Gale H. Ford
Executive Director, Grizzly Discovery Center; West Yellowstone, MT; (406) 646-7001; (fax) (406) 646-4846;
Educational venues to view, interact, and learn about wildlife occur in many settings, including zoos, preserves,
refuges, rehabilitation centers, national parks, and other wild lands. Each human believes his or her venue
or political camp to be the best model for teaching ecology. The world is rapidly changing, both in the effects
created by increasing human populations, and the often-heroic attempts to halt and even reverse such trends.
In the 1960s, "ecology" was a new, mysterious word to most people. Thirty years later, the term "conservation"
has been expanded beyond a resource management definition and now includes concern with retaining
the planet's biodiversity and the actions that affect such change.
These concerns for sustainability, cessation of extinction, and enhancement of the welfare of endangered
species ultimately will succeed only if they do not fall on deaf ears, but on the ears of those who know the
language and arena of concern. As the family structure as taken on a different face from that of the past,
the connection between young people and wildlife must be nurtured and not left to chance. Parents and
grandparents often were the inspiration for wildlife wonderment
through shared outings into the wild. Each person can probably recall those mentors who were the first to
Today's living and working conditions do not foster such opportunities. Urban living situations, increased
job demands, widening ethnic perspectives, an aging population, and changes in nuclear family structure
are but a few of the major shifts drastically affecting the nature education of young people. Alternative
avenues for inspiring an interest in wildlife and wild lands must be recognized and enhanced for their ability
to establish a closer relationship between people and wildlife.
The need for effective conservation education is absolutely urgent today.The desire to understand or
merely view animals has been joined by the need to conserve their populations and ecosystems. Over the last
few decades, the explosive growth of human populations has been linked with changes in the abundance of
other species. The understanding of animals' needs and of human impacts on animal populations became critical;
the future of these animals depends on people's actions. This understanding is no longer optional. Everyone
in this discipline knows the message, but in spite of its size, this group is still in the minority.
Today, conservation education needs to be recognized as a specialty that benefits from diverse technologies,
varied educational efforts, and multi-disciplinary expertise. The conservation message needs to shift
from merely endangerment, captive breeding, or even reintroduction to include and emphasize the importance
of saving habitat. The expertise to facilitate the delivery of this message exists. It is present within conservation
groups and in areas that were previously ignored.
Zoos and aquariums draw 121 million visitors each year. Captive wildlife facilities have historically been
considered substandard or poor substitutes for wildlife experiences. While hearing wolves howl at the
Grizzly Discovery Center is not the same experience as hearing a pack of wolves in Lamar Valley, the zoo still
allows the visitor to have a close and personal moment with this species.
The next headline about a wolf is more likely to be read by someone who knows the sound of a howl than
one who does not. Even more importantly, the impact on wild habitats should be considered if human-animal
connections in a wild setting were the only experiences allowed.
Openness to learning about new exhibition techniques, husbandry programs and educational outreach
programs offered in today's zoological institutions needs to be embraced as a viable non-consumptive
augmentation to wildlife education. For the general visitor, zoos and aquariums serve the conservation community
by providing information in a relaxed, family-oriented setting. Zoos and aquariums are positioned
to play an ever-changing role in conservation through education.
Conservation requires an expanding perspective, but educators are divided and confounded by disagreements
about the message and the appropriate media of delivery. Conservationists must share united intentions in
order to be effective. Advocacy groups, wildlife protection groups, and zoological educators share a common
goal: to instill in others the passion to protect, conserve, restore, and ultimately live harmoniously with the
unique wildlife and wild lands in the environment. Therefore, the crucial partnerships that make the
conservation message reach the most ears, in the most effective manner humanly and humanely
possible, should be fostered.