“Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.”
– attributed to Chief Seattle – Chief of the Duwamish Tribe
One of the things we did while in Pittsburgh was to visit the National Aviary. This zoo, dedicated exclusively to birds, and a two-toed sloth, has been on Pittsburgh’s north side since just before I was born. I remember going to the fledgling Aviary as part of a school field trip. The Aviary has grown in the 65 years it’s been open, and, although I wasn’t able to find much early history, I think its mission has changed. From their website:
“As an environmental organization composed of educators, conservationists and researchers, the National Aviary’s goals are many. The Aviary aims to provide outstanding education programming for varied audiences; present the highest quality family recreational experience that a zoological institution can offer; save endangered species by preserving natural habitats; continue endangered bird breeding programs and conduct meaningful avian research; engender a sincere appreciation of nature and a respect for natural law; and instill a conservation ethic that teaches our immense responsibility as stewards of the planet.”
More than 150 of the species housed at the National Aviary are endangered in the wild. The African Penguins, the highlight of any visit to the Aviary, are critically endangered in their native South Africa and Nambia, but they are thriving in Pittsburgh.
I was speaking to one of the guides, and she was telling me about a recent exercise to match good breeding pairs to help keep this species alive. She also explained how the Aviary recently accepted some birds that had been all but wiped out in their native New Guinea, by a snake species that was accidentally introduced to the environment after arriving on a cargo ship.
Environmentalists are currently searching for a similar island where these birds can be safely reintroduced into the wild, once a sustainable population has been bred. Other birds on display, like the eagles, are injured and can no longer survive in the wild.
As with any zoo, I’m certain that some of the displays are designed to attract visitors and raise money, but I like the programs the Aviary supports, the care they provide the animals in the charge, and the educational programs they foster within their facility.