Photo: Jessie Cohen/Smithsonian’s National Zoo
“The Smithsonian Institution—the world’s largest museum and research complex—includes the National Zoological Park, 19 museums and galleries, and nine research facilities around the world. This Petition arises from a recent announcement made by the Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park.
On Monday, June 15, 2014, the National Zoo issued this press release, announcing the public had exactly six days to visit the Invertebrate House before it would close permanently.
Public reaction has not been favorable. One article reporting on the closing stated this:
“Having the nation’s zoo suddenly and with little public warning close a long-standing exhibit is unprecedented. Public comments on the Museum’s Facebook page are overwhelmingly shocked and negative, including some from volunteers that work at the Zoo.”
Wired’s Gwen Pearson spoke with Zoo Director Dennis Kelly, who said the Zoo plans to open a “Hall of Biodiversity” in 20 years (!) in which invertebrates may or may not be exhibited live. Meanwhile, no plans have even been made for the empty space occupied by the Invertebrate House, and Pearson reports “the building space the Invertebrate exhibit occupied will remain empty for the foreseeable future; the only plans are to clean the facility up.”
The Zoo recently completed a $52 million renovation of the Elephant House, and another $53 million project to house pandas. These investments promote two species, albeit highly visible and popular ones, while invertebrates make up 97% of all described species on earth, according to Pearson’s article.
Over two million people visit the National Zoo each year. Long-time visitors have fond and educational memories of their visits to the Invertebrate House, which exhibits cuttlefish, octopi, blue crabs, anemones, orb-weaving spiders, honeybees, leaf-cutter ants, and butterflies, among many other species.
The closure of the Invertebrate House leaves the National Zoo with no invertebrate exhibit. Yet, as numerous as they are on the planet, invertebrates remain so unstudied that major new discoveries are still being made in publicly-funded museum research programs. The very day the Smithsonian closure was announced, the American Natural History Museum in New York announced it had identified a new order of invertebrates in the phylum Cnidaria, which includes jellyfish, anemones, corals and their relatives. This new find, based on DNA analysis of invertebrate specimens collected near deep-ocean methane vents, is “equivalent to finding the first member of a group like primates or rodents,” said Estefanía Rodríguez, an assistant curator in the Museum’s Division of Invertebrate Zoology and the lead author of a new publication reporting the find. http://www.amnh.org/explore/news-blogs/research-posts/sea-anemone-tree-of-life-reveals-giant-species-as-impostor?utm_source=email&utm_medium=enotes&utm_campaign=newsletter-june&utm_term=20140617-tue
Keeping the Invertebrate House open furthers the mission of the National Zoo to “provide engaging experiences with animals and create and share knowledge to save wildlife and habitats.” http://nationalzoo.si.edu/AboutUs/Mission/NZP_Our_Plan_to_Save_Species.pdf. Watching octopi and cuttlefish explore their tanks is, to many visitors, equally as engaging as viewing elephants and pandas. Creating and sharing knowledge about invertebrates, the most numerous species of animals on Earth occupying habitats that encompass virtually our entire planet, is squarely within the National Zoo’s mission. The Invertebrate House can be improved, maintained and kept open at a fraction of the cost of the $100 million spent recently by the Smithsonian to exhibit elephants and pandas.
For these reasons, WE THE PEOPLE who are among the two million annual visitors to the National Zoo, have started and hereby support this petition to Keep the National Zoo’s Invertebrate House Open!”