Remarks by Director Jamie Rappaport Clark at the: 2000 annual meeting of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association
It's really great to be here with you this morning. The theme of this year's conference is Celebrating the Future of Wildlife and Wild Places, but I'd like to begin my remarks by looking back to an historic moment in wildlife conservation history. On September 1, 1914, a tragic thing happened. The oddness of it is something that we, as practitioners of the natural sciences, can fully appreciate. It is only in the rarest of instances that we are able to pin-point the exact moment in time when a species vanishes from the face of the Earth. On that date, at one in the afternoon, staff at the Cincinnati Zoological Gardens announced that Martha, the very last passenger pigeon, had passed away.
It is likely that this event may repeat itself with any one of the species barely clinging on to existence today. That is not what the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants. It is not what you want. Our zoos and aquariums should not be the places where we mourn the loss of species after species.
So how do we shape the future of zoos, aquariums, and wildlife conservation more to our liking? I believe that future of wildlife and wild places lies in what one of my conservation heroes, Aldo Leopold, called the land ethic. The land ethic teaches us that we are part of a natural community of life, one that deserves our commitment and respect.
Like all ethics, this is not something the government can mandate. Rather it is a principle that individuals must hold dear in their hearts. From my personal experience I believe that the best way to promote the land ethic is to foster interaction between people and wildlife. As a wildlife biology student, I had an amazing interaction with wildlife that remains to this day one of the most memorable and rewarding experiences of my life.
I worked as a hack site attendant one summer, caring for 5 endangered peregrine fledglings. For nine solid weeks, I knew that I literally held in my hands part of the future of that incredible species. That memorable summer 21 years ago gave me a lifelong sense of awe and commitment. It fills me with tremendous pride to stand before you as the Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who can say, "We did it!" And I really mean the collective "we." A lot of folks working together have ensured that today the peregrine falcon is a recovered species, no longer requiring the emergency room attention of the ESA.
I am sure many of you in the zoo and aquarium community have shared that sense of proud accomplishment . . . when a panda is born in captivity . . . or when cold-shocked Kemp's Ridleys are rescued, rejuvenated and released. I'm sure all of you have your own stories about the triumphs of life, stories you love to tell because they stir the human heart and make you feel like you've accomplished something really important. We need to let other people share in that sense of accomplishment. And I suggest to you that the more we involve them, the stronger their land ethic will become.
Getting people involved is a real challenge in our modern industrialized world. People are becoming increasingly detached from wildlife. Here in the United States, booming population growth is fueling urban sprawl, leading to increasing rates of habitat loss and, as a result, historically unrivaled rates of fish and wildlife population declines.
I've seen it for myself. I live in Loudoun County, Virginia, one of the fastest growing areas in the nation. When I moved there , my neighborhood consisted of a mere 50 homes. We had woods and rolling hills all around us. But in the 7 years I've been there, my community has been transformed from a rural, one-stoplight town to a still-growing suburb. We now have a highway where there used to be a two-lane road. We've got hundreds of new homes on land that used to be wonderful habitat for ovenbirds, woodcock, and tree frogs. In our backyard, where fireflies used to fill the evening sky, we're now lucky to see even a few flickers among all the houses in what used to be open space.
The places where we live are becoming increasingly urbanized. For most Americans, wild lands and wild creatures are no longer part of the landscape. That makes zoos and aquariums more essential to wildlife appreciation than ever before. For most people, your institutions are the only places where they can reconnect with Earth's natural heritage, the only places where many will ever see a live giraffe, a penguin, or a manatee.
The fact that zoos and aquariums are among the most popular institutions in urban communities makes them our best hope to reconnect people with wildlife. AZA and AZA members are especially important to us at the Fish and Wildlife Service. Now more than ever, we need your help to conserve our irreplaceable biological diversity.
For many years now, the Service and AZA members have enjoyed a productive partnership. It started in the international arena with discussions about wildlife permits. We have been working with many of you to streamline the admittedly cumbersome process. Already, there are numerous success stories in this area, like the "master file" process worked out to aid the golden lion tamarin. I believe that the permit process can work even better and I assure you that the Service programs that handle permits -- Migratory Birds, Law Enforcement, Endangered Species, and International Affairs -- are committed to working with the AZA to do just that. We view permits as a means to encourage broad participation in wildlife conservation. We have heard your suggestions for improvement and I encourage you to continue working with us to make the permit process smoother and better for all involved.
