Burns titled his speech “The Extinction Crisis: What a Zoo (and you) Can Do” and discussed the importance of preserving and conserving nonhuman animal life.
This handful of students attended to protest Hogle Zoo itself.
“Animals, just like humans, aren’t meant to be in cages,”said Emily Jensen, a sophomore history education major.
Nicasio Nango, a senior philosophy major who organized the protest, mentioned the importance of talking about conservation and appreciated that Burns came out to educate people but also wanted to stand for the rights of nonhuman animals.
“We think conservation is a big issue that should be educated about, but also the rights of individual animals, as well as species, should be something that is also discussed. Not just how humans can help conservation efforts,” Nango said.
Burns even mentioned the protestors, directly and indirectly, in his speech.
“If you are here and just have completely made up your mind and say there is absolutely nothing good about zoos then there is probably nothing I will say today that will convince you otherwise … Maybe I can paint a picture of not only what a zoo is and what a zoo should be and the direction we all need to move,” said Burns in the opening lines of his address.
Both Jensen and Nango said they were glad Burns mentioned the protestors during his speech.
“I don’t think you need a large amount of people to make a presence. It was enough to get his attention for him to talk about us during his speech,” Nango said.
The emphasis from both Burns and the student protestors was in opening a dialogue about these issues and educating the public on what they can do to help environment and animal conservation efforts.
“Talk about it, talk about it, talk about it,” Burns said. “People, you have to be willing to have conversations. Sometimes you are going to have conversations with people who you don’t agree with. I mean, we’re having a conversation right now. I’m guessing the folks in the back might not agree with me. That’s fine, but we’ve got to have conversations.”
Hilary Hungerford, an associate earth science professor who helped organize the symposium, also emphasized the importance of these open dialogues.
“It was nice to get lots of different perspectives on how to engage people with environmental issues,” Hungerford said. “So often it is confined to our classrooms so we are trying to get a wider view looking at how people interact with the public around these issues. This is what a university is, exchanging ideas and being able to bring lots of perspectives and different voices to the table.”