Once in a while a book comes along and changes the whole way I think about my writing, my teaching, and how I look at life in general. That was definitely the case with Land Beavers, Orange Weasels, and Other Things You Hear at The Zoo by Andy Oram-Lewis. The title may seem like a mouthful, but what’s hidden within the pages, and the mission Andy has with the book is jaw-dropping and awe-inspiring. And I hope by the time you finish this Zoo-notable, you’ll also think about getting your own copy, or at least doing something small and wonderful for the things you love in your life.
If you would like to watch or listen to my interview with Andy, it’s here on my YouTube channel. Andy has the distinction of being my last guest, with Land Beavers being my last video Zoo-notable. I recently discovered the world of podcasting and how much easier it is to get my content out in this format. (You can listen to my first podcast, on Hal Elrod’s Miracle Morning on most podcast platforms)
I have three main big ideas I can’t wait to share with you all. So let’s dive straight in with Land Beavers, Orange Weasels, and Other Things You Hear at the Zoo.
Big Idea #1: Neutral Thinking- There Are No Stupid Questions
One of the ways Land Beavers really changed my mindset was how Andy formulated the comments and questions in his book. Years ago, and to an extent, until very recently, I wanted to write a book on all the “stupid questions” tourists asked me when I was an educator at a zoo facility in Florida. I heard them all: “Are the sea anemone bored?” (they don’t have brains, hard for them to get bored). “What’s the difference between the big ones and the little ones?” (the big ones are big, and the little ones, well, they’re small). And the ever popular, “what do you do with the dolphins when it rains?” (we dry them off with towels and put them back in the water).
The problem with my mindset in my book idea is that I was posing the tourists as stupid. And for all intent and purposes, maybe the tourists are stupid. But that’s not for ME to judge. That’s for the reader of my stories. If my reader wants to judge them stupid, that’s their perogative. But another reader may think that’s a logical and reasonable question– what DO you do with the marine animal that lives in the water when it rains?
Andy isn’t a zookeeper, so it’s possible he hasn’t been jaded by the barrage of questions zookeepers and zoo staff receive on a daily basis. But his approach towards the comments and questions was still eye-opening. Instead of pre-empting the comments or setting certain quotes as “idiotic” or “dumb”, Andy just writes what he overheard, and leaves it at that. At the komodo dragon exhibit, someone commented “Wow! A dragon! Is it real?” Is that a dumb statement? Honestly, with a neutral thinking approach, I don’t think it is anymore.
Thinking Like a Land Beaver- Neutral Thinking
This mindset reminds me of Trevor Moawad’s book It Takes What It Takes.
Neutral thinking is a high-performance strategy that emphasizes judgment-free thinking, especially in crises and pressure situations. It is the cornerstone of what I teach the athletes and teams that employ me. The thing about neutral thinking that resonates with so many elite athletes, most of whom are deeply skeptical of any self-help, is that it’s real. It’s true. It acknowledges that the past is irrevocable, that it can’t be changed with mantras or platitudes.
Neutral thinking shuns all attempts at illusion or outright self-delusion, which are often the foundation of other motivational systems. Neutral thinking strips away the bull and the biases, both external and internal.”
Moawad goes on to state that neutral thinking isn’t being all Negative Nancy about a situation, but isn’t being Pollyanna about it either. We need to embrace reality while still focusing on what needs to get done. Not the past, and not the future. Not what we wish for, but what is.
Moawad continues saying “That’s neutral. Staying in the moment, giving each moment its own history, and reacting to events as they unfold. It takes away emotion and replaces it with behaviors. Instead of asking, ‘How do I feel?’ you should be asking yourself, ‘What do I do?’”
You can develop these skills if you’re willing to let go of a few things. Negative, cynical thinking doesn’t make you more realistic. It just makes you negative and cynical. Biased thinking doesn’t help you either. You need to steer clear of your feelings and make an honest assessment of each situation you face. Don’t worry about what you feel. Rely on what you know.”
This mindset is vital for peace of mind and an empathetic heart, two things necessary to survive life at a zoo or working with animals. It’s also pretty darn handy when dealing with life in general.
