Editorial: The advantages of being seen
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 2000:
From Chicago Tribune foreign correspondent Paul Salopek came word on August
6 that brothers Antonio and Luis Faceira of Angola are working with Wouter van Hoven of
the University of Pretoria Center for Wildlife Management in South Africa to restore
wildlife to the 3.5-million-acre Quicama National Park, near the capital city of Luanda.
Each a military general in the regime headed since 1979 by President Jose Eduardo
Santos, the Faceira brothers have fought Jona Savimbi and his UNITA insurgency for 25
years. Altogether, counting the last years of Portuguese rule, Angola has been almost continuously
at war since 1961.
Both sides have reputedly ravaged wildlife––for meat, target practice, and
money. Salopek mentioned reports of government officials strafing antelope from helicopters.
Craig Van Note, executive director of the World Wildlife Fund trade-monitoring
subsidiary TRAFFIC, in 1988 accused UNITA of killing as many as 100,000 elephants
over the preceding 12 years, in order to trade ivory for arms with the former apartheid government
of South Africa.
But Angola still has manatees, sea turtles, and rare giant black sable antelope,
Salopek reported. Elephants were returned to Quicama by airlift in early September.
The Faceiras are trying to bring back wildlife because they have realized that
wildlife-watching is a far more lucrative business than wildlife-killing, and far more conducive
to establishing a nation at peace. Though Angola as yet has almost no foreign
tourism, Antonio Faceira told Salopek that Luanda residents already flock to Quicama on
weekends, creating a significant domestic tourism industry.
Half the world away, Canada has never fought a war at home, and attracts one
foreign visitor for every two residents. Yet the great national parks of western Canada are
disappointingly depleted of visible wildlife, especially compared to Yellowstone National
Park and the surrounding corridors of other U.S. National Parks, National Forests, and
state-reserved habitat. Tourism promoters are reportedly worried, because as word gets
around, Canada is losing visitors in ever-growing numbers to U.S. competition.
Opportunities to see large charismatic megafauna in natural surroundings are the
leading reason why people engage in ecotourism, worldwide––for instance, attracting up to
75% of the visitors to Banff National Park in Alberta, according to an August 2000 Angus
Reid poll. Yet wolves, grizzly bears, wolverines, lynx, and woodland caribou, among
other popular species, are now rarely seen by casual visitors to Banff and other parks in the
transboundary regions of British Columbia and Alberta, The Christian Science Monitor
reported on June 28. Though we enjoyed one prolonged sighting of a wild wolf, ANIMAL
PEOPLE essentially confirmed the Christian Science Monitor findings during mid-August
drives through five of the best-known Canadian transboundary-region parks.
Contrary to common belief, the problem isn’t loss of habitat. Logging, fires,
livestock grazing, cultivation, and urban growth have each impacted the transboundary
habitat, but this is equally true on either side of the border. In any event, logging and fires
produce second growth which harbors more charismatic megafauna, not less; livestock
grazing has many negative impacts on wildlife, but does keep habitat more open, so that
more wildlife may be seen if present; cultivation often attracts wildlife so abundantly that
“nuisance animals” rather than invisibility becomse the leading local wildlife issue; and the
urban sprawl around the city of Banff is markedly more contained than around Jackson
Hole, the equivalent community near Yellowstone.
Animals are present. We found scats and tracks during brief trail hikes. Within a
few miles of the roads we took through Banff, grizzly bears mauled mountain bicyclist
Pierre Richard, 21, on August 14, and hiker Stephen Miles, 28, on August 27.
Near the roads, however, large animals behave as they do elsewhere under heavy
hunting pressure––going mainly by night, fleeing from human approach, remaining at a
distance which corresponds more closely to jacklighting range than the pouncing range of
any natural predator. This is contrastingly different from the behavior of the same or similar
species in Yellowstone and national parks we have visited in India and Kenya––each of
which have excluded legal hunting for at least 30 years. There the animals are either curious
about humans, or unconcerned. They don’t run away on sight.
Wildlife has become markedly less visible in transboundary Canada, ANIMAL
PEOPLE concluded, not so much because animals are scarce as because they are scared.
More species are hunted and trapped, the seasons are longer, and anti-poaching law
enforcement appears to be even less visible than many aggressively poached species.
Finally, although Alberta has protected grizzly bears since 1970, opening and
closing a single grizzly bear hunting season in 1989, British Columbia still encourages
hunting of grizzlies and just about any other species coveted for their heads, hides, or
horns. Canada as a nation still has no federal law to protect threatened and endangered
species. The most recent draft of such legislation, introduced earlier this year, appears to
be stalled in Parliament––like predecessors introduced by previous governments.
Finding the money
Wildlife has intrinsic moral and ecological value whether seen or not. Funding
and securing public enthusiasm for nonlethal conservation, however, depends heavily on
developing interest in wildlife among people other than hunters, trappers, and fishers.
The growth of opposition to whaling, for instance, coincides directly with the
advent of whale-watching 30-odd years ago. A study by Erich Hoyt released in mid-August
by the International Fund for Animal Welfare found that 87 nations now have whale-watching
industries, up from 31 in 1991. While Americans still do the most whale-watching,
more than half of the nine million people per year who pay to watch whales are citizens of
other nations. Whale-watching in Japan doubled, 1994-1998, and rose from just 200 participants
in Iceland to more than 30,000. All of this long since made whales more valuable
alive than dead to most of the world. Japan, Iceland, and Norway, still whaling, may
eventually reach the same conclusion.
