When Zoos Go Too Far

It’s been a while since I ranted. At least I think so… admittedly, my brain can be a sieve sometimes. At any rate, I guess it’s about time for another one … and on one of my favorite topics too, one with which I have a love-hate relationship.  Namely, zoos.

When do zoos go too far?  What is the magical line between research, conservation, and exploitation?

There are two types of people; those who love to go to the zoo to see animals they will never otherwise see in real life, and those who despise seeing majestic animals behind bars.  In my experience, there really is no grey in this one; you either love it or hate it.

April the giraffe became a world-wide celebrity a while back.  The world watched daily, heck several times a day, as she waited to give birth to her calf.  Make no mistake, I count myself among that number. Her due date came and went, and still we watched.  Finally, her calf, a male named Tajiri, made his adorable wobbly legged entrance into the Animal Adventure Park in Harpursville, New York, and people watched as April tirelessly cared for her newborn son.  Then, as suddenly as she broke into fame, April was largely forgotten…but not before bringing in a pretty hefty revenue stream to the for-profit theme park where she lived.

April is now pregnant again, and I am pretty sure the zoo will once again cash in on her experience.  But what of the now forgotten Tajiri?  Well, according to this, he is now one year old and he will be loaned out to other zoos for their giraffe breeding programs.

I am enraged at this entire venture.  For one thing, with all the funds April raised for the zoo, you would think she deserves an updated pen.  Instead, they took “her” money, applied it to other areas of the zoo (not necessarily habitats), and now need more money to upgrade the giraffe section.  Only once they have earned the money to do the updates for the giraffe pens, will April be reunited with her calf.  God only knows what they plan to do with her current calf when she is born.  Holy exploitation, Batman!

Most deliberate zoo breeding is strictly for money.  The surplus animals are sold to other zoos, roadside zoos (which are a whole different class from “regular zoos” and a rant best left for another time), fake safari parks, and reports have been made that some unfortunate animals are sold for “canned safari hunts.”

To me, this is all just another example of using animals without regard for them.  April’s pen is badly in need of an update, yet they bred her again?  Just like some rescue facilities that have too many dogs, cats, horses, or whatever they cater to, if a zoo cannot take care of the animals they have they should stop bringing in more animals, and for God’s sake, stop breeding them.

Admittedly, some parks and zoos do keep animals for conservation and research purposes … there are some very good to excellent facilities around the country. Others, however, keep animals in unnatural, inhumane conditions, and then are shocked when these animals are unpredictable, or worse, (*gasp!) act like animals.  It’s not rocket science, folks.  Elephants, whales, lions, heck even penguins were not made to be penned for someone’s amusement.  Personally, I think it has the potential to drive the animals insane. Regardless of your views on zoos, surely, we can all agree that when these animals are placed in zoos, they become our responsibility.

Part of that responsibility is to make sure that conditions for these animals are as good as they can possibly be, not to keep breeding more animals into a bad situation to make simply money for the organization.  It’s funny to me, the people who protest puppy mills, where dogs – both female and male – are kept in horrid conditions and continuously bred for money, are probably the first ones sipping a slushee in front of the giraffe pen at the Animal Adventure Park.

As for April’s newest pregnancy, consider this:  if we follow her latest experience, are we part of the problem?

 

 

Caution – Rant Ahead

Do any of you remember when I wrote about Marius, the giraffe in the Copenhagen Zoo that was killed when he was only 2 years old because he was deemed to be “surplus” If not, I urge you to click on this link for a refresher. If you don’t have the time to read the full article, here’s the short and sweet version: The Copenhagen Zoo encouraged their giraffes to breed…lo and behold Marius was brought into the world. However, after zoo doctors found Marius’ genes to be too common (common, not inbred) for breeding, they shot him in the head, dissected him in front of a crowd (of mostly children) and fed his meat to lions. Who cares that nearby wildlife parks offered to take him off their hands? Who cares that there was a public outcry? Who cares that it seems hypocritical that a breeding program would decrease the population of a species it is trying to save? And what about the four lions who ended up feasting on Marius’ remains — which included two young cubs — this same zoo killed them not long after they offed Marius, because they had to make room for just one incoming alpha male?

