Six Good Reasons to Stop Displaying Taxidermy Animals

I recently visited a major natural history museum in a U.S. city and again wondered at the tradition of displaying dead animals as so-called “live mounts.” I say “so-called” because the animals do not look alive. They just look dead, and are often displayed in unnatural poses or scenes. I will not judge the wisdom of taxidermy mounts in the past, but I sure question their use now or in the future. Much has changed since they became a major part of any natural history exhibit. I think there are NSbisonclassroommany good reasons to phase them out everywhere, but here are six to think about.

 

  • Videography is widely available and shows any animal in its natural habitat, behaving normally. You learn little from a still scene with stuffed animals other than how the taxidermist feels the animal might have looked at one particular second in time.
  • Some young people see taxidermy animals and want their own trophy. Encouraging trophy hunting in a world with declining wildlife populations is a dubious choice. A camera captures a trophy shot or video of a living creature that is far more easily shared with others than a mounted specimen. Why would we not choose that option over killing an animal for anything less than our own survival?
  • Making a stuffed animal "touchable" usually results in degradation of the skin and fur with some danger from arsenic if its an older live mount.
    Making a stuffed animal “touchable” usually results in loss of fur with some danger from arsenic if its an older live mount.

    Many older live mounts were preserved with arsenic to discourage insect damage. Placing these specimens where the public can touch them to feel the fur is a bad idea. It transfers the arsenic to anyone who touches it and hastens the loss of fur on the specimen.

  • People who see a taxidermy mount often ask, “How did you obtain that?” You are faced with the opportunity to say it was found dead or tell the unflattering truth that it was shot or trapped to become a display. In either case the person asking will likely be wondering if your organization’s ethical position is one they want to support.
  • Even expertly mounted specimens do not always look like the live animal. It is not easy to precisely recreate its look when building a body from artificial materials. In some cases, specimens are placed out of context or in juxtaposition with other animals in a scenario that would be highly unlikely in nature, misrepresenting reality and negating any educational value that might be gained from the display.
  • Lions of Tsavo exhibit in Chicago, IL, at the Museum of Natural History.
    Lions of Tsavo exhibit in Chicago, IL, at the Museum of Natural History.

    Taxidermy mounts often show only a single example of a species and sometimes that example is the largest, the most unusual, or some other hyperbolic example instead of the average. The diversity of colors and shapes among that species may be bypassed. The man-eating lions of Tsavo National Park in Kenya were anomalies in lion behavior but display of them at a Chicago museum keeps this unique and frightening story alive instead of celebrating the important role that lions play in African savannahs, usually with very little danger to humans if we behave appropriately.

 

My views on this grew from observing people viewing taxidermy mounts at a state park visitor center in Illinois in 1972. I watched and listened as children approached them and asked questions of us. A few weeks into that job, I pulled all of them off display and moved toward photography and works of art to show examples of animals. I enjoyed not explaining how we came to be displaying dead animals at a place where we were charged with protecting living animals. I had inherited the exhibit from a previous manager, but could not ethically keep it in front of the public.

 

The media we choose to interpret natural history also tells people quite a lot about our ethics. Isn’t it time to take dead animals off display and share the amazing experiences of seeing them in nature?

 

– Tim Merriman

 

 

 

Encouraging a Community of Arts

Today we stopped by the Donkey Mill Art Center just south of Holualoa, Hawaii, and enjoyed a small but fascinating exhibit based on area artists taking the challenge of creating a unique work of art from one eight foot two by four, the most basic unit in wood home construction. The variety of results achieved by the artists inspired us.

 

By Kathleen Dunphry
By Kathleen Dumphry

I actually liked all of the pieces to varying degree. The burnt one to create charcoal to write on a graffiti panel, the carved birds and chameleon, the large colorful face, the sidewinder and the people figures were my favorites (my names for the examples, not the names provided by the artists). The Art Center invited the artists to participate in this year’s event, but may offer a more open event in the future that would allow anyone to submit a creative 2x4x8’ entry.

