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Originally published August 15, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified August 16, 2007 at 9:52 AM

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A sampling of readers' letters, faxes and e-mail.

Stampede of support

Zoo critics too sensitive

It is absolutely shocking that anyone would consider employment of the Maasai cultural interpreters at Woodland Park Zoo as "insensitive use of people of color as accessories to exhibits." [ "A misguided use of zoo guides?" [Local News, Aug. 8.]

The Maasai interpreters provide otherwise absent information regarding animal behavior and natural environmental living conditions of those African animals contained within the exhibit. Further, the Maasai are a delight to speak with regarding conservation of natural resources. Would the University of Washington representatives be happier if the cultural interpreters were white? It's sad that this wonderful educational program is creating a situation of racial hypersensitivity.

-- Crystal Hayes, Lynnwood

Friends from Kenya

I was shocked to read Catherine Claibourne's accusations that the zoo is using Kakuta and his Maasai friends as some kind of exotic show.

Had Catherine taken the time to interview Kakuta Hamisi, she would know that no one is using him or his friends. Kakuta is an educated and accomplished man with a great vision of cross-cultural respect and understanding.

I have worked with Kakuta for more than four years now, and he is no feather in anyone's hat. It is strangely sad that the opportunity to meet Kakuta and his colleagues is being used as a race issue.

-- Christine Mackay, Seattle

Learning something new

I think we've reached a new low in political correctness with the so-called controversy over the Maasai interpreters at the Woodland Park Zoo. What better way to expose us to the Maasai's relationships with the wildlife in their area than to have Maasai people describe these relationships in an environment that includes the very animals they're talking about? To suggest that this is making the Maasai themselves a zoo exhibit is one of the dumbest things I've ever heard.

I grew up in Hawaii, and one of the most popular places to visit on Oahu is the Polynesian Cultural Center. People from Samoan, Maori, Tahitian and other cultures demonstrate native crafts and food preparation in village settings, and at night participate in a show featuring the music and dance of Polynesia. Tourists flock there in droves.

Through the years, I heard a lot of folks express an appreciation for what they learned at the center. I never heard anyone even suggest that the people who demonstrate and explain their cultures are being exploited or "put in a zoo."

Celebrating diversity is a big deal these days. Well, we have some pretty impressive diversity going on right now at the Woodland Park Zoo.

I congratulate the zoo staff for coming up with the idea and the Maasai for agreeing to participate. And to those of you who are wringing your hands over the "exploitation" of the four Maasai who are making an effort to teach us something about their culture, stop creating non-issues to whine about and go down to the zoo and learn something.

-- C. Marin Faure, Sammamish

A global lesson

I am appalled by Catherine Claiborne and professor Stephanie Camp's assertion that inviting Maasai to Woodland Park to help educate zoogoers is insensitive and risks, "associating African people with animals, and African Americans with animalism." Their argument assumes the worst in zoo visitors and reveals a true and unfortunate ignorance.

I have worked and traveled extensively throughout Africa, including the Serengeti and Maasai. The Maasai people stand out as exceptionally proud of their culture as well as uncommonly proactive in maintaining their way of life. They welcome the income and exposure that visitors bring without diluting their way of life.

The Maasai have struck a truly unique path of preservation. Their presence and function at the zoo is entirely consistent with their culture and their values. The call to eliminate the Maasai Journey is wholly misguided. Most Seattleites will never visit Africa or have a change to speak with an African about their experiences, values and opinions. The loss of the Maasai Journey would be a step backward and a sad day for a community that prides itself on progressive multiculturalism.

-- Seth Parks, Redmond

How rude

I was dismayed to read the objections raised to using Maasai people as part of the interpretive staff at Woodland Park Zoo. I have been a zoo docent for 10 years. What a gift to work with people who live in such close relationship with the natural environment who can impart information from a personal perspective.

I think the comments made by the concerned UW group are demeaning. They imply that the Maasai are people who need protecting, they are unable to see that they are being used.

I see them as bright and articulate ambassadors for their culture, educating the public and providing the link with the real world. I applaud Woodland Park Zoo and its efforts to connect with environmental projects worldwide. I am humbled by the passion and commitment of our Maasai visitors and am embarrassed that this group has felt it necessary to complain. I feel that it is such a privilege to work with these people who have left family and friends to come to our city to share their concern for an environment that nurtures us all.

-- Linda Oman, Seattle

Taking advantage of humans and animals

I agree with the professors and students at the UW who "say the zoo's use of Maasai is insensitive and hearkens back to the days when zoos across the nation used people of color as accessories to exhibits."

