The Saint Louis Zoo: Framing Our Future
By Suzanne Vanderhoef
Climate change is one of the big challenges that we face all around the globe today. But there are other challenges, including the loss of biodiversity as well as emerging infectious diseases, such as COVID-19, that are all intertwined. And so are their solutions.
The Saint Louis Zoo is joining forces with other zoos and aquariums around the world to help come up with just what those solutions are through a program called Framing Our Future.
“Framing Our Future is this plan where zoos, including the Saint Louis Zoo, have come together to really look at how we can create the future we want,” says Sharon Deem, Director of the Saint Louis Zoo Institute for Conservation Medicine. “If by 2030, if we can look for nature-based solutions, we can minimize climate change and global warming.”
Nature-based solutions are really thinking about what nature does for us every day. Trees and rainforests sequester carbon dioxide to produce oxygen. The pollinators, like birds and bees, move nutrients around.
The Saint Louis Zoo has a number of projects that are not just trying to find the challenges and ask the questions of what’s happening, but really the solutions. One example is a program in Brazil, in the Amazon rainforest looking at zoonotic diseases, or those pathogens that are shared between human and non-human animals. SARS-CoV2 is one example.”
“What we’re finding is an intact forest, an intact forest that not only is acting as the lungs of our planet sequestering CO2, but they’re actually protecting humans from some of these zoonotic viruses,” explains Deem. “So, monkeys and other non-human primates that live in that forest act as screen for these viruses so they don’t go to the villages, they don’t go to the humans. So not only are they helping mitigate climate change, they’re actually preventing and protecting us from emerging infectious diseases.”
Dr. Deem says there are also simple things we as individuals can do that have the potential to make a big impact. “Here we are in St. Louis, here we are in Missouri, and many of us have yards or balconies or places where we can plan things that bring pollinators in. We can have lawns that aren’t treated with a lot of pesticides or products. We can really have our homes, our backyards, our neighborhoods that are nature friendly. Bring the birds and the bees and things in. It’s not just good for nature itself, it’s also good for our family health.”