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Collateral Wildlife

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Whenever I visit zoos, I like to look for the incidental animals; the animals and birds and fish that are there because they have moved in unbidden, because a zoo is a nice place to live, even when you have a choice. I like to see how the local wildlife, native or not, exploits the zoo environment. Maybe there's a scruffy little gang of house sparrows stealing food out of a fox's dish or picking grain out of zebra dung. Maybe there's a complex of Norway rat tunnels running under the tiger's pen.

Maybe there's a cottontail rabbit, hiding under the shrubbery that screens the chimp compound.

Maybe there's a giant Canada goose, product of an aggressive stocking program and now an overabundant resident year-round throughout much of the U.S., hoping for a handout.

Maybe there's a shadow under a mallard, that shadow resolving into a huge carp.

The mallard, a native species that gladly exploits easy resources, is here because people throw food around at zoos.
The carp, a European exotic that has invaded virtually every slow-moving waterway in North America, is here because it's hoping the mallards will miss the bread people are bound to throw to them. We have come to an uneasy peace with this big, mud-plain fish. There's no getting rid of it now.
The carp beseech me for food. There's no question in my mind that they're looking right into my eyes, begging. I have lived with their gaudy cultivars, the koi, long enough to know that look. It's pretty darned effective, for a fish.

I think about the giant Asian carp, a different and even more damaging species, now trying to make a beachhead in Lake Michigan, about the frantic efforts to turn them away from this precious, as yet Asian carp-free inland sea. Lawsuits are being brought by Ohio, Minnesota and Michigan to close a Chicago lock system that will, no matter how much we shock or poison it, inevitably allow them entry into the Great Lakes. These huge fish leap en masse from the water when a boat passes by, and have killed people unfortunate enough to be hit by their giant bodies. They make deserts of lakes and rivers by vacuuming up all the plankton and collapsing the food chain. They make sure that nothing survives but Asian carp, wherever they occur. Chicago is going to have to figure out how to transport goods by land, it seems. The environmental cost of having an open passage between Illinois' Asian carp-infested waters and Lake Michigan is simply tremendous, and entirely unacceptable. I wish my state luck in bringing pressure to bear on Chicago to close the locks before it's too late. I do not want to see Lake Erie seething with Asian carp, and no one else does, too. But this is the nature of aquatic exotics: they are incorrigible, unstoppable. The least we can do is seal off the obvious points of entry. And hope there's no one stupid or sick enough to introduce them on purpose.

These are European carp, but you get the point.

A ring-billed gull also waits for a handout. Populations of this little native gull exploded with the inception of landfills and shopping centers, strip malls, fast-food places and open Dumpsters. And it's almost single-handedly cleaned out native nesting piping plovers in the Great Lakes.

Lovely bird, just doing its job.

Outside the zoo gates, a low-paid person in a dog suit shills for Petland, hoping to lure people in to buy the tragic output of puppy mills.

Sometimes I wish I could stop thinking about connections, about collateral damage. Why can't I just look at the pretty birds, the big fish, the cute puppies? Why must I see the clumsy hand of man laid so heavily on the animal kingdom wherever I look?

What's that on the Chinese Christmas light string on the Japanese birches near the Asian elephant compound?

Why, it's a ruby-crowned kinglet. A native migrant, passing through Columbus as it flees the Canadian winter and fetching up for a few days at the zoo.

Oh, I needed that. Thank you. I love flamingos and gorillas and elephants, but you're something else again. It's so good to see you here. What a silly perch for a pretty bird.


Sorry, but i loved the detail of it on the Christmas lamps.

I've never been sure which is worse (for the see-er): going through life always seeing human collateral damage and connections; or going through life never seeing them.

Nice one, Bonequinhoda bic!

Sometimes it all comes down on you so thick you want to put on a hat.

