Sunday, February 24, 2008

Habitat hypocrisy hurts zoo's message

Letters to the Editor
Sunday, February 24, 2008 - Commercial Appeal
Habitat hypocrisy hurts zoo's message

My toddler loves the Memphis Zoo, so we visit often. I think the zoo's staff does a great job teaching visitors that habitat conservation is vital to the long-term survival of wild species. But this lesson rings hollow when the zoo's leadership chooses to create new exhibit space by destroying old forest in Overton Park.

Recently I watched a trackhoe uproot several acres of trees within sight of the zoo's elaborate bronze shrine to Chief Seattle. As if this wasn't irony enough, the shrine itself occupies ground that was forested for the past 10,000 years or so -- until three years ago, when it was clear-cut by the Memphis Zoo.

Northwest Passage is a lovely exhibit, but it's hard to see anything but empty hypocrisy in the rocks carved with eloquent paeans to the web of life. And it's hard to pay attention to the placard urging us to "plant trees" while a beautiful, healthy forest is being laid to waste behind that placard.

The new Teton Trek exhibit promises grizzly bears and elk in addition to the bald eagles and black bears at Northwest Passage. All of these species require access to mature forests in order to live and reproduce in the wild. What lesson is the Memphis Zoo trying to impart by destroying the very habitat these creatures need?

It's time for the zoo's leaders to step away from their chain saws and start living up to the conservation ethic they preach to the public.

Naomi Van Tol