The Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens is bringing awareness to the Endangered Species Act with a unique hashtag.
In a tweet posted in early September, the LA Zoo expressed support for the ESA and said the act is being threatened. The tweet included a call for followers to show their own support for the ESA, but with an adorable twist.
"The Endangered Species Act is our greatest safeguard against extinction, and it's under attack right now. Animals can’t speak up to protect their own kind, but they can blep. Give a blep if you think our leaders should protect the ESA. #Bleps4ESA," the tweet said.
According to Emily Marrin, Marketing and Communications Director with the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association, a "blep" is an image of an animal with a tiny amount of visible tongue poking out of its mouth. She said the images were chosen for the campaign because their cuteness makes them very effective on social media, and the LA Zoo has a wealth of animal content to use.
Marrin said the campaign was developed by the Oregon Zoo and is a collaborative effort between institutions accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums.
"When we started to learn that the ESA was being threatened, we all put our heads together to think of an effective way to raise awareness of the issue," Marrin said. "Always with these initiatives, we want to catch people’s attention, especially when we’re delivering something with a call to action or a conservation message."
She said campaigns similar to #Bleps4ESA are frequently carried out by organizations like the LA Zoo to maximize reach and impact in a collaborative manner.
"The idea is to stop someone’s scroll and deliver content that is eye-catching, attention-grabbing and cute," Marrin said. "The combination of the image with the punny caption is like the one-plus-one-equals-three; it delivers more value than the sum of its parts."
Zoos and aquariums across the country have tweeted the hashtag with their own blep images and puns in support of the ESA. Marrin said the campaign has reached about 16 million people across all social media platforms since it was first used.
Dr. Jake Owens, Director of Conservation at the LA Zoo, said this support and increased awareness is crucial because the ESA is important to many of the measures zoos take to aid endangered animals.
Owens said the ESA is being attacked through changes--made in August of this year--that compromise or undermine its effectiveness in safeguarding threatened species.
He said the first concerning change is the removal of the phrase, "without reference to possible economic or other impacts of determination," from the verbiage of the ESA.
Owens said this phrase ensured that determinations concerning the protection of species were made solely on the basis of science. However, its removal now adds economic incentive to the decision-making process.
"You’re taking away the basis of science and data when that’s what the models on how to protect and save animals are based on," Owens said.
He added that the economic benefits of encroaching on animal habitats are often short-term, and the costs of replacing services provided by species usually outweighs those benefits. He cited the loss of bee colonies as an example.
"We know the loss of insects--especially bees and pollinators--has multibillion dollar impacts on our agricultural industry," Owens said. "The short term gain of using heavy pesticides to grow things quickly has a substantial impact on insect populations, and then that directly impacts our ability to grow and pollinate food species."
Owens said the second problematic change is that determinations and actions are now made on a case-by-case basis, whereas before they were made holistically. He said this creates a bottleneck that impedes organizations’ ability to act in a timely manner to preserve species.
"We know that we’re in a crisis of biodiversity right now, we’re losing things at a very fast rate, and so we need to act really quickly," Owens said.
Owens said the final concern is that decisions and final designations are determined by the United States Secretary of the Interior. He said this, in conjunction with the fact that economic incentives can now play a factor in decisions on how to protect species, increases the potential for bias and undermines the scientific basis for making determinations.
Owens said California has about 300 species listed as threatened or endangered alone. However, the ESA has allowed many to be saved from extinction, and Owens said these success stories have significant impact with conservationists around the world.
"There have been estimates that over 225 species that were listed on the ESA would have gone extinct if it weren’t for the act," Owens said. "Weakening it shows that there’s a shifting priority, and if America is not driving this priority of preservation and conservation, then how can we possibly expect anybody else, especially developing nations, to do the same?"
To find out more about ongoing conservation efforts, visit the LA Zoo online at https://www.lazoo.org/conservation-projects/