Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A little bit about zoos

Zoos are always hard to reconcile your conscience with if you are involved with animal rights. They often use animals to their advantage financially, by breeding animals and selling them, sometimes to places of not very good repute; some zoos do not take care of their animals, and neglect them, while other zoos have the best of intentions in designing their habitats, yet do not take into account that the animals they are placing in the exhibits are wild animals, wired to be free and roaming, making the animals neurotic from being enclosed. Finally, the worst of all in my opinion, is how visitors to the zoo treat the animals.

You see stories all the time on the news where someone was attacked by an animal in the zoo- a polar bear, an elephant, a tiger. Everytime this happens, the animal was first provoked by the person, had been teased, had rocks thrown at it, had just not been respected in general. The purpose of zoos is to educate people and bring them face to face with animals they may never get to see, and to learn about the animal, and why the animal is endangered. But most of the time people stop and look for a second before moving on, or worse, they mess with the animal. And the animal always pays the ultimate price for man's stupidity and disrespect.

So it is hard to know these facts and still patronize zoos. I feel lucky that the zoo closest to me, the Detroit Zoo, is a progressive zoo. They were one of the first to no longer keep elephants on exhibit, understanding that these great beasts were used to walking hundreds of miles a day, and it caused enormous distress to the animals to be penned up in an enclosure. Also, the polar bears they have on exhibit are rescued polar bears, who had been part of a tropical circus. So I am proud that my city's zoo is taking steps to be more animal friendly, as you would expect a zoo to be.

My whole life I wanted to visit the San Diego Zoo. When I was a kid, I saw a television show about it, and heard that it was the best one in the country, and since then it had always been on my list of places to visit. So of course when I visited San Diego, we went. And the zoo is gorgeous, and huge at 100 acres. I have to confess, I loved seeing the cute little koalas and zebras, two of my favorites. And the pandas. And riding the double decker bus through the park, and then taking the skytrain over the park. And finally visiting the elephants, a source of mixed emotions.
In 2003 the San Diego Zoo was protested for removing seven African Elephants from Swaziland. The zoo's statement was that these animals were going to be killed if they did not take them in. I hope that this is the truth, and that the San Diego zoo is not ripping off wildlife for its habitat. Which is beautiful - it is around 2 acres of land for about 7 elephants, with what look to be quite a few enrichments, including a few pools of water, tall tree things with stuff hanging from them to play with, and different puzzles. The zoo also keeps an exhibit of dung beetles, that you can watch rolling the elephants dung into little balls, which was strangely interesting. There is an open sided Elephant Care Center, where they wash the elephants and perform other routine cares for the elephants while visitors can watch. The exhibit was fascinating. I did feel terrible for the lions however - I feel they were not exhibited the way the king of beasts should be. They were in a small enclosure, in my opinion, as part of the elephant odyssey, and seemed more like an afterthought. I know that male lions sleep during the day, but this lion looked so bored, and so tired, that when Chrissy took a picture of him, she had to delete it because he just looked dead. He was lying against the glass, with 15 or so tourists around the glass, talking, pointing, knocking, and he did not even open his eyes. I feel horrible that this is what one of the most majestic beasts in the animal kingdom had been reduced to. So my opinion of the zoo falls a bit when it comes to the lions.
Interestingly, the zoo left a line of empty cages along one road, that had been used in the 1940s. These cages were tiny, and looked exactly like the ones you see depicted in old cartoons or pictures of carnivals. The zoo has certainly come a long way from that era, with its huge acreage and more animal friendly exhibits. I have to confess, I am still up in the air about my visit to this popular and much talked about zoo; I feel the need to do more research on it. I am glad however, that I did not pass up the chance to go- when deciding how I feel about something, I like to experience things for myself, as much as I can. I am hoping in my research I find that the San Diego zoo is a progressive zoo, one that is striving to make changes for the animals for the better, and not just for animals in the zoo, but for their wild brethern as well.

1 comment:

  1. This is a great post! I too have this issue with zoos. Another great tidbit about the progressive nature of our Detroit Zoo...it is the first zoo to have a department of humane education. So there is one person whose sole purpose at the zoo is to make sure that the public is informed about the dignity of the animals and their habitats. Isn't that wonderful?


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