We not only want to make the permits process more efficient, we also want to continue and expand on the use of permits as a conservation tool. Through the enhancement finding process for species listed under the Endangered Species Act, we have a unique opportunity to link ex-situ activities at AZA institutions with in-situ conservation. For many foreign listed species, this may be the critical link, in fact the only link, for assisting range countries in conserving species in the wild.
Although it has been a long, and to some, a difficult process, our collective efforts to link imports of Giant Pandas into the United States to on-the-ground conservation projects in China represents a major breakthrough in this effort. We won't deny that it has been a challenge, but something this worthwhile usually is. I believe we stand on the threshold of a new and exciting way of thinking about global wildlife conservation, ...... to bring Leopold's concept on land ethic one step closer to reality.
Our partnership has grown remarkably over the years. We have a successful, collaborative relationship that has proven time and again that we can turn around even the most dire wildlife situations. For example, through captive propagation programs, you've helped us rescue the California condor, the red wolf, the Mexican gray wolf, and the black-footed ferret from almost certain extinction. The dramatic comeback stories of these and many other species are a testament to the power of our partnership. The Species Survival Plans that AZA institutions are implementing make a huge difference to endangered species recovery efforts.
We do need to be cautious, however, when it comes to captive propagation. For that reason, the Fish and Wildlife Service, together with the National Marine Fisheries Service, has issued a new joint policy to ensure that these programs are grounded in the best available science. The policy was published in the Federal Register last week, and copies are being mailed to all AZA member institutions. You can also find it posted on our endangered species web page. The goal of the policy is to promote consistency across captive propagation programs, and it does so by setting guidelines outlining the circumstances under which this technique is appropriate. AZA members should find it useful as you develop future Plans, something I urge you, as a community, to do more of as we strive to rescue our imperiled native species.
And as you develop those Plans, you should keep doing what you do best. Few institutions deliver wildlife educational information as effectively as you do. I understand AZA institutions host 130 to 140 million visitors each year. That's incredible and I know it's a number that is growing. By telling the story of habitat conservation as these visitors see wildlife, you can instill in them a respect for the land and its role in wildlife conservation. You can help ensure that each of your visitors leaves with a heightened land ethic. That in turn will hopefully translate into greater public support for natural resources, the Endangered Species Act, for our joint recovery efforts, and for species conservation overall.
The Service and AZA members have had great success collaborating on outreach projects. This past May, I participated in an event at the National Zoo to celebrate International Migratory Bird Day. This was a wonderful event that excited zoo visitors, young and old, about the birds in their area. International Migratory Bird Day has really taken off in recent years and AZA members deserve a lot of the credit. By staging events at your institutions throughout the nation, you made last year's Migratory Bird Day celebration the most successful ever. I hope in the coming years you'll continue to help us elevate this important event to even greater heights.
The International Migratory Bird Day celebration is just one example of the great things that are emerging from our 1998 Memorandum of Understanding. Right now, I'd like to unveil our latest joint outreach effort: a video that showcases the endangered species recovery work of AZA member institutions.
Can we dim the lights and run the video, please?
This video is available to AZA members to show at your zoos and aquariums, to take to schools and show to students, or to use in whatever way you believe would be helpful. I believe it can be an effective way to highlight the important conservation role that zoos and aquariums play.
There are many other opportunities for us to collaborate. Right now, opportunities for joint efforts are emerging in a wide-range of areas. The commercial bushmeat trade is a huge problem. Just a few weeks ago, scientists declared the Miss Waldron's Red Colobus officially extinct, marking the first time in 300 years that a primate species was hunted to death. The AZA's Bushmeat Crisis Task Force represents a good start in efforts to keep this from happening again.
This Task Force is a perfect example of how the AZA can serve as an important facilitator and coalition builder to tackle difficult conservation issues. By providing good, solid information, the Task Force has greatly enhanced the law enforcement action of government agencies. The Task Force has also successfully rallied the NGO community, whose fundraising and lobbying efforts have raised the profile of this issue. In the U.S. Congress, there is presently strong, bi-partisan support for the Great Ape Conservation Act, ... a bill that would establish a grant program focused on the protection of specific primate species. Its impact can be much wider in scope, however. Grants to protect apes will also benefit other species as well.
