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Smiles across many miles and the animal connection

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Ray Pawley pictured near center in plaid shirt with glasses; standing with Moscow Zoopark volunteers. Anastasia’s translator is pictured to the left of Pawley; and Anastasia is kneeling to the right of Pawley with the rest of the class. (Submitted Photo)

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Take a close look at both groups of zoo staffers that had their pictures taken with me after I gave the same lecture to both of them. Based on your intuition, where in the world were these two pictures taken?

Field study group in Lake Forest, Illinois, participating in a wildlife inventory. Ray Pawley is pictured fourth from the left. (Submitted Photo)

Smiles are, as we know, international. Even universal if we include some of those other kinds of creatures we choose to share our lives with — and often know us better than we know them.

Animals are a non-political thread that connects zoos and the people that work in them across the globe. People that work in zoos typically treat each other and zoos in other countries as a single community regardless of whatever political differences may exist.

So where were these pictures taken?

Answer: One of the two groups consist of post-graduate students in Zoology under the auspices of Rob Carmichael’s Wildlife Discovery Center at Elawa Farm, Lake Forest, Illinois. The other group consists of zoo volunteers.

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The field study group is in Lake Forest, Illinois, participating in a wildlife inventory. The zoo volunteer group is in a classroom in Moscow Zoopark, Russia. Although I do not speak Russian, the translator, Anastasia, was so expert at simultaneous translation that we soon forgot we were speaking two different languages.

This brings me to an international political question: Why can’t the nations of the world come closer together rather than push each other further apart? Zoos everywhere typically depend on, as well as help each other, largely through shared goals that include protecting, breeding and managing animals. Animals and the visitors that come to see them are the primary connection that builds cooperation and strength between zoos in all corners of the world.

Even during times of extreme adversity such as wars, there were examples of animals coming first, by relocating certain species and specimens to other zoos in safer locations and sometimes, it is rumored, across enemy lines.

In fact, I have a personal experience that happened soon after I arrived at Brookfield Zoo. I was giving a tour to one of the Schulz brothers of the animal collecting family from Okahandja, SW Africa. In the employees’ staff corridor, we met up with our senior elephant keeper, Roy. The following exchange took place: Roy Woodruff: “Schultz! I thought you were shot down over Sicily.” Schulz said with a smile: “Yah. But like a bad weed, I am still here.” Two warriors of similar age, one from the Allied side and the other a pilot in the Luftwaffe were seeing each other for the first time since before the war when they were in regular contact. They inquired about each other’s families, swapped addresses and began updating each other about elephants — based on experiences learned by Schulz about the animals in the bush and by Woodruff working with the same animals in captivity. They shared a never-ending quest dedicated to making lifestyle improvements for all species, including these huge beasts. While they didn’t shake hands, they smiled a lot and hoped to meet each other again sometime.

On another occasion and at an international conference of zoo directors that took place when I last visited Moscow, both the Ukrainian and several Russian zoo directors were pledging their full support to each other, to maintain ongoing working relations among their respective zoos in spite of whatever differences might arise in their respective country’s national political interests.

The take-home message: Smiles are like lasers that can cut through many layers of resistance. If zoos can do it — and they always have — why not nations?

Ray Pawley, previously with Chicago’s Lincoln Park and Brookfield zoos and the Field Museum of Natural History, continues to consult for zoos and museums. He resides in Arabela, where his research on animal behavior and physiology is ongoing. Most recently he has directed the Hubbard Museum of the American West in Ruidoso Downs and lectures for national audiences. He can be reached at raypawley@pvtnetworks.net.

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