December 20, 2022
Indianapolis Zoo President & CEO, Dr. Rob Shumaker pens an op-ed in The Hill about how Americans are increasingly calling for legislative actions that can help save species and ecosystems.
Read the full article below!
Before the 117th Congress concludes, we hope policymakers will pass the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act. Americans overwhelmingly support wildlife conservation and a vast majority of voters from both parties now say a candidate’s commitment to conservation may impact how they vote in the 2024 presidential election.
Americans are increasingly calling for legislative actions that can help save species and ecosystems, and the biggest spikes in support are coming from Republican voters. These increases are stunning, and we believe the pandemic has played a role.
Our findings show that during the pandemic, many Americans — and especially Republicans — grew increasingly concerned about threats to endangered animals and the need for government and business to do more to protect them. These concerns are widespread, and they reveal how COVID-19 has been changing how humans relate with the natural world.
Consider this, when our team at the Indianapolis Prize released pre-pandemic survey findings in January of 2020, 82 percent of Republicans said they were concerned about the extinction of animal species. In our new survey just conducted in October of 2022, that number spiked to 95 percent. And when we asked Republicans if a candidate’s commitment to animal and environmental conservation is important as they consider how they will vote in the 2024 presidential election, nearly eight in 10 said “yes.”
Nearly seven in 10 Republicans now see the loss of habitat as a major threat to species survival and 81 percent (up from 70 percent in 2020) believe the government should do more to promote policies that protect endangered animals. A larger percentage of independents (87 percent) and Democrats (97 percent) also say they want government to do more, and this bipartisan support for policies favorable to animal conservation is both striking and encouraging.
To understand why attitudes are shifting, it’s instructive to consider how our relationship with the natural world has changed from the pre-pandemic days of early 2020 to today. According to the National Park Service, 44 parks set a record for recreation visits in 2021. Global ecotourism is increasingly popular and expected to grow by nearly $30 billion (up 17.5 percent) from 2021 to 2022.
Many zoos and aquariums across the United States — ours included — set records in 2021 as Americans flocked to connect with wild things and wild places. Engagement remains high and visitors increasingly tell us that being with animals just makes them feel better and that they enjoy the shared experience of connecting to the natural world.
As we have these awe-inspiring experiences, our hearts and minds are transformed in meaningful ways. Journalist Richard Louv has authored numerous books about our connection with nature and he says, “connecting with the natural world can expand the senses, most importantly the sense of wonder.” He believes — as do I— that through our connections with animals, we can “…transform our lives and save theirs.”
Our evolving relationship with the natural world is also changing how we view our individual responsibility to care for it. In 2020, 77 percent of Americans said they were more inclined to purchase products and services from companies that support the protection of endangered animals. In 2022, that number grew to 81 percent and the largest spike in sentiment again came from Republicans.
Republicans also increasingly believe climate change is a threat to species’ survival, but the political divide on this topic remains wide with 92 percent of Democrats agreeing with that statement and only 59 percent of Republicans holding the same view. Views continue to differ on the impact of climate change and how to address it, but I’m encouraged by the strong support for animal conservation across party lines, and our increasingly shared desire to save threatened and endangered species for future generations.
We hear a lot in the news about how divided we are as a nation, and the American Electorate is certainly miles apart on many issues. But I am encouraged by the strong support being expressed by Americans across political parties for government, business and each of us to do more to protect endangered animals. Now is the time for the 117th Congress to advance wildlife conservation.
Dr. Robert Shumaker is President & CEO of the Indianapolis Zoological Society, and the Indianapolis Prize, the world’s leading award for animal conservation.