Help is also on the way for neotropical migratory birds. President Clinton recently signed the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act, creating a new grant program to protect birds of the Americas. AZA members should also be aware of the Service's Urban Treaties program, which aims to involve urban populations in migratory bird conservation -- something city zoos and aquariums are perfectly suited for. These Treaties provide small grants to municipal governments for educational purposes. So far, we've entered into agreements with New Orleans and Chicago. We're looking to expand the program and I urge AZA members to encourage your cities to get involved.
The last issue I want to highlight is the wonderful opportunity for collaboration on some of the wildest places remaining in our nation America's National Wildlife Refuge System. National wildlife refuges provide sanctuary for endangered and threatened species, like the whooping crane, the manatee and the loggerhead turtle. They are stepping stones in the epic annual journeys for hundreds of millions of migrating birds. They are places where people can see endless ribbons of geese and cranes streaming down from the skies; where grizzlies roam and bison rumble across restored native prairie; where some of America's most pristine coral reefs are protected for the simple reason that they are the heart and lungs of an intricate web of life for birds, fish and mammals.
We now have 530 wildlife refuges covering over 93 million acres, ... with at least one in every state, ... many within a day's drive of most major cities. These refuges are home to over 700 species of birds, 220 species of mammals, 250 species of reptiles and amphibians, and 1,000 species of fish. These lands are vitally important to wildlife conservation and clearly do not receive the visibility or recognition they deserve.
Zoos and aquariums can help change that and the timing could not be better. On March 14, 2003 we will celebrate the Refuge System's 100th anniversary. The Centennial anniversary of the refuge system is a conservation milestone. Since the conservation movement is relatively young, we have seen few milestones of this magnitude; particularly since the advent of the information age. It can be a rallying point for all of us who care about the future of wildlife and wild places. I'm here today, to begin a dialogue with you about how we can work together to make that happen.
When people think of zoos and aquariums, they tend to think of exotic animals from faraway places. That is wonderful, but we also need to get them interested in species closer to home. We can do that by letting your public know that some species are only found in their corner of the world. Let them know that these species live at a nearby refuge. Right here in Florida, only a few hours drive east of Orlando, people can see and hear a spectacular array of bird species in the woods and marshes of Merritt Island. On the opposite coast, at Crystal River, they can see manatees up close and personal. Together, we can heighten local awareness and build pride in the native wildlife of your area.
The Atlanta Zoo, has developed a great relationship with the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. We have a wonderful joint environmental education and outreach program. Okefenokee has its own "Blue Goose Corner" in the zoo's monthly newsletter, and through the high-tech Conservation Action Resource Center, zoo and refuge professionals team up to hold class at schools throughout the metro area. We'll be using similar technology on October fourth, when the Service broadcasts the "Wading into Wetlands" distance learning program, live from the Sweetwater Marsh Refuge in California. I hope that all of you educators out in the audience take advantage of this year's Wild Things 2000 broadcast.
Before I leave the subject of refuges, I'd like to share with you two cornerstone projects that are currently in progress. First, we are planning a large format movie about the National Wildlife Refuge System. Most of you have seen these films in IMAX theaters across the country. Right now we are partnering with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the National Wildlife Federation to secure funding for this project. Our hope is that when the film is completed, if you have an IMAX theater, you will help us showcase it as part of a nation-wide celebration to honor the Refuge System's 100th birthday.
Second, is an exhibition celebrating the wildlife and wild places within the National Wildlife Refuge System at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History. We expect spinoff traveling exhibitions to be available for zoos and aquariums across the country. Our expectation is that both of these projects will be linked to educational curricula and programs.
Well, .... today I shared with you some ideas of ways we can strengthen our already powerful conservation partnership. I hope it got you thinking about some ideas of your own. In all we do, we should strive to reconnect people to wildlife. AZA members know how to do that best. It's clear in the eyes of your visitors, especially the younger ones, who gaze in awe and wonder at the amazing critters in your zoos and aquariums. That bodes well for the future of wildlife conservation.
Let's continue to work together to ensure a legacy of commitment to conservation, ... to instilling a passion for things natural, wild, and free. There are many stories, some being written right now, that will ignite the land ethic in the hearts of all Americans. And it is the stories, some being written by many of you, that demonstrate that ultimately, our zoos and our aquariums, are essential in connecting people to conservation. Together we will ensure the future of wildlife and wild places. Together we can make a difference that will enrich the lives of future generations. Togther we must, .... .together we can, ....... and together we will.