By Kate Alexander
WASHINGTON – Salisbury Zoo director James Rapp may not have any elephants, rhinos or tigers in his park, but he knows what’s good for them.
Rapp was on Capitol Hill Thursday testifying in support of the five-year reauthorization of three conservation funds for the African elephants, rhinoceroses and tigers.
He told the House subcommittee on fisheries conservation, wildlife and oceans that a relatively small investment of federal money in those programs has brought in several times that amount in other aid.
Rapp said that the government’s $16.7 million investment over the past 13 years has leveraged $56 million in contributions from other governments, non- governmental organizations and corporations.
“This small investment of U.S. money is critical to the long-term survival of these species and the ecosystems where they live,” said Rep. Wayne Gilchrest at his first hearing as chairman of the subcommittee.
“In fact, these funds represent the only continuous source of money in the world and they are . . . not a hand out but a helping hand,” said Gilchrest, R- Kennedyville.
Gilchrest, who introduced two of the three reauthorization bills in February, agreed with Rapp that the funds were a “pittance” compared to most federal programs.
The funds contribute to efforts in the species’ home countries to thwart poaching, protect their habitat, and prevent illegal trading of their byproducts, such as elephant ivory, rhino horn and tiger fur. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife service administers the programs, and has distributed 251 conservation grants in countries throughout Africa and Asia.
Representatives from international non-profit groups and the Ringling Brothers & Barnum Bailey Circus joined the fish and wildlife service to support the reauthorization of the legislation.
Speaking as a representative of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association, Rapp also called attention the role of zoos in educating the public to protecting these species abroad.
“The big thing that (zoos) do is get the word out in a way that people can understand it and, hopefully, feel it,” said Rapp. “People understand that a planet without animals is a poorer place.”
Rapp, 32, said he developed his love for animals as a child who frequented the Salisbury Zoo and started working there 10 years ago after graduating from Salisbury State University.
The Salisbury Zoological Park is a 12-acre facility with over 100 wildlife species, most of which are from North and South America. Even though the zoo does not have any of the species that are protected by the programs discussed Thursday, Rapp said it sponsors many programs, such as last year’s summer camp about African elephants, to educate children on the value of these species.