February 5

In their Feb. 2 op-ed, “Breaking the link between elephants and terrorists,” Johan Bergenas and Monica Medina argued that militarizing the effort to protect elephants would help the fight against poaching. Conservation groups, which have had to work hard to win the trust of governments and local communities, would do well to be wary.

Poaching, like the drug trade and human trafficking, is best combated by law enforcement, asset tracking, demand reduction and public education — not by drones, weaponization of the elephants’ habitat or a vague new front in the war on terror.

Ken Conca, Ellicott City

I was with Natalie Jacewicz through most of her Feb. 2 Local Opinions commentary [“Bao Bao may be the big ticket, but what about the salamander next door?”], but then she made a hasty detour from the larger questions facing zoos today.

How do zoos define conservation? Currently, it seems they have a narrow definition: preserving species. Presenting examples of species in exhibits that seek to mimic native ecosystems is a nice idea, but how will zoos motivate people to actually do something to save those animals where they should be living — in the wild?

Zoos tells us they are creating an insurance population of certain animals (elephants, for one) in case they go extinct in the wild. But conservation happens where animals live. It means preserving ecosystems and all their inhabitants. It involves politics, economics, environmental concerns, the growth of human population. It’s a daunting challenge, and it needs all the champions it can get.

Zoos tell us they are doing what they can, but the actual amount they spend on conservation is a drop in the bucket compared with their marketing budgets. If zoos truly want to save animals, they must join the battle where it is actually happening — in Africa and Asia.

Until then, the only thing zoos are saving is themselves.

Amy Mayers, Washington