You know, none of these animals would be here in these concentrations if we hadn't invited them. And Chicago is dragging its feet on closing that canal, and all it's gonna take is one female Asian carp full of roe to make it through. And we'll say, gee, I wish we'd closed that off when we had the chance. Now nobody can boat or fish in Lake Michigan without getting hit in the face with several 100-pound carp. And there's nothing to fish for now because the food chain has collapsed. The Supreme Court turned down the multi-state lawsuit last week. Now what? Surrender to the invasion? Accept that we now have a global fauna and nothing is really native or exotic any more? Sorry, but I'll go down swinging, spraying Roundup on the Miscanthus grass and getting hooked in the face by multiflora rose as I try to make room for black raspberries.

it's all enough to break a heart yours is.

I suffer from a related affliction at work in radioland, exacerbated by having at most 40 seconds to tell a complex story. If you know and care about nature and the effects we and our pets and way of life have on it, you know it's gonna take a lot more than 40 seconds to do it justice. And when nature's involved, it's likely to be a fill story that you might get to if weather and traffic don't run long and you don't have that spot right before the business report. A couple of weeks ago I spent as much time writing that Asian Carp story as I did the one on the Haiti earthquake, yet had time to read it in only two out of seven shows.

And then there are the kickers, beloved of local tv stations and cable news networks, always scheduled at the end of the show. Look, it's a wacky deer that crashed through a plate glass window skidding around that convenience store! "Guess he just had to have a Slurpie! Ha ha ha. And that's it for Action News. Have a great night!"

As for doing something about the carp, this administration takes it seriously, even if the Supreme Court doesn't. They're holding a summit on it February 8th:

Catbird, that's a comment what am a comment. As one who tries to insert little three-minute hits of natural history in the usually-dreadful news of the world on NPR, I hear you loud and clear. The trick is getting the message in as painlessly as possible.
I will anxiously await word of the outcome of the Carp Summit. Hope it's a good thing that our president is a Chicagoan. Hmmm. Could go either way. I hope the good governors go armed with video of leaping Asian carp smacking boaters in the head.

Eye opening post, Julie.

I'm glad you got to see a ruby crowned kinglet, too. I love the way they flit and flirt and twirl as they are "standing still!"

As a Chicagoan, I think the locks need to be closed, immediately. They have already found asian carp genetic matter in Waukegan, which is on Lake Michigan. The guy to complain to is Senator Dick Durbin, who came out against the closing of the locks, no doubt because of pressure from the mayor of Chicagah.

My accidental zoo animal was a killdeer. Very cool. And when youn think of what we bring into the Great Lakes in bilge every year, it's a wonder we have anything indigenous left.

I live here in Michigan and the specter of Asian carp is frightening to say the least. Once in the Great Lakes they will not only cause the collapse of the fisheries but will then get into our rivers, streams and lakes. I won't tell you what I wanted to do to the Supreme Court after hearing their ruling.

My eyes were opened to the problem of invasive species when I started doing volunteer work for the Michigan DNR, removing glossy buckthorn from a fen. Suddenly there were invasives everywhere. Autumn olive, multi-flora rose, spotted knapweed.... It can be overwhelming and discouraging, but on the other hand I think I have a much greater appreciation for those oasis of native flora that are still hanging on here and there--the stretch of trail that's flanked by trillium, sasparilla, maidenhair fern and 45 or so other native plants in spring, or the patch of big bluestem holding on along side a country road. All we can do is to keep fighting, with the hope that we can preserve at least of small part of our native natural history.

Tomorrow is election day, and as a Chicagoan (well, suburbanite) and an ecologist, I tried to find all of the Guberbatorial candidates' positions on the Asian Carp/canal question. The overwhelming response is silence. Quinn is the only candidate who has even commented on the problem. He says that the ecology of the lake is important, but so are jobs...
The canal has to be closed! "Non-specific" poisoning (if there is such a thing) isn't going to work and the carp are way too close! If you live in IL, make some noise so that the candidates realize that this is important to us!

