I’m very pleased to present this Q&A with the long-time director of the Phoenix Zoo, Jeff Williamson. The Phoenix Zoo has been involved in wildlife conservation since it opened in 1962 and Jeff has continued that tradition. On to the Q&A!
1. Please tell us a little about your background and how you came to be involved in wildlife conservation.
I grew up on farms and have always worked with living systems. Although most of my studies were in agriculture and public policy, my passion is
ecology and conservation biology. Having worked in zoos for over 30 years, I am particularly sensitive to the fact that no artificial environment, no matter how well intended, can replace the relationship between a creature and those it shares habitat with.
2. How do you see the role of zoos & zoological societies in preserving wildlife and wild lands?
The dominant conservation issue facing the world is driven by how humans make life choices and conduct their affairs. Conservation of nature, wild animals, and wild lands, depends upon our ability to amend human economic, social, cultural and political systems, not on our knowledge of the earth sciences. Zoos have access to large urban audiences that increasingly are inextricably altering environmental systems. We must engage them, and in compelling ways that affect intellectual understanding and emotive behaviors that move them to choose more sustainable lifestyles. In addition, zoos play a role in small population biology and in providing triage space for individual animals in peril. Sadly, there may be a growing need to find more and more non-urban space to provide long-term care for animals who are either injured, or have no where to return to. Zoos may evolve into centers that build stewardship skills and opportunities, while motivating people to interact with landscapes in ways that minimize harm.
3. What are some of the conservation projects the Phoenix Zoo is conducting?
We are involved in native species reptile and amphibian, avian and mammal projects, to include Mexican wolf, thick-billed parrot, California condor, pup fish, Kanab amber snail, black-footed ferrets, narrow-headed garter snakes, masked bob white quail, and jaguar, as well as active participants in a number of exotic species survival plans (SSP’s).
4. Are any of them specifically dealing with jaguars?
5. What are some of the ways the Phoenix Zoo has helped with jaguar conservation in the SW United States?
We are a co-partner and collaborator on the Northern Jaguar Project, to include sponsors of camera traps and corridor monitoring. We advocate for both habitat and connectivity. We help raise money to establish reserves in Northern Sonora as well.
6. What is your opinion of the biological impact of the border fence compared to uncontrolled foot traffic?
Both are problems for wildlife. Human interactions and disruptions of corridors are very harmful to diverse wildlife management and so are artificial man made barriers. Current border activity is harmful to wildlife and results in fragmentation. This is compounded by non-border recreational traffic, climate change, drought, and changes in species composition through non-native invasions.
7. What about the proposed Tumacacori Highlands Wilderness? Are you in favor of it?
Tumacacori is necessary and important. Preserving wilderness is essential as we continue to urbanize. Looking forward, it may also be necessary to reduce human impacts further if the landscapes’ carrying capacity is further challenged by climate and drought.
8. What is your suggestion for those who wish to conserve the jaguar in Arizona? What can they do to help?
Get involved with the Northern Jaguar Project, Sky Island Alliance, and Naturalia’s efforts to conserve habitat and corridors and encourage Arizona Game and Fish to help conserve population on both sides of the border, while managing human recreational activities so they are not disruptive.
9. A slight diversion here, but what can you tell us about plans to reintroduce (re-reintroduce?) Thick-billed Parrots into SE Arizona?
Game and Fish, The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Mexican agencies continue to explore ways of translocating free-ranging flocks in Chihuahua to appropriate historic ranges that may include the Chiricahua mountains. There is no firm plan that I know of to date to execute on those ambitions.
10. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
No. Except if we don’t choose to live and conserve with more constraint and insist on controlling constant consumptive growth, nature will decline. Conservation is enhanced by human choices that minimize and or do no harm.