The growth of wildlife-watching also may contribute toward a shift in priorities for
the U.S. Forest Service. The economic consulting firm EcoNorthwest on August 28 released
a study done for the Sierra Club which found, based on 1995 U.S. Forest Service data, that
logging, mining, and grazing in the National Forests add $23 billion and 407,000 jobs per
year to the national economy. National Forests are not managed to encourage wildlife,
other than some endangered species––but wildlife in the National Forests nonetheless adds
$14 billion and 330,000 jobs to the economy. This could lead to some significant reconsideration
of the management emphasis.
Of course tourism can stress wildlife almost as much as hunting and habitat loss,
if the viewing is done in an intrusive manner and if amenities built to attract wildlife-watchers
make the habitat more friendly to humans than to the animals. Hounded by too many
whale-watching vessels, which make too much noise, some whale species now swim
markedly farther from shore than 20 years ago; African predators including cheetahs and
wild dogs reportedly have trouble catching prey amid traffic jams of safari vehicles,
although others such as lions and hyenes have learned to use the vehicles as mobile cover
while they stalk; and the tragedy of fed bears becoming dead bears through becoming too
habituated to humans has been recognized by wildlife professionals for more than 40 years.
Wildlife managers annoyed that ecotourists seem to want to see animals too easily
often respond that for easy viewing, people should visit a zoo or aquarium. Vancouver
Aquarium marine mammologist John Ford, for one, has long argued that a key function of
captive viewing venues is taking tourist pressure off of animals in the wild––although it is
also evident, especially in the case of whale-watching, that the advent of oceanariums preceded
interest in seeing marine mammals in the wild by about one human generation.
Quality zoos and aquariums, in turn, are at the forefront of innovation to serve
the needs of both animals and human viewers. Keeping the resident animals happy is essential,
as White Oak Conservation Center director John Lukas observed in a 1994 ANIMAL
PEOPLE guest column, because the public won’t make repeat visits to facilities with visibly
unhappy animals, nor will they linger as long and spend as much on souvenirs and food.
“You have to strike a balance: give the animals space, and variety in that space,
yet design each exhibit so that the animals are close to the public,” new Minnesota Zoo
director Lee Ehmke emphasized recently to David Peterson of the Minneapolis Star
Tribune. “In the 1970s,” coinciding with the rise of concern for animal rights, “there was a
strong movement toward getting animals out of cages and into big, naturalistic spaces,”
Ehmke added. “That did not take into account the issues of visibility and visitor attention
span that we are looking at more closely now. “
Breaking-edge zoo and aquarium design today finds means of unobtrusively leading
visitors right through the animal habitat––for example, in the underwater tunnels pioneered
by Sea World and Epcot Center; aboard vehicles, as at Northwest Trek and Walt
Disney’s Wild Animal Kingdom; up on plankways, as at parts of the Woodland Park Zoo
in Seattle and the Fort Worth Zoo; and behind curtains of vines, as at the Warren Ilaf gorilla
exhibit at the Dallas Zoo.
Lesson for dog-and-cat shelters
There is a lesson in all of this for dog-and-cat shelters, too: people want to see the
animals. Boosting rehoming rates and increasing financial support, the perennial quests of
every humane society, are each most readily achieved by better showing off the animals,
whether at special events, PETsMART Luv-A-Pet adoption boutiques, on web TV, or
through building more visitor-friendly shelters.
People need to see animals in order to feel the empathy that brings successful
adoptions and enthusiastic response to appeal letters. Shelter directors who think they are
doing animals a favor by keeping them out of sight are often misunderstanding both animal
needs and human psychology. Animals appreciate the opportunity to choose privacy, but
dogs, cats, and other species commonly kept by humans also crave interaction, as should
be clear to anyone who ever walked through a shelter full of tail-wagging barking dogs,
bouncing with excitement, and little cat paws poking out of cages, begging for a person to
pet them. Even the ex-laboratory chimpanzee who flings feces at visitors and gives them
the finger would rather have someone to be rude to than be ignored.
Elsewhere in this edition, ANIMAL PEOPLE describes the secrets of making
shelters more people-and-animal-friendly––and the success soon-to-retire Jerry
Aschenbreener has enjoyed in making Calgary Animal Services the friendliest animal control
agency we have ever visited.
We have previously described the adoption showmanship of Mike Arms, now
director of the Helen V. Woodward Animal Center in Chula Vista, California. Previously
with the American SPCA for six years and the North Shore Animal League for 20, Arms
has rehomed more than half a million animals, mostly just by making sure they are seen.
We have also written extensively about the success of Maddie’s Adoption Center,
opened in 1998 by the San Francisco SPCA, featuring home-like housing and daily training
and grooming for the animals. Then-SF/SPCA president Richard Avanzino used to worry
that the luxurious aspects of the $7 million shelter would discourage donations. Instead,
Maddie’s became a tourist attraction, adoption waiting time fell by half, adoption volume
jumped 20%, and donations soared.
Among the most memorable skits produced by the 1970s British comedy team
Monte Python’s Flying Circus was one about “The advantages of not being seen.”
But the invisible subjects were annihilated.
The point of it, if there was one, seemed to be that invisibility confers no real benefit.