BIOLITERACY: Learning to Speak the Language of Nature

Recovering Lost Knowledge

Posted on: May 7th, 2020

Sheltering-in-Place Blog Entry #5

Thirty-seven years ago, I met Dr. Daniel Janzen, a notable and brilliant ecologist and conservationist, in Pennsylvania and later again in Costa Rica. Through him, I  had my first encounters with the term “bioliteracy.” I had no idea what that was, although I had been bioliterate for quite some time by then. I was an early naturalist with a keen interest in insects, bees, ants, snakes, and nature in general. My dad had a ranch about 2 hours from the city and I would go horseback riding while he handled business. Riding alone in the expansive pastures and dry forests of central Venezuela, I encountered many species, doves, wild chachalacas (similar to small turkeys but a lot noisier), skunks, armadillos, deer, iguanas, and the occasional river otter. At home, on the foothills of the Ávila National Park in Caracas, wildlife always came to our yard, including sloths, macaws, parrots, and all kinds of songbirds. Bats roosted within the dry fronds of the two palms that framed the front entrance to our house, much to the chagrin of my mother who was afraid of “vampires” (they were not vampires). Small metallic-green sweat bees nested inside hollowed sticks—I could hear them buzzing inside—and a monarch butterfly metamorphosed on the slats of our garage fence introducing me to this miracle of nature. I spent many days hiking and camping in the park’s mid-elevation tropical forests, looking for snakes, learning the habits of wild cats (and hoping to spot one) and watching tadpoles in the small pools by the side of streams. I learned the basics of nature’s language by being regularly exposed to it. Those formative years were a prelude to my life as a biologist.

I was generally unaware, though, that this language, this understanding of the basic principles of ecology and natural history were not part of my country’s evolving culture. As I moved to the US to study, and later went to Costa Rica to work in tropical freshwater research, I began to comprehend the enormous lack of understanding about nature that our technological development was forcing humans to accept. I encountered people who had no clue where their food, medicines, and materials come from (mostly from nature). There were also huge misunderstandings and general confusion about how evolution works, how ecosystems function, and how we depend on a healthy natural environment for essential services such as clean water, carbon sequestration (the capture of CO2 by plants) climate mitigation, and healthy and thriving biodiversity for our future food, medicines, and materials.

Becoming bioliterate is more than learning the basic structure of nature’s language: the species, habitats, ecosystems, relationships with the nonliving world, and how they function together and provide us with essential services. Bioliteracy is also an integral component of the development of environmental ethics; an attitude, and behavior respectful of the value that nature and biodiversity have in our lives. Bioliteracy fuels the passion we feel about saving wild animals from their encounters with our civilized world. Bioliteracy infuses our desire to help animals and partner with them to provide meaningful experiences to Lindsay’s visitors so they too can become bioliterate and help protect these species. And just like learning to read and write (literacy) exposes us to the wonders of literature, poetry, knowledge, information, and the joy of communicating effectively with the world around us, bioliteracy will enable us to understand our role in the maintenance and pursuit of a balance with nature, for our benefit as well as for the benefit of future generations.

At the core of our work at Lindsay is a deep desire to share our excitement and passion for wildlife so that it stays healthy and thriving forever. Our commitment to wildlife conservation is built solidly on our scientific knowledge—our brand of bioliteracy—and how we apply it to our work at the wildlife hospital, in the care of our animal ambassadors, and in the lessons we teach and the experiences we share with our visitors. We invite you to continue to learn and master the language of nature with us. It is a beautiful journey that will stay with you for the rest of your life.

Carlos L. de la Rosa


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