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L.A. Zoo Speaks with Forked Tongue

CATEGORY: Current Events · In the News |
On Aug 31, 2022

Imagine a quiet hilltop in Griffith Park. In these native woodlands of 16.1 acres, live coast live oaks, toyons, California black walnut trees and stands of federal and state-listed endangered shrubs. Many of the trees are listed under L.A. City’s Protected Tree Ordinance. The trees are used for nesting and resting by members of every species of hawk and owl in L.A. County, and the area is also home to species of special concern, such as the Southern California legless lizard.

Now, imagine this peaceful habitat being bulldozed and razed with all the noise and violence that accompanies this so-called “development.” (One may choose instead to call it a massacre.) Picture the excavation of more than 74,000 cubic yards of earth and rock and the noise made by dump trucks clogging the roads, polluting the air and scaring away the resident wildlife. Required “mitigation” does little to offset the loss of this intact, mature ecosystem. The 60-foot deep Condor Canyon created by this mayhem will feature a climbing wall. Visitors will likely be able to rent the equipment they need to clamber up the rock wall. What is the rationale for this? In response to the Los Angeles Times article by Louis Sahagún—“They’re not wild about L.A. Zoo Plan,” (October 20, 2021), GLAZA (Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association) President Tom Jacobson wrote that the added amenities to the Zoo’s campus are “mission focused.” He explains: “Through the rock climbing activity, guests would experience what it’s like for wildlife biologists and Zoo condor keepers to perform condor nest checks in the wild…”

Will this thrill-climb establish the Zoo as a world-class tourist destination? Does it justify the destruction of natural habitat? Is the Condor Canyon project not a slap in the face of the 30×30 campaign and also of L.A.’s wildlife ordinance?

To lend some balance to this article, let us look at the other fork in the Zoo’s tongue. In Zoo View, a publication that came out in the winter of 2021, Dr. Jake Owens, the Zoo’s Director of Conservation, wrote about some of the Conservation achievements of which the Zoo can be proud. The title proclaims “L.A. Zoo: A Leader in Conservation.” There is no doubt that, in many ways, this claim is valid. ‘The L.A. Zoo and our partners saved the California condor from extinction; that species wouldn’t exist on Earth today if it weren’t for our collective efforts,’ writes Dr. Owens. “That is my first response when I meet someone with a mixed opinion of zoos.” I am one of those holders of a mixed opinion, but I say “bravo!” to this conservation success. Indeed, it does show “the unique and critical roles that zoos can play in global efforts to combat the current mass extinction crisis.” Dr. Owens points out that “zoos and aquariums are the third largest global funder of conservation.” He also writes that, “to this day we are one of only two facilities to ever breed the southern mountain yellow-legged frog.” More kudos are in order.

Dr. Owens goes on to claim that “zoos have been integral to the conservation and welfare of animals in the wild.” What about the welfare of the wildlife in Griffith Park?

Anna Becker, who has been the Coordinator of Community Conservation at the L.A. Zoo, writes that “The L.A. Zoo has been home to historic conservation work for decades, and we are committed to building a culture of conservation within all of our communities.” This is likely true. One suspects that Ms. Becker and Dr. Owens had little, if anything, to do with the decision to destroy native habitat in order to create a climbing wall. One doubts whether many keepers and docents were invited to weigh in on this project. Some powerful decision-makers at the Zoo, however, dream of enhancing the revenue stream and burnishing the Zoo’s image as a world-class destination for the tourists expected to mob Los Angeles for the 2028 Summer Olympics. The Zoo’s original Vision Plan was suffused with an amusement park approach.

Aroused by Louis Sahagún’s L.A. Times article, public outcry against the Zoo’s original Vision Plan increased in volume. Fortunately, the Zoo responded by revising their proposal in a more eco-friendly way. Removed from the plan were the “development” of the Africa Area’s woodlands, the intra-zoo aerial tram and a parking structure. In the Zoo’s revised Vision Plan, called the Focused Recirculated EIR, or Alternative 1.5, are two components to fret about. The first is the previously discussed Condor Canyon. The second is a plan to create more “event space” near the Zoo entrance. This may result in concerts, parties and other events taking place atnight and featuring excessive noise and lighting.

Ed Yong writes in The Atlantic ( July/August, 2022) that “By flooding the environment with light and sound, we’re confounding the senses of countless animals. But we can still save the quiet and preserve the dark.” It goes without saying, that after-dark events, especially in a place like Griffith Park, will sabotage bats’ echolocation, mask the sounds of both predators and prey, make it difficult for female crickets to hear males’ songs and choose mates, drown out alarm calls, disrupt the body clocks of amphibians and discourage some animals from leaving their hiding places to hunt and forage.

As Yong puts it: “Sensory pollution is the pollution of disconnection. It detaches us from the cosmos. It drowns out the stimuli that link animals to their surroundings and to one another. In making the planet brighter and louder, we have endangered sensory environments for countless species in ways that are less viscerally galling than clear-cut rain forests and bleached coral reefs but no less tragic.”

One might expect that the humans in charge of a zoological and botanical garden would show more respect for the plants and animals with which they share this planet. The Constitution of Switzerland reads, in part, that “account [is] to be taken of the dignity of creation when handling animals, plants and other organisms.”

The deadline for commenting on the Focused, Recirculated EIR by emailing Norman Mundy, an Environmental Supervisor at the L.A. Bureau of Engineering, was August 29. However, you can email Nithya Raman, the L.A. City Councilmember whose 4th District includes all of Griffith Park. If you live in Burbank or Glendale, which border on Griffith Park, please email city councilmembers in those cities, especially Nick Schultz for Burbank and Dan Brotman for Glendale.

PLEASE NOTE: The deadline for sending comments to Norman Mundy Norman.Mundy@lacity.org at L.A. Bureau of Engineering has been extended to September 23, 2022 to allow for more input from the public. You can also submit your comments directly to the LA City Council File.

~ author Carol Henning writes for a variety of publications including
Sierra Club’s Angeles Chapter/Verdugo Hills Group’s Verdugo Views which originally ran this story
Carol is a former boardmember of Friends of Griffith Park, and is still a member of the organization

see also: LA Zoo Expansion – Take 2

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