 

We have lived near Holualoa the past eight months while building a new home near Kealakekua Bay about fifteen miles further south. Holualoa is a charming heritage community that has seen good times and tough times over the last century and a half with the economic challenges of growing sugar cane, coffee and avocado on the rugged terrain of Hualalai, one of the five

Bus Stop by Kate and Will Jacobson.
Bus Stop by Kate and Will Jacobson.

volcanoes that make up the Big Island of Hawaii. But even before European and Asian farmers began larger scale production of those crops, the area comprised part of the ancient Kona Field System that Hawaiians used to raise breadfruit and other crops. In recent years Holualoa has become well known, not only for its exceptional Kona Coffee, but for the many artists and art shops in the two-block downtown area.

 

Started in 1994, Donkey Mill Art Center states their vision as”

 

We are a gathering place where people develop as creative, conscious and healthy human beings through art, education and experience.

 

Charcoal by April Matthews.
Charcoal by April Matthews.

They offer art education and experiences to people of all ages and abilities at the center, which is a beautifully restored part of the agricultural history of the community. Holualoa hosts a “community stroll” one Friday evening each month that keeps the varied creative businesses and cafes open later than usual to invite everyone to stop by and enjoy “pupus” (snacks), beverages and local music while celebrating the artistic creations of the community.

 

Several thoughts come to mind from looking at the important work of Donkey Mill Art Center.

  • Communities with an artistic vision create a very strong sense of place that brings people, stories, and ideas together to grow and embrace heritage.
  • A simple challenge like “make something creative from an 8 foot 2X4” can demonstrate the depth and power of creativity in any community.
  • Cultural heritage, agricultural identity and artistic endeavors create a beautiful community fabric of expression, a stronger identity.

 

Sidewinder by Ken Little.
Sidewinder by Ken Little.

Art centers are often seen in large metropolitan communities but this one in a small town makes the point that the arts help us identify our own sense of self and place and could be in any community. The creative 2x4x8 exhibit could be used by nature centers, zoos, aquariums, museums and parks as a way of bringing attention to recycling, reuse, biodiversity, and any number of other concepts. Creative expression is a great way to engage people of all ages and build a stronger community. Kudos to the Donkey Mill Art Center.

 

– Tim Merriman

 

Though Boys Throw Stones at Frogs in Sport

A very long time ago Bion of Borysthenes, (325-250 B.C.) wrote,

 

Though boys throw stones at frogs in sport, yet the frogs do not die in sport but in earnest.

 

This Greek slave, later a freedman turned philosopher, shared several ideas that get interpreted lots of ways and still resonate today. The boys throwing stones quote came to mind as I read the many Facebook posted stories about the Minnesota dentist who killed Cecil, the 13-year old male lion, in Zimbabwe. It died for no reason beyond the grownup greed of a dentist wanting a trophy.

 

DSC_0620_2_2
National Geographic Society estimates that 100,000 elephants were poached in the past three years for their ivory. Yet some licenses were still sold in Zimbabwe to allow shooting of these incredible animals using the claim that it was necessary management, not just the big price claimed for a license.

Trophy hunters like the dentist rationalize their big kills of large predators and vulnerable but rare hoofed animals. It’s easy to rationalize if you are rich and the government allows your bad behaviors because you’ve paid for the right to take a life. A poor person shooting any animal on a preserve for food is simply labeled a poacher.

 

Here’s the problem with trophy hunting rationalizations. They’re just plain wrong. Some of the most common lies told in the name of excusing a completely unnecessary and undesirable behavior:

 

