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The Peppermints are heading to Philadelphia this Spring on their annual excursion to America's o


How Do Zoos Help Endangered Animals?

There are more to zoos than putting animals on display

Dear EarthTalk: Do zoos have serious programs to save endangered species, besides putting a few captives on display for everyone to see? -- Kelly Traw, Seattle, WA

Most zoos are not only great places to get up close to wildlife, but many are also doing their part to bolster dwindling populations of animals still living free in the wild. To wit, dozens of zoos across North America participate in the Association of Zoos and Aquarium’s (AZA’s) Species Survival Plan (SSP) Program, which aims to manage the breeding of specific endangered species in order to help maintain healthy and self-sustaining populations that are both genetically diverse and demographically stable.

The end goal of many SSPs is the reintroduction of captive-raised endangered species into their native wild habitats. According to the AZA, SSPs and related programs have helped bring black-footed ferrets, California condors, red wolves and several other endangered species back from the brink of extinction over the last three decades. Zoos also use SSPs as research tools to better understand wildlife biology and population dynamics, and to raise awareness and funds to support field projects and habitat protection for specific species. AZA now administers some 113 different SSPs covering 181 individual species.

To be selected as the focus of an SSP, a species must be endangered or threatened in the wild. Also, many SSP species are “flagship species,” meaning that they are well-known to people and engender strong feelings for their preservation and the protection of their habitat. The AZA approves new SSP programs if various internal advisory committees deem the species in question to be needy of the help and if sufficient numbers of researchers at various zoos or aquariums can dedicate time and resources to the cause.

AZA’s Maryland-based Conservation and Science Department administers the worldwide SSP program, generating master plans for specific species and coordinating research, transfer and reintroductions. Part of this process involves designing a “family tree” of particular managed populations in order to achieve maximum genetic diversity and demographic stability. AZA also makes breeding and other management recommendations with consideration given to the logistics and feasibility of transfers between institutions as well as maintenance of natural social groupings. In some cases, master plans may recommend not to breed specific animals, so as to avoid having captive populations outgrow available holding spaces.

While success stories abound, most wildlife biologists consider SSP programs to be works in progress. AZA zoos have been instrumental, for instance, in establishing a stable population of bongos, a threatened forest antelope native to Africa, through captive breeding programs under the SSP program. Many of these captive-bred bongos have subsequently been released into the wild and have helped bolster dwindling population numbers accordingly.

Of course, for every success story there are dozens of other examples where results have been less satisfying. SSP programs for lowland gorillas, Andean condors, giant pandas and snow leopards, among others, have not had such clear success, but remain part of the larger conservation picture for the species in question and the regions they inhabit.

CONTACTS: AZA’s Conservation & Science Program,

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The Value of Children’s Writing

by Peppermint fan, Daniel Olivieri


            The thing about great children’s writing is that it doesn’t leave. Not after five years and not after ten. It welds itself to your psyche and makes itself at home in your cerebellum. The best of the stories and characters that you meet every night before bedtime will hitch a ride with you for the rest of your life, if you let them.

The reason why children’s literature can stay with you is that it shows you the whole universe through the lens of just a few pages. For example, look at the Hundred-acre Wood that housed the stories of Winnie-the-Pooh. A. A. Milne, the author of the Winnie-the-Pooh books, doesn’t tell you that a community of friends makes life worth living because he shows it to you page by page. He shows it when Winnie the Pooh encourages Piglet to stand up to his fears. He shows it when Winnie saves Eeyore from the river. In this character of Eeyore he shows that some people may be pessimistic but that doesn’t mean that they don’t make good friends. Authors create characters and worlds within the covers of their books that show us pieces of ourselves people are going to fall in love, whether they are reading about the Hundred Acre Wood or Middle Earth. These stories have the power to put people on the same side, to have different people all go through the same journey.

            This is one of the most powerful abilities of the story: bringing people together. Children’s writers have the opportunity to help draw similarities between the parents who are reading the books after a long day at the office and the children who are hoping they will be allowed to stay up for one more chapter. These books are vessels that do not teach, but rather show their reader lessons. They display morals that children need to hear because they are young enough to remember them and parents need to rehear because they are busy enough to forget them. For example, “‘What day is it?’ asked Pooh. ‘It’s today.’ Squeaked Piglet. ‘My favorite day,” said Pooh.” This doesn’t outright tell you anything about enjoying life. Rather, it puts two characters who love life front of you and allows you to decide whether you want to be like them or not (hint, the correct answer is “Yes, I do want to be like them”). It’s easy to lose touch with these little philosophies of life between your 7:30 latte and your 8:15 meeting with accounting. Experiencing them with your children can remind you of how important they are.

            The best children’s writing also helps people to deal with the problems of life. In the poem “Whatif” Shel Silverstein confronts nocturnal anxieties not with logic or with anger, but with humor and rhymes. He shows the reader about the fears people have before falling asleep.

“Whatif I get beat up?

Whatif there's poison in my cup?

Whatif I start to cry?

Whatif I get sick and die?

Whatif I flunk that test?

Whatif green hair grows on my chest?”

            This gives us the chance to laugh at our worries and use laughter as a way to banish them, or at least begin to deal with them. As Mark Twain wrote, “Against the assault of Laughter nothing can stand.”

            But not only does Shel Silverstein convince his readers that their fears can be seen as funny, he also shows us that our fears are universal. Once you know that you aren’t the only one who stays up worrying it isn’t so daunting to do so. You know that even if you are the only one in your bedroom as you lie awake, you are not alone. You have Shel SIlverstein and everyone else who understands that poem on your side.

            Shel Silverstein’s rhymes and humor don’t only appeal to kids and soft-hearted adults. In fact, they appeal to people who are seen as quite the opposite of children and soft-hearted adults. His song, “A Boy Named Sue” was an absolute hit at the San Quentin prison when Johnny Cash performed it there. This shows that the roughest sector of society,prison inmates, have that same love of stories and rhyme that made The Giving Tree the classic it is. The only difference is that the song came packaged in the cowboy hat and square jaw of Johnny Cash and contained a swear word or two to make it accessible.

            So there are some of the many powers that belong to children’s writing. It can introduce you to new friends, even if those friends are fictional characters. It can remind you of the simple lessons that drip through the cracks of your life. It can be a window for looking at your fears. It can even bring out the same emotions in convicts as it does in first graders. But most of all it’s just fun to sit beside a kid and let the words kidnap your mind and hoist you up into worlds full of anthropomorphic bears, silly problems, and boys named Sue.



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