There are no stupid questions, just how we respond to someone’s interesting inquiries. Yes, komodo dragons are real, but think neutrally with the guest in mind. They have never seen this impressive animal before. And all our lives, we’re told dragons aren’t real, yet here’s an animal called a dragon. So, wouldn’t it be natural to question something like that?
We Want Curiosity
Another way to look at comments and questions is as an opportunity to teach and inspire our guests. Even if it’s simply to reassure them that yes, the komodo dragon is real. Some comments can change your perspective on an animal we may have taken for granted in the past, too. Lorikeets being called “the rainbow birds” is sweet, and in my opinion, quite accurate. Calling the capybara “a giant rat” isn’t exactly wrong. (I mean, it’s not right, but is it completely wrong?)
Even in situations where we might feel triggered or annoyed at a comment is an opportunity to share the wonder and inspiration these animals can impart on each of us. Saying “aren’t all horses the same?” when asking about Przewalski’s horse is such an opportunity to share their plight, and what makes them so special.
Rather than get annoyed at questions, let’s adopt the neutral thinking, like Land Beavers shares. Consider what we want from the situation– for the guest to walk away with an understanding and compassion for wildlife, nature, and conservation. Let’s work towards that goal, and realize, there are no stupid questions.
PS- As I discussed this idea with Andy, I shared a story I always thought was “stupid”. A lady at a zoo where the lions and tigers’ exhibits were next to each other stood viewing them, looking confused. Finally, she sighed in confusion “I can never remember, are the lions the boys, and the tigers are the girls, or is it the other way around?” With Andy’s help, I flipped the switch and looked at it with a neutral mindset. This woman may never in her life experienced lions or tigers, or had the opportunity to ask a zoo staff a question. With the exhibits next to each other, she didn’t know lions and tigers live in completely different continents. And by putting her down with a comment of how silly or stupid she must have been, would that have inspired her to care more for the animals, or less? Now, to be fair, in this story, I was only visiting a zoo, and walked away before I insulted her. But now, if I’m ever faced with this situation again, I would like to think I’ll help inspire the person to learn, care, and act by thinking neutrally and seeing these as opportunities to connect with others in a positive way.
Big Idea #2- Protect What You Love
“For in the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.”
Andy wrote Land Beavers mostly for fun, to celebrate his love of zoos, and published it himself in late 2019. Andy is a self-proclaimed zoo enthusiast. He loves going to zoos, he loves all the animals in zoos, and he admires the work zoos do for conservation, as well as their role in the community. Without zoos, many people wouldn’t know about conservation issues surrounding many endangered species. Even more people wouldn’t even know many of these animals even exist. Andy credits zoos with his slightly better than average animal knowledge, but even more, for his love of the natural world, and wanting to leave a better world for the next generation.
But then COVID-19 happened, and Andy’s beloved attractions were closed. He couldn’t visit them, and he began to see the toll zoos had been closed on everyone. Zoos rely on memberships and entry fees to generate money for the animals, paying the staff, and for funding conservation projects around the globe. Being closed to the public didn’t change the necessity of feeding and caring for the animals. Conservation issues didn’t magically disappear with lockdowns and quarantines (although a few places reported “magical” transformation due to less cars on the road and pollution). So, zoos were still spending money, but not getting any revenue to be sustainable.
When Andy realized what was happening, he decided he wanted to help. But what can one person do? Then he thought of that book he published. About zoos. And he had an idea. What if he used the royalties from the book to donate to zoos? It wouldn’t be hundreds of dollars (or should I say pounds in this case, as Andy resides in England), but it could be something. And it was just a token of gratitude for the work zoos do.
Andy has a small list of 10 zoos in his region that he splits the royalties from Land Beavers. And some may scoff and say “well, he’s not donating much to them”, but to address that, we need to move onto Big Idea #3…
Big Idea #3- Land Beavers Can Be Hummingbirds, Too
“What can I do?” sobbed the rabbit. “This fire is much too hot.:
“There is too much smoke!” howled the wolf.
“My wings will burn! My beak is too small!” cried the owl.
But the little hummingbird persisted. She flew to and fro (from the stream to the forest), picking up more water and dropping it, bead by bead, onto the burning forest.
Finally, the big bear said, “Little Dukdukdiya (hummingbird), what are you doing?”
Without stopping, Dukdukdiya looked down at all her friends. She said “I am doing what I can.”