  • I removed an over-mature male from the population (big antlers), making room for younger healthy animals to grow up. What this really means is I removed a dominant, successful breeder. It’s kind of like a farmer saying I killed my best bull for meat instead of keeping it in the breeding herd. No farmer does this but wildlife agencies allow trophy hunting of the biggest and best breeders in wildlife populations because they want the fees, which brings us to the next misconception.
  • My big fee for hunting supports the local community and gives them jobs as guides, porters, food preparers and drivers. Photography safaris do this even more effectively because they leave the animals for others to see instead of putting a head on the wall. Also the big money for licenses and safaris goes mostly to large landowners, resort owners and sometimes to corrupt government officials. There are many more effective ways to help local communities around the world. Mountain gorilla tourism in Rwanda and Uganda shows the real power of non-consumptive tourism to help local communities and protect vulnerable wildlife populations. Every license fee includes a percentage back to local communities. Mountain gorilla populations have increased over fourfold in two decades due to the protections offered by non-consumptive tourism.
  • We are keeping the herd numbers controlled. If we really wanted to keep a herd or population of animals from overeating the food supply, we would return the appropriate predators to the area to do that job. Trophy hunters do not want old, sick and injured animals which are the ones targeted by natural predators.
  • We removed a dangerous predator to protect people. The only real predator of consequence for humans are other humans. Large, dangerous predators in natural areas play a key role in removal of prey from populations based on natural selection of sick, injured and unfit to survive animals.
  • We killed this animal to protect local villages from damage to their farms. All over the world, people are finding creative ways to live next to wildlife without having someone fly in from halfway around the world to kill animals to “help.” When outsiders take it upon themselves to solve a problem, there’s a good chance the animal killed is not even the one causing the problem. And if this is a real need, shouldn’t local people be involved in the decision and asked whether that kind of help is really needed?

 

DSC_0187_2_2
Photographic safaris help people make a connection with the majestic large predators of the world, while protecting them and their habitats.

Trophy hunting has been a blind spot in wildlife management for many decades. Sport hunting is a big industry with powerful lobbies. Animals suffer incredible indignities and very real suffering as injured animals, shot by ego-junkies. Cecil was injured and tracked 40 hours before being killed. Surely there’s a more humane way to decorate a living room.

 

Aldo Leopold is often regarded as the “Father of Wildlife Management” for writing an early textbook on the subject. Over time he has become even better known more widely for his land ethic. He wrote,

 

The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land… In short, a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for his fellow-members, and also respect for the community as such.

 

Human greed trumps and perverts our understanding of ecological principles. The power of money and large egos have twisted our ethics on every front. We allow trophy hunting despite there being no basis for it in wildlife management that makes sense.

 

Bion of Borysthenes also is quoted,

 

The miser did not possess wealth, but was possessed by it.

 

A dentist who will pay $50,000 to kill a large animal for its head and the joy of killing cannot make that action make sense to anyone but another greedy trophy hunter. We need a real movement to change the decision-making in wildlife management toward practices that are more humane and sustainable. It’s a good time to get started. This lion died in earnest, but perhaps he will not have died in vain.

 

– Tim Merriman

 

 

Mass Media Ethics in Films and Videos

http://tedxtalks.ted.com/video/Confessions-of-a-Wildlife-Filmm

Early in my career I delivered snake programs with live snakes for people to touch or see at a state park. Each year my live snake show at the Illinois State Fair would draw four or five daily audiences of hundreds. I was trying to provide an alternate narrative to the misinformation about snakes delivered through movies, TV news reports and friends’ flawed stories, exaggerated over time. One of my examples from that time period, the 1970s:

 

Remember Tarzan movies with Johnnie Weismueller? Tarzan is walking through the African jungle, an Austalian cockatoo sings from the treetops, an American alligator yawns in the river nearby, a Central American jaguar growls from the underbrush and a South American boa constrictor falls 5,000 miles sideways from a tree landing right on Tarzan’s chest. The 200-pound man wrestles the 15-pound snake with only his bare hands and a 10-inch knife. Most of what we hear and see about snakes is just as bizarre and just as made-up as that scenario.

 

Movies back then employed stock footage from diverse sources to tell their stories. Accuracy and ethics were not discussed. But decades later, it seems little has changed, or has it? We expect movies based on fiction to present unbelievable events and we overlook things that are unrealistic since it’s supposed to be entertainment, but what if credible non-fiction videographers and storytellers do that same thing?

 

Animal Planet, National Geographic Explorer and Discovery channels provide cable programming on diverse nature and culture topics. From Shark Week to Rattlesnake Republic to Finding Bigfoot, these programs attempt to build an audience with seemingly real content. Are their producers concerned about accuracy, conservation issues and the ethical treatment of animals?

 

Chris Palmer is a successful wildlife videographer who teaches about his profession at American University. In a recent TED talk he spoke candidly about the ethical choices a filmmaker makes routinely. Much of what we have seen and enjoyed in video storytelling about wildlife is a blend of real footage shot in the wilds and staged shots that help tell the story. The public is usually disappointed when they find out that seemingly realistic views into the private lives of animals are often confections, not the amazing videography they seem to be.