As with humans, I believe God can use every flawed circumstance that bird and animal species' face, and either right it, or find an alternate and blessedly unexpected route for life to continue. I look for His hand in the care of all on this earth, and heartily appreciate your notes as reminders for our right stewardship and care of the same. Blessings on your week ahead.

I'm Canadian and I'd like to get away from our winters too.
Two months ago we were in Sydney and the temp was 85-90, today it was -4.Enough with the igloos, I want a grass hut.

They should file in that canal.

Maybe they could even fill in that canal.
Whis I could type.

I used to live in Chicago, for about 15 years. There are other things that come into the lake via the canal, such as Zebra Mussels. That was the big scare more than a decade ago as they got closer and closer to Lake Michigan. They clog up all sorts of things like boat motors and mechanical stuff necessary to things in the lake and waterways. Last I heard I believe they did make it in. They also compete for native species and overwhelm the environment, depleting those competitors. The mussels came into the Great Lakes via the bilges of ships that come through the St. Lawrence seaway. So there are lots of things that hitch rides and make their way into our wetlands and lakes and environment that aren't supposed to be here and in the process wreak havoc. This is a huge, complex problem that requires solutions at more than one front. Today it's the Asian Carp and Zebra Mussels. Tomorrow it will be something else. Seems to me there has to be a more global, broader vision as our world becomes increasingly smaller. Shutting down one canal isn't going to solve the problem, and I'm not sure how viable that solution is anyway given all of the people and industries that depend on it, much as we would like it be so.

Re the low paid shills outside - my teen son had a chance to make some money yesterday through a friend, by doing that (albeit without the costume) by holding a sign for a furniture store. He got paid $10 AN HOUR!!! I found out that's the going rate around here for that kind of work. Now I know it would be pretty hard to support a family on that kind of pay but geez, I worked my butt off as the front desk manager of a busy family medical practice and made $10 an hour!

As a kid during the 60's, I fed many loaves of bread to those zoo carp. I didn't know anything about native vs exotic wildlife. I just knew that those giant carp impressed the heck out of me. Now, if I could, I'd get rid of every carp, but they still impress the heck out of me.

Oh, I cannot wait to hear the Ruby Crowned and Golden Crowned Kinglets again. Come on, Sun!

I forgot to mention how much I love the introductory carp lips picture. The one with plaintive "but I'm STARVING!" eyes that's frowning is swell, too.

Beautiful pictures and thoughtful commentary as always, Julie. You spoil us visitors.

My favorite "collateral wildlife" moment happened at the National Zoo in Washington. A snowy owl was sleeping on its perch, seemingly oblivious to the world. Then a chipmunk went in its enclosure. Nothing at all about the owl moved -- except its EYES, which widened, focused, and became keenly alert as the chipmunk bumbled around below.

I really didn't know what to hope for! A few seconds later, the chipmunk scurried out to safety, but I've never forgotten the look on that owl's face.

Posted by Anonymous February 2, 2010 at 8:01 AM

Great thoughtful post. Society is an ecosystem, too;there's a network of consequences between politics, economics, and the natural world, as you point out.

Thanks for the excellent connection lesson!

The odd upside to the zebra mussel story is that they have signifigantly cleaned the water in Lake Michigan.

The carp will be able to see better, I guess.

I read recently -- can't for the life of me recall where -- that someone is moving to have made legal for sale and farm the Giant Asian carp.

OK. But the idiot who wrote the article mentioned the possibility of them being introduced into the Lakes, and how it could revive the fisheries there.

Who needs enemies...?

humans are natural creatures...our role is a disruptor species...

Fish lips! Ick...

Last week at the zoo there were bunny tracks in the Grizzly habitat, mouse runs in the Prairie Dog field, and, yes, those darned European Starlings (my nemeses!) roosting in a tree near the Moose yard. Saving/ savoring, oh yes, that's a good one. This world sure gives my heart a workout, one minute bursting with joy, the next grieving and afraid. Thank you for the salve that you offer through your writing.

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