There's a reason why everyone cares about saving the whales, wolves and polar bears, says Kevin Fitzgerald, star of Animal Planet's long-running Emergency Vets and newer E-Vet Interns.
"They're charismatic and they draw our feelings and our emotions," he says. "I call them 'charismatic megafauna.'"
But many tiny animals are in trouble, too, and as a 27-year veterinarian and 20-year comedian, Fitzgerald stumps for big and small alike. On Friday, the former rock-band tour bouncer (Rolling Stones, the Who, the Police) presents his stand-up routine and recent footage from Antarctica at a fundraiser for Cheyenne Mountain Zoo's chapter of the American Association of Zoo Keepers.
"Zoos get a bad rap," he says. "But they do more than any other group for the conservation and preservation of species on this planet."
He offers the example of the Mhorr gazelles, which were declared extinct in Africa in 1968, but survived in many zoos worldwide. He says the gazelles were replenished on the plains of Colorado, then brought as a group back to Africa, where the population is rebounding.
Fitzgerald suggests viewing zoos "as a safety valve" and a "safe place to maintain the DNA."
Zoos also inspire people to become conservationists, veterinarians and "biophiliacs," Fitzgerald's name for lovers of living things. Since not everyone can travel to the poles or Africa, he says, a trip to the zoo is better for the environment.
"We have a responsibility to preserve life on this planet," Fitzgerald says. "The problem is big, but it's nothing people can't handle."
The biggest hurdle, he says, is that many people don't want to adjust their lifestyle.
"We're gonna have to change how we live," he says. "Nobody wants to do it. I don't want to do it, but it just can't keep going on."
But rather than hanging on a doom-and-gloom tone, Fitzgerald advises: "You just can't get bombarded with bad news all day long. We need to laugh."