 

Palmer points out that our very best cable channels about animals now tilt heavily towards overly dramatized dangers. Rattlesnake Republic on the Animal Planet follows four groups of rattlesnake hunters to varied setting for roundups that make a spectacle of animal cruelty. On another program, “researchers” seek the mythical creature, Bigfoot. Pseudoscience gets better ratings than real science and program executives give us what we want, not what we need. Chris Palmer ends his TED talk with his thoughts on what we might do to improve the situation. I urge you to listen to his talk and consider his ideas.

 

Nature centers, zoos, museums, aquariums and wildlife sanctuaries seem to be the logical alternative for people to learn about the real world and counter what they think they know from sensational but inaccurate and overdramatized cable shows. But it may be a challenge to draw people away from their videos and TVs to take part in activities based in the real world. How do you compete with and/or complement the virtual programming in your area?

 

– Tim Merriman

 

 

 

The Uncertain Future of Elephants

Earth’s largest land animals, elephants, have never been more threatened. Dozens, if not hundreds, of organizations and individuals are working on various tactics in hopes of turning the current very negative trend.

 

Sheldrick Wild Animal Trust allows daily visits to the orphaned elephants, a chance to tell the story of poaching and habitat destruction.
Sheldrick Wild Animal Trust allows daily visits to the orphaned elephants, a chance to tell the story of poaching and habitat destruction.

Since 1977 the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust has been devoted to protecting elephants. Their Orphans Project is noted for rescuing, raising and rehabilitating elephants and rhinos for eventual release at Tsavo National Park. Tourists are moved by seeing orphaned baby elephants at Sheldrick Trust’s elephant orphanage in Kenya and they chip in to help by “adopting” an elephant or rhino, helping to pay the costs of raising these big babies. It’s hard to resist these youngsters and certainly, we didn’t even try to do so on our visit there, promptly adopting two elephants and one rhino for a two-year period.

 

Females have tusks so they are at risk with poachers. The little ones will only survive if their mothers do also.
Females have tusks so they are at risk with poachers. The little ones will only survive if their mothers do also.

Safaris take people out to see elephants in the wild, but too often people enjoy the safari experience without understanding the unseen threat of poachers that is one of the causes for so many elephant and rhino orphans. These highly engaged tourists could be donors if their guides would share the stories of how populations are declining and options for where to make contributions.

 

An old bull is nicknamed a "tusker." This identity reminds us that their tusks are so valuable that these mature animals are especially at risk.
An old bull is nicknamed a “tusker.” This identity reminds us that their tusks are so valuable that these mature animals are especially at risk.

Elephant orphanages and ecotours do not offer a panacea in the battle to save elephants. They are one piece of a complex puzzle that might build greater empathy among tourists for the plight faced by elephants. Better monitoring of populations is important to detect and interdict poachers. Research informs biologists how populations are changing. Enforcement officers must be on hand to catch poachers and get them prosecuted. Laws have to hold poachers and ivory buyers accountable. Sadly, the big money behind ivory poaching also contributes to corruption among government officials. Some are paid to look the other way and in many places this allows poaching to go unchecked.

 

Legitimate government and non-government organizational commitments to support habitat conservation, anti-poaching efforts, and education programs all require money and very often, that does not come unless there is broad understanding by people of the importance of the issues involved.

 

Most folks will never take a safari or see baby elephants in an orphanage. The zoo or a television program provides their one chance to learn about the plight of elephants in the wild. Can you imagine telling your grandchildren one day of the majestic herds of elephants that once roamed the forests and savannahs of Asia and Africa that have been wiped out? Although keeping such a large, social animal in a zoo is certainly controversial, we need opportunities to tell the elephants’ stories skillfully. Many zoos, even some without captive elephants, do that quite well. Some also take donations to protect habitat, hire rangers and guard remaining wild populations.

 

We live in a time when our knowledge of environmental threats has never been greater. And yet our political will and tools to protect elephants may not be adequate to the challenge. About 400,000 African elephants remain in nature with more than 35,000 being killed each year. About 40,000 Asian elephants live in their greatly diminished range. And the current rate of killing could reduce this noble animal to near extinction in a dozen more years at this level of poaching.

