The world's most dangerous animal
This week's column is by Online Editor Mike Pilewski.
Children love animals. They read about animals all the time. But do most of them ever see any? I mean wild animals like foxes and bats and iguanas and bears, not tame animals like dachshunds and hamsters.
As a kid, I had seen domesticated animals such as horses and sheep. But an electric eel or a 500-pound gorilla is something altogether different. My first visit to the zoo (that I was old enough to remember) was mind-blowing.
For each animal, there was a sign that explained its diet, its special features (claws, tail, night vision) and its natural habitat. I was struck by the fact that most of the large animals like giraffes and elephants came from Africa. The largest animal you can expect to see in Pennsylvania is a deer. What would it be like to have rhinos walking around instead?
Suddenly the world was much larger, and I had plenty to think about.
It became clear to me that humans don't own the planet; we share it with other species. We live in our towns and cities while they live in their jungles and savannas. I also began to notice that many of the animals I saw were listed as endangered.
The reptile house at the Pittsburgh Zoo is a dark, cave-like passageway that takes you past some of the deadliest creatures, including alligators and crocodiles. The final exhibit invites you to look through a small window to see the world's most dangerous animal. What you see is your own reflection and a description of how harmful human activity is to the animal world. I was horrified and could never forget this.
A lot of people find zoos disturbing because they basically put animals in jail. I'm not very comfortable with this either: no cage or enclosure is ever large enough. But I know that a number of species would have died out if they hadn't been kept alive in captivity. And I also know that if I hadn't gone to the zoo to see these rare animals, I probably wouldn't care about them and their wild cousins today.
*The Vocabulary section of the August Spotlight has two pages of words you need for talking about zoos and animals. Don't miss it!