Sherwood's Notebook: Metal Detectors at Zoo Not the Answer

This fuzziness ain't the pollen...

We're back from a brief vacation, and from what we were seeing as news, we felt at first like allergies must be affecting our hearing and reading.

But our allergy meds are working just fine. It's the news that's a bit wacky.

For example, what's to become of the National Zoo? A shooting on Connecticut Avenue that wounded two people outside the Zoo had some talking about metal detectors and more police, and even ending the annual Easter Monday event that was occurring that day.

National Zoo director Dennis Kelly was telling reporters and worried citizens that the Zoo was "rethinking everything" when it comes to security, including metal detectors. "We cannot maintain our position as Washington, D.C.'s favorite place for families with children... unless we make it safe," he said, as quoted in The Washington Post.

Kelly oversees the 163-acre zoo that straddles Rock Creek Park. It gets an estimated two million visitors a year. He acknowledged that metal detectors and more guards with guns could change the very nature of the Zoo.

As for your Notebook, we'd see the installation of metal detectors and more security gates as an invitation to never go again. "Hey children, let's go to the zoo! Oh, wait. It's not a place of safety and nature and awe anymore. The zoo itself has become a big cage for humans with smaller cages for all the other animals." Ugh.

There were even some calls for the Easter Monday celebration to be canceled. It's been an annual event for decades because, initially, African Americans weren't welcome at the White House Egg Roll so they went to the zoo. The Monday outing is still an event centered on African Americans, but a wide variety of people go.

And that should be the response by every American to violence.

Rather than avoiding the zoo or shutting the event down, or creating a prison wall to pass through, thousands more parents and children should attend on Easter Monday next year. We can't make our zoo, our parks or any public place "more safe" by coating them with metal or avoiding them.

The best answer would be to make the zoo event an affirmation that we live in a free society, that we won't live in fear. Yes, by all means improve security with discreet cameras, visible and undercover officers, and a staff more alert.

But if you think we should eliminate zoo events or erect bureaucratic security barriers on this time-honored space so we all can be "safe," then maybe we should just close the Zoo and have everyone stay home.

■ Don't want to read this! The Smithsonian (which includes the zoo) reported in a release this week that "populations of large wildlife are declining around the world, while zoonotic diseases (those transmitted from animals to humans) are on the rise."

The Smithsonian said its scientists have discovered a possible link -- that an increase in rodent diseases may be at fault.

It specifically cited East Africa. It said the "loss of large wildlife directly correlated with a significant increase in rodents, which often carry disease-causing bacteria dangerous to humans." The research is being published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"Our study shows us that ecosystem health, wildlife health and human health are all related," said Kristofer Helgen, the curator of mammals at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, who co-authored the research.

The Notebook believes whether or not we read the detailed research, we kind of all know that we're linked together in this world. And we'd all probably be happy if rodents weren't part of the family.

Tom Sherwood, a Southwest resident, is a political reporter for News 4.

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