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Home is a word we know

Home. It is a word that we have become very familiar with over the last few months. Staying at home, working from home, home office, homeschooling. The list goes on and on. The definition of home has evolved as we continue to adapt to our “new normal” under COVID-19. We are doing more at home than ever before. Our homes and the spaces around them, the extensions of our homes, have seen new utilizations and appreciations since March.

For wildlife, home can be defined as a place where animals seek food, water, shelter, and space. All of these things are basic needs and are provided within habitats or home ranges. We think of home as a safe location – a place to stay protected from the outside world, yet many species around the world have homes that are under threat from outside forces such as pollution, deforestation, poaching, mining, agriculture, human-wildlife conflict, disease, and changes in the environment. In this case, home certainly does not sound warm and comforting. It sounds like a challenging place to live and make a living.

At Zoo Atlanta, we are involved in a number of conservation projects around the world with the goal of saving wildlife and wild spaces. We recognize that unless you save the homes that animals live in, you cannot save the species. From pandas to pollinators, terrapins to elephants, we recognize the challenges that species face in the wild and have partnered with organizations to not only raise awareness and funding, but also to contribute to the research and conservation efforts.

Gorillas, for example, are only found in the dense forests of central Africa. There are two species of gorilla, eastern and western, and four subspecies – western lowland, mountain, Grauer’s, and Cross River. All four of these subspecies are either listed as endangered or critically endangered. One of the main threats to gorillas in the wild is habitat loss. Coltan, a mineral used in the production of cell phones and other small electronics that keeps our devices from overheating, is mined in prime gorilla habitat.  With increased demand for new cell phones comes increased demand for more coltan, which leads to increased habitat destruction and loss. Gorillas are herbivores, spending up to 60% of their day foraging for food and consuming plant material. As a keystone species in their habitat, gorillas are known as gardeners of the forest.  As they consume seeds from plants, those seeds are redistributed through their feces allowing seeds to be spread away from their natal plant. If we remove gorilla habitat, we not only reduce their home range, but we also limit their ability to contribute to their ecosystem. And yet, we don’t have to live in Africa to help save gorillas and their homes. You can recycle your cell phones through Zoo Atlanta’s Gorillas on the Line campaign to help decrease the need to mine coltan in gorilla habitats. You can also support organizations like the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International which works with local communities in and around gorilla habitat to decrease human-gorilla interactions, all while creating better living conditions for the locals that live there. On September 24, join individuals around the globe in celebrating the fourth annual World Gorilla Day.

Closer to home, we encourage you to also get involved by making small choices in your daily lives that lead to larger impacts. Plant native species that use less water and attract pollinators, walk and bike when you can instead of driving your car, reduce your water use, purchase paper and wood products with the Forest Stewardship Council logos, find unique ways to recycle household items, shop your local farmers market, and just spend time appreciating nature. We all play a part when it comes to happy homes for wildlife and ensuring that their habitats remain intact and healthy for years to come. For more information on Zoo Atlanta’s conservation efforts and ways that you can get involved, visit https://zooatlanta.org/conservation/take-action/.

Home is at the heart of what we do – healthy homes for wildlife mean healthy homes for us. Wishing you health and happiness from our homes to yours, because there is nothing better than home sweet, healthy home.

Staci Wiech
Manager of School and Family Programs

Connect With Your Wild Side #onlyzooatl