I already feel that it is arrogant to have animals in captivity and on exhibit for people to gawk at, therefore giving people, especially children, the wrong message about dominion over animals. It appears that this exploitation is now continuing with human beings from Africa under the pretense of education.

It is a paying job for the Kenyan Hamisi, who does not object to being used and exploited by the zoo.

I unfortunately cannot attend the public forum, where I could voice my disgust at the Woodland Park Zoo, which shamefully exploits animals and humans. At least this letter will voice my objections.

The zoo has a circus mentality: The "bearded woman" or the "two-headed snake" are replaced today by Maasai people and their culture; it is rightfully objected and contested.

-- Claudine Erlandson, Shoreline

Backpedaling

Biking and smiling

So Seattle letter-writer Bob Humphrey doesn't think that anyone over the age of 12 should ride a bicycle. I'm not sure if this implies he favors licensing 13-year-olds to share the road with him as car drivers, or that he was traumatized as an 11-year-old bike rider and never got back on a bicycle again [ "Bicycle built for who?" Northwest Voices, Aug. 10].

The reason there's a growing number of bike riders out there is simple: Bicycling is fun, healthy, nonpolluting and suitable for humans of all ages. All those shiny bikes you see adults riding come with an invoice for sales tax, as do the jerseys, shoes, pumps and other accessories they purchase. But the smiles are free. Bob, you'd have one too if you got back on a bike.

-- Gordon Black, Seattle

Paying the price

Robert Humphrey claimed that cyclists do not pay their fair share toward road construction and maintenance. He could not be more wrong. Local roads are not paid for by user fees like gas taxes or vehicle tabs.

According to the Victoria Transport Policy Institute report "Transportation Cost and Benefit Analysis -- Roadway Costs," for the year 2000, 93 percent of all local road costs were derived from sources other than user fees, i.e. property taxes and sales taxes.

Our "public rights of way" are paid for by everyone and any reasonable person would agree that should safely and conveniently accommodate everyone.

-- Joel Siderius, Seattle

Get on a bike -- it's for your own good

Letter writer Bob Humphrey states that nontaxpaying bicyclists play on streets they don't pay for, without a license to be there and with total lack of respect for any law except for "me first and me only." He also suggests a law that restricts bicycles to 12-year-olds and under, and tells us to grow up.

Hey Bob, simply because we're not driving or don't have a license for this specific activity, doesn't mean that we don't pay our taxes, or are "playing."

While some of us are disrespectful to others, I suggest you watch closer to see how respectful most of us are compared with the countless drivers who cause casualties and congestion every day because of their lack of respect and common sense.

We do you a favor by lessening traffic, carbon emissions, costs for extra roads and repairs and staying fit so as to keep health-care prices down.

I think you need to grow up, stop whining, get off your pompous pedestal and get on a bike.

You would do yourself and everyone else a lot of good.

-- Adam Schmidt, Kirkland

All in the family

Respecting free choice

The people who are complaining about the Duggar family are selfish. These letter writers have the mentality that a job and a place to live are entitled to them, and too many people infringe on that entitlement [ "Baby shower"Northwest Voices, Aug. 8].

We live in a time when production of everything has increased dramatically and yet their mentality is that our resources are almost gone. True, we have to be concerned about use of resources, but we have made advances that have kept up with demand over the past several decades.

Last time I checked, we live in the U.S.A., where people have "freedom of choice." Don't we still have that?

It's funny that people will yell freedom of choice for what they want, but when someone else has a choice that is different from theirs, they cry foul.

-- Bill Sorenson, Shoreline

Want a baby genius?

Turn off the tube

"Videos hardly creating baby Einsteins, research finds" [News, Aug. 7] is important. Pediatricians and other child-development specialists have known this for some time.

One problem with TVs, CDs and VCRs is they don't have a lap. It is far more educational, and developmentally appropriate, to read to children, to talk to them and to listen to them. For young infants, the books should be board or fabric books so that the infant can handle them, grab them from parents, and turn pages themselves. This allows interaction, which is more important than linear storytelling. Allow children to interrupt, ask questions, make up their own stories from the pictures.

In a related area, "educational toys" are equally questionable. Infants and young children are happier and learning more when handling common household objects (pots, pans, balls of socks) and simple classic toys such as rag dolls, wooden blocks and soft balls, than with toys that are more elaborate. Especially to be avoided are toys requiring batteries that "do things" on their own.

-- George Stern, Seattle

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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