The Goats in the Arboretum

Educators at informal learning environments with living collections hope that their living specimens will provide opportunities for engagement with human visitors. Some recent news stories of human-animal engagement gone awry have been running through my head for weeks, making me wonder to what extent such occurrences can be prevented and mitigated by the museum/park/other learning environment and to what extent they are an inevitable risk of human forays into the non-human world.

In what appears to be nothing more than a clear-cut case of animal cruelty this past spring, Mervyn Jay Downes III trespassed onto the grounds of Maryland’s Adkins Arboretum after hours and slit the throats of three goats (on two separate occasions), killing two and maiming the other. He has been charged with several crimes associated with these actions.

Adkins Arboretum, located within Tuckahoe State Park, has a plant-focused name (arboretum being derived from the word arbor) and mission (including phrases like “focuses solely on plants native to the Mid-Atlantic coastal plain”), but arboreta are also places to see animals that live among the plants.

On the arboretum’s Facebook page, some of the fauna included in photos are butterflies, leopard frogs, ducks, herons, and turtles. One photo of a birder is captioned, “Annual Spring Bird Migration Walk with Wayne Bell. Orchard Oriole, Indigo Bunting, Field Sparrow, Scarlet Tanager, Blue Grosbeak and flock of Myrtle, Yellow-Rumped or Butterbutt Warblers! A great day to start my own list!”

The goats are on-site for the purpose of natural weed control, as described on a page of the arboretum’s website. Five years ago, Adkins won an award for piloting this program.

This award was given by Shared Earth Foundation, whose mission statement includes the belief that “today’s human beings have the responsibility to share Earth’s resources with other creatures and future generations by limiting their adverse impact on the planet, and by enriching and protecting Earth’s wild life and the places they inhabit.” This blog post is the first in a series I am writing on recent interactions that ended badly between human beings and other creatures at places where human beings can go to see and learn about such other creatures.


About Laura

Paralegal with Master of Arts in Teaching in Museum Education, frequent museum visitor, based in Washington, DC. I care about what museums can do, both in terms of public offerings and internal practices, to make the world a better place. I blog about museum education ("informed"), the social work of museums ("humane"), and visitor experience ("citizenry").
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