This year, Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s documentary Blackfish raised questions and caused many to think twice about going to see wildlife in captivity.
With input from Laura Mydlarz, a marine biology professor at UTA, and Laura Warren, a UTA safety specialist and experienced wildlife rehabilitator, I have compiled a list of 19 alternative activities for those who may not want to support wildlife in captivity.
Learn and be inspired (media/technology)
Catlin Seaview Survey: This survey gives users a way to observe marine animals in their natural habitat, through high-resolution 360-degree panoramic vision. The project innovators want to spread scientific knowledge through social outreach and engagement. Ocean in Google Earth is also a great virtual underwater experience.
Project Noah App: Students can use this app while taking a walk in natural areas to share their wildlife encounters and help document wildlife in the area.
WWF Together App: This World Wildlife Fund app allows students to experience the world’s most amazing and endangered animals through their phones, through interactive activities and stories about different species, including elephants, whales, rhinos, tigers and more.
Movies: Watch nature movies, documentaries and nature shows to learn about animals in a more comprehensive manner. There are many to choose from, including the Planet Earth series, National Geographic, Animal Planet and the Discovery Channel.
Photography: Appreciate nature by looking at photos of animals in their natural habitats, online or in books.
Science centers or natural museums: Learn about animals and natural processes in learning facilities in the area, including the Perot Museum and The Heard Natural Science Museum and Wildlife Sanctuary.
Geocaching: Explore Arlington’s local parks using this navigational activity — there is a chance of running into local wildlife. Geocaching can be done anywhere in the world if you have the app on your phone.
Bird-watching: Observe birds in their natural habitats and record observations for science and education.
Canoeing and hiking: Students would be surprised at how many animals they can see while exploring natural areas near their home. River Legacy is a great place to explore in Arlington.
Ecotourism: Visiting wildlife in their natural environments is worth it, if students can afford it. Responsible ecotourism promotes environmental and social responsibility by emphasizing minimal human impact on wildlife and supporting local communities in the area.
Snorkeling: This is a cheaper alternative to ecotourism that allows users to explore the oceans in a low-impact manner.
Go visit bats: Take a road trip to Austin to check out the amazing bat population living under the Congress Avenue Bridge.
Botanical gardens: Explore and learn about plants and native species at places like the Fort Worth Botanic Garden.
Local nature preserves: Enjoy the outdoors and observe animals in their natural habitat. The Southwest Nature Preserve opened earlier this fall, and provides beautiful natural habitats for local flora and fauna. River Legacy Parks in Arlington, Fossil Rim Wildlife Center and the Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge are great places to explore the environment and see animals.
Connect and give back
Start a garden: Plant a native garden or butterfly garden to create a habitat for natural pollinators in the area.
Visit and support wildlife sanctuaries: Take a road trip and visit an exotic wildlife sanctuary to learn about how they help the animals, and to learn about impact of humans on exotic wildlife and other animals. In Texas, students can visit the International Exotic Animal Sanctuary, In-Sync Exotics Wildlife Rescue and Education Center, Saint Francis Wolf Sanctuary and Tiger Creek Wildlife Refuge. Other animal sanctuaries in Texas include Dreamtime Animal Sanctuary, Society for Animal Rescue and Adoption Sanctuary, and Serenity Springs Sanctuary and Animal Rescue.
Terrariums: Create and observe mini plant ecosystems, a hands-on activity. These are also good for gifts.
Volunteer: Visit and volunteer at local animal shelters or wildlife sanctuaries, or volunteer to help and learn from wildlife rehabilitators. Students can also volunteer to answer the The DFW Wildlife Coalition hotline.
Get excited about environmental science projects: Sites like Microryza.com and Petridish.org feature innovative projects that will benefit wildlife and the environment. Students can support their favorite projects through funding and receive prizes in return.