Bruce, Malti and Pearl – three members of my little interspecies flock.

When I opened my Time magazine this week, I found a fancy spread about zoos, which I read with great interest.

To preface this topic I just want to say – I’m a big fan of Jack Hanna (former director of the Columbus Zoo) and I love the work he has done to raise awareness of how zoos can be a refuge and hope to endangered species through their breeding, conservation, research and collaboration efforts.

I also believe that there needs to be ongoing opportunities for people and animals to come together, or else urban humanity risks forgetting all about the natural wonders just beyond our city limits.

But this doesn’t mean I think all zoos everywhere are doing it right.

[It seems worth mentioning that I’ve gotten blasted here a time or two for sharing my thoughts on topics like this one. Please know I realize it is a sensitive subject.]

Ideally, there would be no need for zoos because we wouldn’t be continually razing rainforests, urbanizing the wild and releasing toxins into the environment, putting formerly thriving species – not to mention ourselves – in ever greater danger.

And don’t get me wrong – I like having electricity and running water and heat and air conditioning. So yes, I’m part of the problem too. 

But I also like having animals and birds and bugs (well, some bugs anyway – I really like ladybugs, but we could get rid of roaches and mosquitoes entirely and I’d be totally fine with that).

And I love trees and nature and the ocean and flowers and fresh fruits and vegetables, and preferably all of that without any genetic modifications.

So it is a conundrum for sure.

Do we need zoos? What would happen if all the zoos just suddenly closed down? Would this be better or worse for nature, for the animals, for us, for our planet?

If there were no zoos, what other ways could we find to ensure people don’t forget how wonderful and valuable animals and nature are? How else could we protect nature and animals from us?

As I read the Time article, I kept thinking, “What if there were specialty zoos – like a whole area just for one small ecosystem or a few complementary species?” And then people could go to one type of zoo and see those animals and plants and birds and flowers and fruits and vegetables, and then they could go to another type of zoo and see a completely different ecosystem at work.

That seemed like such a reasonable alternative to these massive all-things-to-all-people zoos we have now, where no animal has enough of what they truly need because space is limited and so is funding and the zoo personnel have to do their best with what they have.

The more I read, the more I realized that is exactly what today’s zoo leaders are proposing – specialty zoos.

They even go one better and suggest that zoos can be multi-storied to cater to species that spend large amounts of time in small confined spaces – like (as the writers put it) a “slice of the rainforest” living side by side with urbanites like us.

It makes so much sense to me.

Instead of an “us or them” mentality, which basically always means “us,” we could find a way to cohabitate, giving them space, sharing space with the birds and the bees and the (hopefully) non-poisonous, non-carnivorous species naturally acclimated to live where we live.

Then the larger carnivorous or hunting species could have their own bigger free-range areas where they can live in a much more natural safe ecosystem that stays in balance because we don’t come in and try to live with them there and kill off anything that could impact our ability to make a living.

Honestly, I know I’m probably getting over-excited about this whole “the future of zoos” thing.

It’s just – wow. People – like real, influential, knowledgeable people who could serve as leaders and mentors to the rest of us in this area – are realizing that animals have feelings and needs and live rich and multi-faceted lives just like people do and that they need much more than most urban zoo environments currently provide.

Wow. People are really starting to get it – to care.

Sure, there are some naysayers that just want zoos to stay the way they are now. And there are some who just want all zoos to go away right now.

And there are probably some with even better ideas than an idea for hybrid zoo-ecosystems that could provide for the full richness of animals’ needs while living in a more captive and safer environment, and hopefully those ideas will get heard, and SOON.

But amidst all the routine gloom and doom that magazines like Time typically report on, like the wars and the suffering and the terror and the continual fiscal crises here there and everywhere, all of a sudden there is this ray of pure caring that is bursting through it all.

And it just makes me so happy.

Today’s Takeaway: I have my little interspecies flock – my parrot, Pearl, my shells, Malti & Bruce, and our puppy, Flash – and there is plenty of richness there to feel grateful for. But often my heart breaks for the rest – the animals and birds and nature that gets trampled, discounted, uncared for and harmed at our hands, and I wonder if there is any way to save what is even now being destroyed. Maybe these hybrid zoos are part of that answer. I don’t know – but I can hope.