Alex Dudley 0

Bring Back Hippos and Rhinos to the Smithsonian National Zoo!

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Since the beginning of renovations and new exhibits at the National Zoological Park (NZP) in Washington, the number of large mammal species-the magnificent heavyweights such as elephants, giraffes, and apes- on exhibit has dwindled from its former diversity. Once able to claim among the largest collections of these spectacular beasts in the country, NZP is now only home to Asian elephants, lions, tigers, orangutans, gorillas, giant pandas, Grevy's zebras, cheetahs, and the sloth and spectacled species of bear. Sorely missing from the Zoo since they were relocated to make room for the elephants' new expanded housing are two of the most central large mammal highlights of of any zoo where they are exhibited: the charismatic hippopotamus (both the Nile and pygmy forms), and the majestic rhinoceros. While NZP aims to again exhibit giraffes (which also were relocated from its elephant house) within the next few years, the prospect of the hippos and rhinos also returning is in doubt, according to Washingtonian magazine. By 2016, the Zoo aims to be "the world's finest," including a leader in species conservation. As stated in the Zoo's strategic plan, "Today thousands of species... are facing extinction, and many fragile ecosystems critical to the well-being of societies around the world are under great strain from human activities. As the challenges of safeguarding the Earth's living heritage grow, so does the National Zoo's determination to play a leading role in shaping a brighter future for both people and wildlife." Surely, for any zoo to reach this goal, it must include in its efforts taking the initiative in ensuring, through captive breeding efforts, the long-term survival of hippos and rhinos, animals key in both the public consciousness and the ecology of their native habitats. This need becomes all the more urgent when the increasingly uncertain future of these animals is taken into account. In 2006, the historically abundant Nile hippopotamus appeared for the first time on the Endangered Species List as “Vulnerable,” due to poaching and human population pressures in Africa. To add to this, the already rare pygmy hippo’s situation deteriorated further, being upgraded from “Vulnerable” to “Endangered.” Yet the animal relocated from the National Zoo’s elephant house whose situation remains most dire is the rhinoceros. Only 18,000 rhinos remain in the wild, of which fewer than 4,300 are black and less than 3,000 are Indian (the species formerly on exhibit at NZP). Furthermore, global poaching of these already devastated animals for their horns IS ON THE RISE. By signing this petition, calling for NZP TO AGAIN EXHIBIT NILE/PYGMY HIPPOS AND RHINOS BY 2016, you will indicate not only your enthusiasm for the return to the American capital of these ancient, beautiful animals, but also the importance to you of ensuring their long-term survival. The Smithsonian shall deserve recognition as the world’s finest zoo only when it commits itself to the future of these two of the world’s finest animals!

This petition written by Alex Dudley


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