 

I think it has been shown over and over that we need ecosystems approaches to how we deal with the world’s environmental problems. Thoughtful policy, law enforcement, habitat protection, monitoring and interpretation each play a vital role. Some agencies and organizations choose one or two of these tools in preference to using all of them, but a balanced approach is needed overall. Strategic partnerships are vital in getting organizations working together to save the world’s elephants. Individuals can simply reject the purchase or display of anything made of ivory and help advocate for better support for elephant conservation.

 

World Elephant Day approaches on August 12th and it’s a chance for people from all over the world to speak up about the threat to elephants and the need for diverse approaches to protecting them. A balanced approach is needed if elephants are to be saved as keystone species in their natural ranges.

 

– Tim Merriman

 

Only elephants should wear ivory.

 

 

 

Great Things Happen to Good People

 

You often hear “bad things happen to good people.” It’s sometimes true and unfortunate, but sometimes great things happen to good people. Ange

Ange Imanishimwe
Ange Imanishimwe, a Mandela Washington Fellow and Intern.

Imanishimwe was selected to participate in the Mandela Washington Fellowships (MWF) this summer. We first met Ange when training Certified Interpretive Guides in Rwanda. Ange organized Biocoop Rwanda to defeat poverty in his region of Rwanda and to better protect the unique ecosystems in Nyungwe National Park where he guides. Their work has created more than 600 jobs for local people while improving community health, removing invasive species from the park and organizing beekeeping and milk production coops to assist local farmers.

 

Ange arrived in Berkeley this past weekend to participate in President Obama’s Young African Leadership Initiative (YALI) as part of the MWF program. It starts

Ange (upper right) met his Rwandan and Congolese colleagues at Kigali Airport for the trip to the United States just a few days ago.
Ange (upper right) met his Rwandan and Congolese colleagues at Kigali Airport for the trip to the United States just a few days ago.

with six weeks at a major university, University of California in this case, with intensive courses in entrepreneurship, leadership training and skills building. After the six weeks, the 500 Fellows convene in Washington, D.C. for a summit with President Obama. One hundred, including Ange, will remain another six to eight weeks for internships with major businesses and organizations. Ange will deliver public lectures at Harvard and Yale Universities during his internship with The Nature Conservancy in Boston.

 

The U.S. State Department invests an additional 5 million dollars in grants to these YALI participants over the next three years to assist with creating or improving non-profits that benefit communities. This kind of capacity building offers opportunities to young leaders who have already shown their ability to mobilize people and resources, helping to improve their African nations.

 

If any of our friends or colleagues in the San Francisco Bay area or Boston would like to meet Ange and show him around the region a bit, you will find he is interested to learn all he can from his visit to the USA. He is a very talented naturalist and guide with broad interests in people and the world. Let us know if you might share some of what our country has to offer and we can make the introduction for you but it must be soon as his time in Berkeley is limited. He is there now and moves on to Boston around the first of August.

 

Thanks to the thoughtful contributions of Marvin and Marion Kleinau and Tom Christensen, we recently sent three more new laptops to Rwandan park guides. Ange has one of those computers to use in his work. Access to the Internet is important to stay in touch with grant opportunities and colleagues around the world.

 

If you wish to buy a laptop ($260) or donate a gently used one to send to a guide at a national park in Rwanda, just let us know and we will handle the logistics of getting it to the hands of a guide after loading it with free open source software. You can help make great things happen for good people.

 

– Tim Merriman

The Power of Real People

Using photos of real people on signs and exhibits is an especially powerful method of telling the stories of communities. Here are some examples we have seen around the world that were interesting choices connecting visitors to real people in the region.

The people of the Warm Springs area are shown on life-size cutouts behind the museum stage reminding you that the Paiute and Wasco people still live nearby.
The Native American  people of the Warm Springs area in Oregon are shown on life-size cutouts behind the museum stage reminding you that the Warm Springs, Paiute and Wasco people still live nearby.

The Warm Springs, Wasco and Paiute people of Oregon share their stories in the Warm Springs Museum and their images appear beside the projection screen in the museum theater. Cultural stories could be told just with artifacts and artist’s drawings as is done in some places, but photos of local people help visitors understand that this community is still here and the people in it serve as your hosts.

