What Goes Up, Must Come Down


 Morgan Burnette, PR Coordinator

 I would bet that we’ve all been guilty of it at some point in our lives. Innocently releasing a balloon to float up and infinitely away into the universe and off to Neverland. Or maybe, we’ve been part of a mass balloon release, releasing hundreds of balloons at once in remembrance, celebration, or in the name of charity. The majority of us never bother to think where that balloon will end up once it leaves our sight. Most of us certainly never imagine that the balloon we so innocently released could float for miles, and potentially wind up killing an animal.

 The truth of the matter is that even the most well-intentioned, symbolic balloon will eventually fall back down to earth as litter. Balloons have been found thousands of miles, and several continents away from where they were released. Not only does this cause unsightly waste in some of the most pristine places in the world, but animals often mistake balloons as edible food.

 Dolphins, whales, turtles, and many other marine species, as well as terrestrial animals such as cows, dogs, sheep, tortoises, birds, horses, and other animals have all been hurt or killed by balloons. The animal is often killed from the balloon blocking its digestive tract, leaving them unable to eat. It slowly starves to death. Animals have also become entangled in the ribbon attached to the balloon and been rendered helpless, unable to move or eat. Sea turtles are particularly at risk because of their fondness for eating jellyfish, which a floating balloon can easily be mistaken for.

 Even the “biodegradable” latex balloons can last for years before they break down. This allows plenty of time for it to be eaten by an animal who mistakes it for food or accidentally entangles itself in the ribbon. A simple walk through the woods or along the beach and you are bound to find a balloon of some kind if you’re looking for it. Staff has found them throughout the Park and even in zoo animal exhibits.

 Now, I know people aren’t deliberately releasing balloons with the intent to harm animals or even realize that they are littering. That doesn’t change the fact that what goes up, must eventually come down.

 This is why Chehaw is going Balloon Free. We would love for you to celebrate your birthday, wedding, or family reunion with us!  We love when families choose to spend some of the most special days of their lives out here in the Park! We hope that you can continue to do that without the use of balloons. Kites, paper flowers, flags, and banners are also festive and usually do no harm to the environment.

 We hear it all the time, “What can I do to help save animals?” “How can we make sure that this endangered species doesn’t go extinct?” Here is a single, practical way that YOU can help save the lives of animals. Help us protect the environment by not releasing balloons into the air for any reason, and being careful to avoid accidental releases. This simple step can have a very positive impact. If even one animal is saved by one less balloon in the environment then we have something to smile about!



Making an Impact

Samantha Sassone, Lead Zookeeper

Chehaw's participation in AZA's Red Wolf Species Survival Program is a perfect example of how captive animals can help their wild relatives.  Not only are we helping to increase the population of this critically endangered species, but we are broadcasting the news far and wide.  Opponents may claim that zoos promote animal births solely to increase revenue.  Let me give assurance that increasing revenue is not the reason we zookeepers bombard Chehaw's PR Coordinator with photos and stories of the wolf pups.

For me personally, the value of any zoo is measured by its ability to educate the public and use its collection to promote animal conservation.  Simply put, I believe that zoo animals are not in captivity just to be seen by the public.  They provide an opportunity for the public to learn.  There is no better way to develop an appreciation for another living creature than to see it in the flesh.  Zoo animals must be transformed into ambassadors that promote the welfare of their species.

Over the past week, I have watched Chehaw's Red Wolves become true ambassadors.  Their photos and stories have been shared all over social media, the local evening news, and even the front page of our local paper.

Here is a zookeeper's dream come true:  You (average zoo patron) come to Chehaw specifically to see the Red Wolf pups, because you've been besieged by adorable photos.  Instead, you find an adult Red Wolf staring into your eyes, and you can see the intelligence behind them.  Then, you watch a mother wolf tenderly grooming and nursing her pups while the father prowls nearby, supporting her while she cares for the young.  Suddenly, you realize that Red Wolves are capable of sustaining strong social bonds.  You begin to feel a connection to these animals and to this species.  You learn that they were once native to Georgia, so you do a little research on your own.  You read articles about the issues threatening the wild Red Wolf population in North Carolina, and you become a voice supporting predators in their native ranges.

If the above scenario plays out even once, this zoo will have accomplished something amazing for wildlife conservation.  And the first step was simply to promote these significant births to various forms of media.

Opponents to zoos may say that people should be visiting animals in the wild rather than in zoos.  The truth is that the vast majority of people will never have the opportunity.  And even if they did, the effects of millions of people trampling through native habitat just for a glimpse of a lion, well, that would be catastrophic.

I am lucky to work at a facility that maintains high standards of animal care, hence the AZA accreditation, and actively promotes not just itself, but animal welfare and conservation in general.