Marty’s photo of the day #4227: So yesterday’s photo of the day generated some unexpected controversy. That photo featured me holding a baby pygmy marmoset that a 9-year-old Yagua girl from a tiny village in the Amazon Rainforest had rescued after its mother died (the cause of death for the mother is unknown, but likely from either an animal or one of the hunters in the tribe). Since I had posted different photos of that pygmy marmoset over the years—with no controversy whatsoever—I merely mentioned that I gave the girl a T-shirt for “the privilege of holding her pet for a few minutes.”

Oh, my God! Based on the response from some, you could have sworn that I committed a major international crime! As one woman wrote, “Paying to hold just promotes more illegal animal crime.” Yes, that woman didn’t ask any questions—she just assumed the worst—as if the little Yagua girl was waving a sign, “Hold a baby pygmy marmoset,” like a two-bit hooker on the streets of Peru!

Had she asked, instead of assumed, I would have shared with her the rest of the story:

My wife and I were in a remote Yagua village of maybe 30 people. These people were excited to see us, as they don’t get visitors often. They didn’t speak English, and we didn’t speak Yagua. That meant communication was difficult and required much miming. The shy little girl stood off to the side, with the pygmy marmoset riding on her head. The marmoset had obviously bonded to the girl, as if she were her mother. When I mimed to ask if I could hold her marmoset, the girl was frightened that I would take it away. Once she finally understood that it was just for a moment she was totally fine with it, and I gave her a T-shirt and some other items to show my appreciation.

There was nothing illegal or inappropriate about our interaction. Wildlife conservation is kind of my thing (I’ve written 7 books that advocate for wildlife and have spoken at hundreds of colleges in 45 states about wildlife). If there was, I would have said something.

Ironically, the woman who “assumed the worst” is a Wildlife Conservation Vice President at a zoo in California. So, apparently, it’s okay for a zoo to cage animals from all over the world, but it’s not okay for a 9-year-old Yagua girl to rescue a baby pygmy marmoset and let me hold it for a few minutes. Is that classic White American Privilege, or what?

Others who commented negatively included an American “conservationist” who is also an avid hunter.

Wow! It’s amazing how hypocrisy just drips off some people!

With that in mind, I thought I’d share this photo of a golden lion tamarin that I photographed ten years ago when I performed a show at Oglebay’s Good Zoo in West Virginia. Yes, I have spoken/performed at multiple zoos over the years. While I’m not a huge fan of zoos, I recognize the valuable service they perform of exposing people to, and educating them about, animals from all over the world. As long as zoos take excellent care of their animals, wildlife in general is better off for them. It’s like the late Steve Irwin and his Crocodile Hunter TV show. Many so-called conservationists criticized his methods, but as I have witnessed from speaking at hundreds of schools, Steve changed an entire generation’s opinion of reptiles and amphibians. Because of Steve, literally millions of people will no longer kill a snake on-sight.

Okay, that’s my lecture for today. Enjoy the photo! And to all those who pre-judged yesterday’s post without knowing the facts: please get off your self-congratulating high horse. If you truly are conservationists, you’ll be much more effective at helping wildlife if you spend your time doing something other than criticizing people who support the same cause as you do—only from a different perspective.