This sign at the Mamu Tropical Skywalk explains that you are visiting the traditional lands of the Mamu people. That alone would not make much of a connection to the community.
This sign at the Mamu Tropical Skywalk explains that you are visiting the traditional lands of the Mamu people. That alone would not make much of a connection to the community.
Other signs like this one have photos of elders and community members with text that interprets their community.
Other signs like this one have photos of elders and community members with text that interprets their community.
The signs are engaging and the photos really keep the Mamu people on your mind as you look at the beautiful landscape. The highly reflective material and text very low on the signs make reading a bit difficult. Those are design choices to be considered when placing signs along a trail. It is easier to read text if at chest or eye level.
The signs are engaging and the photos really keep the Mamu people on your mind as you look at the beautiful landscape.

The highly reflective material and text placed very low on the signs make these signs at Mamu Tropical Skywalk challenging to read, but the intent in using Aboriginal community members as spokespeople is sound. It would be easier for visitors to make the important connection to the stories of local people if text was placed closer to average eye level and sign material made non-reflective.

Dr. Chris Mayer worked with Vivamos Major, a non-profit, in the Santa Clara La Laguna by Lake Atitlan in Guatemala.
Dr. Chris Mayer worked with Vivamos Major, a non-profit, in the Santa Clara La Laguna by Lake Atitlan in Guatemala to plan and develop The Refuge Trail using local images.

The signs placed on The Refuge Trail at Lake Atitalan used artist’s images of local people to create a strong connection with the project. The planner  engaged local artists and artisans in designing and building the trail and signage so they had a great sense of ownership and pride in their creative skills.
(Photo by Chris Mayer from Put the Heart Back In Your Community.)

This sign in the highlands of Malaysia at a Semai village show one of the guides who lead ecotours into the forest nearby.
This sign at a Semai village in the highlands of Malaysia  show one of the local guides with a Rafflesia flower.

The Malaysian Nature Society assisted this Semai village economically in shifting away from selling bird-winged butterflies and Rafflesia buds from the world’s largest flower to museum shops with ecotourism training in guest experience design. When you visit this charming village in the highlands a guide from the community takes you into the forest to see the Rafflesia, the butterflies and amazing insects found only there. Income from ecotourism is much greater than the income from selling organisms and they are now protecting their local forests and its inhabitants.

In Singapore they have life-sized posters of local customer service agents with an inviting message.
In Singapore life-sized posters of local customer service agents invite guests to learn more.

In Singapore, the history of the community is shared on interpretive signs on the streets. These interesting cutouts of life-sized photos of local customer service workers made it clear that they are proud of their friendly welcome for visitors. Since staff cannot always be on duty, the sign lets you know that assistance is available.

It is important that representing real recognizable people on signs and exhibits is done tastefully and with permission of those whose images are used. Talking about indigenous communities and local guides may be good but photos of them provide a much more direct connection to the community.

– Tim Merriman

Your Message Could Be Many Places

Signs, exhibits, videos and TVs are the most common media selected for interpretive messages at natural and cultural heritage sites and in communities. There are some variations on these approaches that will convey a message powerfully and creatively. Here are a few to think about:

 

You find Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch card on an exhibit or in the hand of a volunteer but you carry around in your wallet because the message is helpful and business card size.
Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch cards are given out on an exhibit or by staff or volunteers. The card can be  carried around in a wallet so that the information is readily available when buying seafood after leaving the aquarium.
A well thought out message on a food lockbox at Yosemite reminds people to protect the bears and yourself by storing food properly.
Although the design could be improved, a well thought out message on a food lockbox at Yosemite reminds people to protect the bears and yourself by storing food properly.
Even the sewer grate in Monterey has a message about where dumped liquids go in the environment.
Even the sewer grate in Monterey has a message about where dumped liquids go in the environment.

