November 26, 2019


Animal Keepers at the Smithsonian's National Zoo encourage students to live a sustainable life.

As of now, Earth is in its sixth mass extinction, called the Holocene extinction. According to the United Nations (UN), this mass eradication has impacted the lives of people all around the globe, specifically those working toward sustainability in their daily lives and less privileged members of society. A spotlight was cast on the Amazon Forest by the UN and various countries earlier this year when a collective effort was made to slow the wildfires burning for weeks on end. The zookeepers working within the Amazonia exhibit have moderated new discussions over the struggles stemming from the rapid decline of the Amazon Rainforest.

As the kindergarteners entered the exhibit, they passed a sign on the wall which read “Diversity on an Amazonian Scale.” According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the Amazon Rainforest is home to 10 million species of animals and the largest number of freshwater fish species in the world. Wippenbech said many animals in the exhibits are endangered and their future is as dark as the ambiance.

“In the Amazon all fish are struggling right now,” Wippenbech said. “There’s deforestation [and] pollution. The waterways may be polluted with mining. Fishing is a problem because there are more people in the Amazon who need more food, and they don’t know about sustainability or why the fish population is low.”

Wippenbech said human interference in the ecosystem led to increasing rates of extinction. WWF estimates 17% of the rainforest has been lost to deforestation in the last 50 years. The Guardian reports that although few species die directly following deforestation, they increasingly die in the following years as competition for food increases.

According to Hilary Colton, Animal Keeper, the length of the Amazon River also presents challenges for people working to preserve the species who inhabit it. The number of countries it runs through means pollution in one country with little regulation ultimately affects animals in countries hundreds of miles away.

“The Amazon runs through seven different countries, and each of those countries may have different wildlife laws,” Colton said. “We may have species found only in certain countries because they have stricter hunting laws [while] they may be extinct in other regions.”

Christina Castiglione, zookeeper, said some of those endangered animals are cute.

She believes that cuteness may save them.

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