Students, experts raise awareness to endangered animals

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Jillian Moore

A zookeeper holds a corn snake, a non venomous species, out for a young Holiday Zoo Lights attendee to touch. This is part of the event’s “creature encounters” program to encourage education about wildlife through hands-on learning.

Helena Wang

Sophomore Akshaya Lingala folds a blue Post-It note into the shape of an origami blue whale. Since elementary school, Lingala said she developed a passion for whales, but the blue whale is one of over 41,000 species that are under threat of extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). 

She said, “The first time I had ever heard of a whale was in elementary school where we had a whale unit and I learned a lot of interesting facts about the blue whale. Over the years as I learned more and more about whales, I also learned about their endangerment. It’s extremely sad to see that many whale populations are decreasing and many other animal species are also becoming extinct. People should definitely pay more attention to these species.”

A lizard sits in a glass-enclosed habitat in the Cincinnati Zoo’s Reptile House, a designated National Historic Landmark. Although many animals stay inside and out of sight during cold winter nights, Holiday Zoo Lights attendees could walk through all permanently indoor areas including the Reptile House (pictured), Night Hunters building and World of the Insect building.
(Jillian Moore)

Lingala is not the only one who wants to raise awareness of the increasing number of endangered animals. In fact, the IUCN Red List has accessed over 147,500 species and provides a series of conservation actions globally. According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), anywhere between 200 to 2,000 species go extinct every year, and the earth is losing species at a rate between 1,000 and 10,000 times higher than the natural rate. 

Despite those numbers, zoology teacher Kira Hansen said many people don’t recognize the increasing number of extinct species.

“We are currently in a mass extinction caused by human actions,” Hansen said. “The causes of the increase of endangered species affect all humans because we are all living on the same planet. I do not believe most CHS staff or students are aware of the fact that many species are going extinct.”

Lingala said she agreed and said many people don’t realize the significance of these endangered species.

“Whenever I talk about whales, a lot of people take (always having these animals) for granted and (extinction) doesn’t seem like a serious issue to most people,” she said. “It sometimes bothers me how you can’t really find someone with a voice who’s willing to speak up for endangered species. I feel like many students fail to realize the significance of endangered animals and the role that they play in the environment.”

Siri Byrisetty

This is part of the reason the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden’s Festival of Lights event includes displays of endangered species from exotic polar bears to domestic butterflies. Zookeepers also lead “creature encounters” during the event where attendees can learn about and touch animals to provide public education. Voted Best Zoo Lights by USA Today, the annual experience started on Nov. 18 and ends on Jan. 8.

In addition, raising awareness of endangered species and their plight is also a goal of the Indianapolis Zoo. On Dec. 1, the Indianapolis Zoo announced The Campaign for Our Zoo, which will help support a number of ongoing programs and brand-new initiatives. Those include a renovated entryway and guest intake area, along with the Global Center for Species Survival, expected to open to the public on Memorial Day weekend of 2023. As a part of the campaign, the zoo is allocating $13 million for the species center, a group of local specialists collaborating globally to help prevent habitat disruption that could cause further extinction of animals and plants.

According to Julia Geschke, Indianapolis Zoo reptile and amphibian conservation coordinator, losing species negatively impacts the entire ecosystem, including humans.

The Under the Sea lights display at the Cincinnati Zoo allows visitors to walk under a wave of multicolored jellyfish. Although this could be considered a statement on how loss of most jellyfishes’ predators due to climate change has led to their proliferation, the zoo has advertised it as merely a modern attraction. (Jillian Moore)

“When animals are in danger of becoming extinct, it will impact the ecosystem as a whole and impact the food chains up and down and even other animals will start to be affected,” Geschke said. “This will also affect humans as some species in different parts of the world; people use them for food and that’s a critical part of their diet. Some species are used for research that helps human health, and other people just enjoy watching birds or they enjoy whale watching, so if these species go extinct these people will lose out on these opportunities and miss a piece of nature that used to be there.”

For junior Carissa Fuller, the best way to bring awareness to this issue is to educate yourself and express interest.

Fuller said, “Be mindful of your environment and work toward the habitats for these endangered animals. (It’s important to) know what animals are endangered and try not to affect their habitats. Also, expressing interest (toward the issue) hopefully can bring more people to realize just how bad the increasing amount of endangered species is. People might not be affected now, but if we don’t work to fix things now then it might be impossible later. ”

The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, located less than two hours away from CHS, is promoting awareness of endangered species through implementation of conservation efforts and field projects. Notably, their manatee rehabilitation program rescues and treats ill orphaned, and injured manatees before releasing them back into the wild. Exposure to harmful algal bloom and watercraft propeller threats are common reasons manatees require rescue. The zoo has helped mitigate the obstacles faced by manatees and endangered species both directly and through education.

Posted above the manatee exhibit is a board frequently updated by zookeepers on the current manatees’ weight, age, favorite foods and amount of food consumed. Each of them also has a hand-decorated Christmas stocking. The specific animals in the enclosure are constantly changing as they recover and are released as part of the manatee rehabilitation program, so displays like this one help visitors develop a personal connection with them. (Jillian Moore)

For ways to help beyond visiting zoos, Lingala said there are a variety of environmentally friendly non-profit organizations people can join.

“I think, honestly, if one student just took time to look at endangered animals, they could go on a tangent of organizations and how they could help fund research to better the lives of these animals,” she said. “There’s a lot of organizations out there that do their best to raise awareness, but, unfortunately, a lot of people tend to not look at them enough.”

Furthermore, sophomore Riley Abernathy said CHS does not clearly recognize the issue of endangered animals.

Abernathy said, “The only time I remember the issue of endangered animals appearing in school was the freshmen biology project where we made social media accounts focusing on a certain critically endangered species. I thought it was a great opportunity to learn about the different endangered animals and some of the reasons why they became endangered and how we can reverse those reasons.”

Additionally, Fuller said that endangered animals are not mentioned enough.

“We do have the butterfly garden up at the top of the trail, which is nice and points out habitat conservation, but beyond that, it is not really mentioned in school,” she said.

To promote engagement, Lingala said the school should increase signage and announcements to recognize various endangered species.

Polar bears are part of the lights display at the Holiday Zoo Lights event and are a popular attraction at the zoo due to their designated status as vulnerable. Cincinnati Zoo’s polar bears are located in the “Lords of the Arctic” exhibit; also in their display are arctic foxes. (Jillian Moore)

“The school, overall, should do something for the month designated to endangered animals; they could make announcements on it like how they did for cybersecurity. They should just overall, try to make an effort at what they can do to raise awareness,” Lingala said.

For its part, Geschke said the Indianapolis Zoo is increasing conservation messaging at the zoo for visitors.

“We might be having different talks or having programs for school kids that kind of build in more conservation messaging. So it’s not just facts like, ‘The kangaroo is six feet tall’ that you might talk about; it’s more like, ‘Is the kangaroo endangered or not? What role does it play in its ecosystem?’ We are just trying to spread that message in any way that we can,” she said.

Overall, Fuller said, “People seem to know that endangered species exist, but they don’t always see it and don’t always know how to help. I feel like there should be opportunities for students to learn how they can help the environment.” 

 

If you would like to learn more about endangered animals in Indiana, click here. If you would like to learn more about endangered species globally, click here. If you would like to learn more about Indianapolis Zoo’s renovations, click here.

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