If you’ve ever met me, or read even more than one post on ZooFit, you probably know the story of the Hummingbird. Basically, she encapsulates EVERYTHING I teach with ZooFit. “Do what you can.” If that’s trading your book-buying obsession on Amazon with reading books from the library, that’s amazing! If the one thing you can do to improve your health is go to bed 30 minutes earlier, holy cow! Fantastic! Keep it up!
And that’s precisely what Andy is doing with Land Beavers. Is he single-handedly funding the zoos where they don’t need additional revenue during the shutdown? That’s not the point of his actions. The point is he’s doing what he can. And that begs the question- are you doing what you can to help?
You don’t need to publish a book and donate the proceeds to charity. It’s the little things, though that compound and make a huge difference. Maybe instead of getting your normal Starbucks Latte, you can donate that money to a good cause, such as front line workers associations or organizations that are helping those in need during the pandemic Do what you can to make a difference in this world, and in the lives of those around you, protecting what we love.
And there’s more to the story than the hummingbird doing her part. I believe Hummingbird from her actions inspired the entire forest to do their part, and together (and only by doing it together), they were able to put out the fire. It’s the small actions we take that make a big difference when we inspire a community to work together. Wear a mask, be courteous of social distancing parameters. Refuse plastic utensils by bringing your own reusable utensils. Walk instead of drive. Do what you can, and inspire others through your actions.
Andy and his book deeply inspired me. If a zoo enthusiast can do something to help zoos in his area, then surely an ex-zookeeper and conservation consultant can do something as well. On that note, I’m working on creating a program for animal care professionals called KeeperCare to help them be the best version of themselves for the animals and for the planet. (sign-up for my free webinar on March 23 to learn how to get involved). I also launched my podcast Zoo-notable (my first episode is already out) to share wisdom from these amazing books with animal professionals, zoo-enthusiasts, and animal lovers alike.
Land Beavers and Further Reading
That’s all I’ve got for this fun book. I’d love to hear your thoughts on Andy’s actions, and what are ways you can make a difference, starting today.
If you would like to support Andy’s fundraiser for zoos in the U.K., it’s the only time I will ever recommend using Amazon (it’s the only way to get your copy if you are in the United States). Check it out and grab your copy today.
If you would like some more insight on the ideas we touched on today, I highly, highly recommend Trevor Moawad’s book It Takes What It Takes, Byron Katie’s Loving What Is, and Tal Ben-Shahar’s The Pursuit of Perfect. Of course, check out Flight of the Hummingbird for a full and completely mind-blowing commentary by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. And subscribe to ZooFit for more Zoo-notables as well as insights on how we can make a difference in our lives and the planet through small incremental behavioral changes.
Quotes from Land Beavers
I usually close my Zoo-notables with quotes, but this time, I’m going to leave you with some of my favorite comments from Land Beavers, Orange Weasels, and Other Things You Hear at the Zoo.
Woman: “If the saying is blind as a bat, how do they actually see?”
Man: “They use echolocation.”
Woman: “Is that their version of Sat-Nav?”
Bats, again- “Doesn’t this make you want to sing Meatloaf’s Bat Out of Hell?”
Response “Not really.”
Woman (and me, honestly): “Spoil sport.”
Small girl: “Mommy, what’s an ugly-ate?”
Mum: “Oh, they’re Ungulates! That’s their family name.”
Girl: “So, it’s the bongo version of our last name, ahh, I get it now!”
Another great example of how people learn about our connection with the natural world, which may lead to a life of treating wild animals, and wild places, with respect and care.
Woman: “What on earth is that?”
Man: “That’s a capybara.They’re from South America”
Woman: “I thought it was a land beaver.”
Another instance of “well, she’s not correct, but is she really wrong?”
Man: “What are these things?”
Woman: “Malayan tapirs.”
Man: Tapirs? I thought they were a cross between a panda and a horse.”
Woman: “Is that because they’re black and white.”
Man: “Well, yes…”
Woman (and me, and ALL zookeepers worldwide): “Oh, dear…”
And finally, I think my favorite comment in the whole book, which I’ll never ever be able to look at naked mole rats the same again…
“They look like a walking penis!”
There you go! Go visit your zoo and see what things you can learn, and overhear. Have fun and live green, train positive!