When it comes to conservation, it's not just about saving the animal. It’s about saving its natural habitat.
When you visit Zoo Miami, you'll notice how much effort has been made to create lifelike settings — natural habitats — for the animals. This contemporary approach to displaying animals not only makes the animals feel at home, it also sends this important message to visitors: habitats matter.
What is a habitat?
It’s really pretty simple: A habitat is the environment in which a living thing naturally thrives.
A habitat provides some or all of an animal's basic needs. We say “some,” because many animals depend on a number of different habitats. For example, a migratory songbird that feasts upon hatching insects in a northern spruce forest in early spring might also require a frost-free tropical rainforest habitat in winter.
How would you describe your habitat, that is, the environment around you?
How do words like house, apartment, grocery store, garden, grass and trees fit into to your description?
Where do you find your basic habitat needs such as food and shelter?
Take Away Message
One of the best ways to protect an animal or any other living thing is to protect its natural habitat. Although it is crucial that zoos, aquariums and other institutions protect individual threatened or endangered species in captivity (see our Species Survival Plan section), smart conservation must protect the complex, enduring natural habitats of all species.
Florida “Keystone” Species Benefits Hundreds of Others
Consider the Florida’s gopher tortoise. Although some of these reptiles are protected in captive settings, it is crucial to protect Florida's vanishing upland scrub habitat that wild gopher tortoises require for their survival.
The tortoise digs underground tunnels as long as 50 feet (15.24 m). These burrows provide safe cool, moist places for frogs, snakes, owls and hundreds of other animals seeking refuge from seasonal heat, drought and wildfires. Because this tortoise is so important to other species it ranks as a “keystone” species. Like a keystone at the top of a stone arch that keeps the structure from falling down, a keystone species helps to stabilize a habitat, preventing it from collapsing.
A major reason that so many species are endangered around the world is habitat destruction. Although hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfires and other natural disasters damage and destroy habitats, those habitats surrounded by sufficient species diversity can bounce back with surprising speed.
However, short of an asteroid hitting the earth and causing a mass extinction, human-caused habitat destruction can cause greater long-term damage than natural disasters. Here are some human activities that alter or destroy natural habitats:
• Manufacturing gases that damage earth’s protective ozone layer.
• Polluting pure groundwater supplies with toxins.
• Increasing the carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere, leading to ocean acidification.
• Releasing radioactive waste into the environment.
• Clear cutting tropical and temperate forests
• Overfishing the seas
Can you think of other ways that people damage habitats?
The good news is that thousands of organizations around the world are devoted to protecting and restoring habitats. Whether it's protecting a rainforest in Brazil, a savanna habitat in East Africa or the Everglades closer to home, people just like you are taking steps to protect and restore wild places.
Did you know that right here at Zoo Miami, we support habitat protection projects in the pine rocklands of Miami-Dade County, South Africa, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.