Last week Elliott, my grandson, and I visited the Alligator Farm Zoological Park in St. Augustine, Florida. Since Elliott is not reading yet, he wants me to read the name of each animal and we study the maps showing their natural habitat throughout the world. We looked, talked and took lots of pictures! After viewing a few habitats, Elliott asked me what it said on the wooden sign on the front of numerous habitats. ENDANGERED SPECIES! “Does that mean they are extinct?” I was quite comfortable explaining the difference between being extinct and being endangered. He listened with the sponge-like intensity of a four-year-old. We continued through the habitats looking for those wooden signs. Alligators, crocodiles, exotic birds, small monkeys, komodo dragons and monitors were all admired.
Have no fear! That is a statue of an alligator that Elliott is petting.
Please note: The St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park participates in the Species Survival Plan (SSP) program which is a cooperative population management and conservation program for selected species in zoos and aquariums in North America. Each SSP manages the breeding of a species in order to maintain a healthy and self-sustaining population that is both genetically diverse and demographically stable. In addition, the St Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) due to their dedication to providing excellence in conservation, education, science, and recreation. With its more than 200 accredited members, AZA is a leader in the global wildlife conservation, and your link to helping animals in their native habitats.
Eventually we stopped to sit on a bench in the shade and have a cool drink. It is now hours after those first questions but it has obviously been on Elliott’s mind. “Gran, why are the animals endangered?” Now I am out of my comfort zone! How do I explain to a four-year-old what we are doing to God’s creatures?
If I spend enough time with the tiniest creature-even a caterpillar-I would never have to prepare a sermon. So full of God is every creature.
Meister Eckhart (ca. 1260-ca. 1327), Sermons
Let a man fear, above all, me, his God, and so much the gentler will he become toward my creatures and animals, on whom, on account of me, their Creator, he ought to have compassion.
Birgitta (1303-73), Revelations
If thy heart were right, then every creature would be a mirror of life and a book of holy doctrine. There is no creature so small and abject, but it reflects the goodness of God.Thomas a Kempis (1380-1471), The Imitation of Christ
The more I tried to explain how animals become endangered the more Elliott asked why! I did not have the words to explain why we are destroying habitats, continuing to buy thus providing markets for products that are eliminating species, interrupting their natural food cycles, and hunting them for sport.
How would you answer a preschooler? How will we answer God when he asks what we did to care for his creation?