 

Entry tickets become keepsakes at many places and the message stays around, a reminder of an important story.
Entry tickets become keepsakes at many places, a reminder of the important stories found at the site.
Bathroom messages at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo share relevant messages to where you are.
Bathroom messages at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo share relevant messages about solid waste management.
Murals share heritage stories in very public places like this one in Philadelphia.
Murals share heritage stories in very public places like this one in Philadelphia.
Even electrical utility box in Old Town Fort Collins is a location for a mural, a visual message.
Even the electrical utility box in Old Town Fort Collins is a location for a mural, a visual message.
The El Paso Airport places memorable messages from their tourists in the floor for new arrivals to read near the baggage claim.
The El Paso Airport places memorable messages from residents in the floor for new arrivals to read near the baggage claim, answering the question “what’s special about El Paso?
A museum in Philadelphia uses outdoor building walls as a place to share local poetry.
A museum in Philadelphia uses outdoor building walls as a place to share local poetry.
The Rainforest Cafe invites donations through a unique use of a parking meter with a clear message.
The Rainforest Cafe invites donations through a unique use of a parking meter with a clear message.
Rainforest Cafe uses messaging in varied creative ways with napkins, table tents and menus.
Rainforest Cafe uses messaging in varied creative ways with napkins, table tents and menus.
Kids are invited to create artworks that have a message and then they are used as the sign.
Kids are invited to create artwork with a message that is then incorporated into sign design.
Public sculpture in this heritage community near Perth, Australia, reminds guests of the fishing traditions of the area.
Public sculpture in this heritage community near Perth, Australia, reminds guests of the fishing traditions of the area.
This path near Perth explains the challenges of new immigrants arriving with limited personal resources.
This path near Perth explains the challenges of new immigrants arriving with limited personal resources.

Visiting natural and cultural heritage sites and communities will become more interesting if we broaden our view of where messages can be shared.

– Tim Merriman

 

 

 

Shark Bait – Revealing the Real Story

Sharks are always part of the attraction at a marine aquarium.
Sharks are always part of the attraction at a marine aquarium.

Recent shark attacks in Hawaii are the current subject of conversation when we call family members on the mainland. In the past few months, a shark attack on Maui and a surfer bitten by a tiger shark in the Big Island’s northern waters were reported nationally as major stories. The focus of media attention makes it sound as if Hawaii’s waters are somehow increasingly dangerous. And they are to a degree, as more people than ever are enjoying snorkeling, surfing, fishing, boating and other water-related activities in the islands. But drowning poses a far greater hazard for snorkelers than sharks. In 2014 there were 8 million visitors to the islands and only three reported shark attacks. Since 2013, only two shark-related fatalities, both around Maui. Compare that to an average of 60 drownings each year, which usually occur because someone entered the water without knowledge of how to snorkel, kayak, or surf safely.

 

The average of 29 snorkeling deaths a year in Hawaii are usually attributed to inexperienced people in unfamiliar circumstances in the ocean.
The average of 29 snorkeling deaths a year in Hawaii are usually attributed to inexperienced people in unfamiliar circumstances in the ocean.

When I was a state park interpreter in the mid-1970s and doing live snake programs routinely, I would ask my audience which was more dangerous to humans – sharks, venomous snakes, bees, autos, aspirin, alcohol or tobacco. Both children and adults would guess that snakes and sharks are more dangerous to people than the other items (all of which are more deadly). The news media at that time reported every venomous snakebite and rarely brought up the medical statistics related to it, about ten deaths a year nation-wide. Two deaths from sharks worldwide was the average. Compared to 350,000 deaths annually in the U.S. from tobacco use, the danger of snakebite or shark attack was minimal. Snakes and sharks provide benefits that far outweigh any dangers and they are essential in healthy ecosystems.

 

Fear is a powerful persuader. Just look at the sensational headlines and stories that grip the nation. We often don’t look beneath the headlines unless the reporter does a very responsible job of helping us understand the real dangers involved. Great journalists put stories in perspective but the tabloid press mentality of many digital and print media reporters leads to amplification of the dangers and make nature seem more dangerous than our personal drinking habits or driving behaviors.

 

Interpreters help reveal nature’s mysteries and important stories, but safety is always an important messaging opportunity. People want to survive the experience and ignorance of the real dangers in the environment can threaten that. We can help people understand the real hazards of recreation and how they might behave to be more safe and treat wildlife and the environment more responsibly. It’s a chance to teach some natural history and reveal the incredible benefits of predators in their natural roles in the ocean or on land.

