In case you haven’t heard, the National Zoo will be closing the Invertebrate Exhibit tomorrow. It’s almost certainly a ‘done deal’, although you can sign the petition at Change.org to express your concerns (I did).
What the News Has Been Saying
The announcement was made Tuesday (though someone said Monday). Animals will be found other homes, either in other parts of the zoo (such as the rainforest exhibit) or at other institutions. No animals will be harmed. The five animal keepers who are employed at the house will be assigned to other parts of the zoo (which is understaffed). There will eventually (probably) be a biodiversity exhibit and many of these exhibits will be restored then.
I get that the hall needed to be revamped, and that the $5 million cost of renovation will instead go to making other exhibits more humane. I get that there are hard choices that had to be made, and that I would probably be distressed by any choices that they made. I just really, really wanted to take one last trip there to say “Goodbye”, which I did on Thursday (18 June).
So I Went to Say Goodbye
As always, the exhibit was full of visitors and FONZ volunteers. Many of the visitors, like us, had come for one last goodbye. Some seemed unaware that the exhibit was closing, which is not surprising, as there had been a total and complete news blackout about it up until the announcement. I can understand that. The Zoo, and the Smithsonian, must have anticipated that people would be irate, would attempt to organize and protest, and I’m sure they just wanted to avoid an uproar. The decision can’t have been easy, and anything they chose to cut would have been controversial. I’m sure they just wanted to be able to concentrate on what would be best for the animals.
While I was there I spoke to several of the volunteers, and I learned something which, rather than allowing me a sense of closure and acceptance, really changed the focus of my discontent.
What the News Has Not Been Saying
The story the volunteers told was not touched upon in the news coverage. The thing is, the staff, and the volunteers, were told about the closure just barely before the news media. They were told on Monday that the exhibit would be closed on Sunday. Certainly, there had been rumors, and speculation, for months. There was no training session for new volunteers when one would normally have been expected. The giant octopus, who had lived for an exceptionally long time after she laid eggs, was not replaced once she passed. There were plenty of signs and hints, but no official word.
The Smithsonian press release (linked above) does say that permanent employees will be reassigned. There is mention of what happens to researchers or volunteers. I, personally, find this unconscionable and undefendable behavior from some of the few institutions which have maintained my trust for years.
It’s very hard for me to find myself being this critical of the Smithsonian. It’s even harder for my Mother, who has been a Smithsonian supporter for as long as I can remember, she’s already decided not to renew her FONZ membership, and is considering letting her Smithsonian Associate membership expire as well.
Obviously, this is an emotional issue for me, and I’m probably rambling. I feel betrayed. I trust that the zoo is honestly trying to do the best it can for the animals it cares for, but I cannot say that I trust that they are making the same effort for the individual humans they employ, or who help out of the goodness of their heart. It just seems to me that they were so afraid of the public outcry which closing any exhibit would bring, they rushed to make it a fait accompli, and betrayed their own people in the process.
I want to see the Smithsonian treating it’s people better, even if it means they take a public relations hit in doing so. I think they made the calculation that by rushing this through so fast, the population as a whole would just blink and move on without really seeing it.
I’m afraid they’re right.