public eye.  Some people find the Safari Park too spread out and leave dissatisfied.  Those people may have forgotten that animals are not in zoos for our entertainment, but to educate us; to display their unique capabilities and ask for help before they disappear completely.  Those people are thinking in terms of themselves, as opposed to Earth as a whole.  They cannot yet see the big picture, but everyone must begin to try.  Standing next to the giraffes, feeling their size dwarf my own, humbling me, helped me see it.  Human existence is not the only one of importance.

Many people are so focused on their own busy lives that helping with the conservation effort can seem like a waste of valuable time and energy.  But if we take a step back, we’ll see that little tasks, whether recycling, decreasing energy consumption, or donating funds, are beneficial to ourselves, others, the conservation effort, and Earth.  We can change the world.  So step away from yourself as an individual for a moment and take in the big picture.  You may be surprised by what you see.

Taylor, Conservation Team