 

Tourism is the big economic driver for Hawaii so various sources publish excellent information on the real dangers in the water and the value of sharks. Interpreters who are skilled at getting in front of the news cameras should let media sources know when they get the story wrong and help them share a better understanding of how we may all live, work and play safely in the outdoors.

 

– Tim Merriman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We’re Nuts about Hamakua Nut Factory’s Tour

mac1We have driven by the sign pointing up the hill in Kawaihae, Hawaii, many times. Hamakua Nut Factory Tour is just one block off of the main highway from Kailua-Kona to Hawi on the Big Island of Hawaii. Having a guest with us, we were looking for a macadamia nut factory tour and the time was right to finally check it out.

 

Hamakua is a district on the northeast of the island, but Hamakua Nut Factory is in Kohala, the northwest district, over an hour’s drive from the mac nut orchards of Hamakua. The factory’s owner located in Kohala because it is a dryer part of the island facilitating more rapid drying of the nuts for processing. Also, the factory is less than a mile from the Kawaihae harbor that container ships use, the least expensive way to export products from the island.

 

macnut5We entered the Visitor Center and immediately were greeted by staff inviting us to try their varied flavors of mac nuts, mac nut brittle and mac nut kettle corns. They invited us to wash down the samples with a variety of Ka’u and Kona coffees made available for tasting. The food sampling display was exceptional and I even tried the spam-flavored mac nuts; not my favorite but not unpleasant. The coffee was excellent and demonstrated that good coffee comes from Ka’u District as well as Kona.

 

Down the hall from the reception area is a self-guided tour that begins with one of the best videos of an ag-industrial process I’ve seen. In less than five minutes, it told the processing story from collecting nuts to drying, cracking and on to the Hamakua Nut Factory kitchens and packaging plants. When the video was over, we turned around to walk along the windows looking into the kitchens where workers wearing protective clothing prepared the nuts in a variety of ways. They made batches of flavored and candied nuts from the raw product and packed the product into attractive sales bags or boxes. Similar ones were displayed along the hallway where the tour took place. Returning to the reception area of the macnut4Visitor Center, we had picked up more than a few items to purchase. The friendly sales staff rang up our purchases (with a kama’aina/local person’s discount) and then it was time to get out on the road to visit Hawi and Kapa’au, with just one more quick visit to the sampling table on the way out the door.

 

The charm of this self-guided tour was as appealing as the guided tour at Mountain Thunder I wrote about last week, in a different way. The tour invites visitors to stroll through at their own speed and ask questions of staff. It was just the right level of attention from well-trained staff, who were helpful without being intrusive. A visit could take five minutes or two hours, as desired. We have seen mac nut tours with viewing windows in other places, but not with the tour, tasting macnut3room and sales area under one roof. This approach tied the process, products and sales together very neatly. Mac nut ice cream and specialized coffee drinks were also available in the Visitor Center.

 

Interpretation of ag-industrial processes certainly makes sense from an economic perspective. They sell products to almost everyone who stops to look and taste. Ag tourism or agriturismo, as it is called in Italy, can transform a hard working agricultural district into one with literally hundreds of ag businesses that sell products and also deliver engaging experiences. Tuscany in Italy has more than 400 agriturismo businesses in that one province. They help visitors learn about farming practices, wine and cheese making, and local culture and provide charming places to stay with wonderful food.

 

The Bergdahl family enjoyed the humorous postcard photo opportunity.
The Bergdahl family from California enjoyed the humorous postcard photo opportunity.

I grew up in agricultural country in Illinois and saw few tours or experience-based ag businesses. Many farms sold their apples or peaches from roadside stands but few ever made the effort to tell their story in a way that engaged visitors more deeply. Engaged guests stay longer, buy more and tell their friends. Kids on ag tours learn that nuts, fruit, vegetables and fiber come from important processes after growing and harvest of ag products. At a time when many of a child’s experiences with the world are virtual, these real experiences have great attention getting and holding power.

 

We enjoy the agricultural ambiance of the Big Island. And we’re loving the sophistication of some of the agricultural tour opportunities we’ve seen. I guess it’s fair to say that we’re nuts about these macadamia factory tours.

 

-Tim Merriman