Who cares about those trivial little questions? Well, let’s just move on to what’s going on at the Copenhagen Zoo NOW, shall we? Oh look, a brand new baby giraffe was just born there (in September 2016). Yes, you read that correctly. A mere two years after one giraffe was killed because he was a “surplus animal” the zoo breeds another of the exact same animal. You’d think this means that they have their surplus problem all figured out and this latest birth is guaranteed a long, healthy life. You would think that, but you’d be wrong. As a spokesman for the zoo states, there’s no guarantee that this new baby giraffe won’t end up with the same fate as Marius. They’re admitting that, yeah, they might kill this one off as well if things don’t work out the way they want them to.

But that may not happen. This giraffe might make it to the ripe old age or 3, 4, maybe even 5! It just won’t be at the Copenhagen Zoo. When the little guy hits 2 years old he might get shipped off to another zoo like a product ordered off Amazon. Although that’s not a guarantee.

Don’t get me wrong. I firmly believe that there are some zoos that do a great job at saving endangered animals, but it’s a Catch-22 because most zoos, as they are now, are simply not great for the animals. They’re having success in breeding, but look at what the animals are being bred into. They’re pretty much led straight from the womb to a guillotine. You might say this cycle of systematic culling is simply a European practice I cannot abide, but it’s not. Zoos right here in the US regularly sell surplus animals or euthanize them. Which begs the important question, why? Why breed so-called surplus animals in the first place?

Okay, yes, strides for bettering the treatment of animals are being made. Take circuses for examples. Their animal acts, if not wholly banned, are much more tightly regulated now than in the past. However, Barnum & Bailey just sent their elephants to a “sanctuary” that also happens to run experiments on the animals in the name of science (cancer research). So, while they’re not chained to posts or crammed into claustrophobic train cars or forced to do stupid acts for a crowd, did they really win? Who knows the extent of the research they are subjected to. All I know is that the phrase “testing on animals” rarely means something good is going on. While perhaps the research facility may not be a house of horrors, I can’t imagine it’s as good as living on an actual sanctuary where they have nothing to do but eat, sleep, and be all elephant-y.

Barnum & Bailey got rid of their big cat act, too. Don’t applaud just yet. In an effort to make a final buck on these animals, they’ve been sold to other circuses and events who DO still perform animal acts. God knows what their living conditions will be. So, it’s really just trading one set of terrible owners for another. What gets me is that with all the millions of dollars Barnum & Bailey have made off these animals, they could at least have given them a proper retirement. It’d be a nice way to say, “thanks for making it through the years of abuse.”  But no. Instead, the circus, yet another greedy corporation, milked every last penny they could out of their elephants and tigers, their well-being be damned.

Say what you will about their diet and environments, but animals in captivity are just that, captive prisoners. When humans decide to interfere with wildlife to such a degree that the animals are entirely dependent, with their very existence depending on the whims of bureaucratic policy, whether it’s a circus or a zoo, then those humans have a solemn responsibility to those animals – their lives should not come down to being deliberately bred into “surplus” only to be cut short or being exploited for a lifetime only to be sold into yet another version of servitude.

At what point are they allowed to simply be a lion, a giraffe, an elephant? By the looks of it, in many cases, the answer is never. To me, that is just an unacceptable answer.

Zoo Blues

Yes, I realize I’m on another rant…I try not to rant too terribly often but in this case, I simply couldn’t help myself.   I get annoyed enough when someone dumps the cell phone they bought three months ago for $500 just to drop another couple hundred dollars to upgrade to the newest one. Is the new version really that much better than what you had? Or are you just trying to look cool by having the latest and greatest?

So imagine my shock when I recently heard of a Copenhagen Zoo doing pretty much the same thing. Very small, minor, trivial differences. Such as, instead of iPhones that they’re getting rid of, it’s a family of four perfectly healthy lions. Yes, you read that correctly. The zoo euthanized four lions in one fell swoop. Now these lions did not team up to kill their handlers and therefore had to be put down. They aren’t housing a biological pathogen that could wipe out all of Denmark. They do not have 666 tattooed on the back of their manes. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with them at all.

So why off them as if they’re yesterday’s news? Because, according to the zoo, they are yesterday’s news. Apparently this lovely quartet of endangered animals was given the boot to make room for one new young male lion the zoo scored. The zoo tried to offload the cubs (oh, how humane) but no one took them in (so they say), so what else were they supposed to do? Slice and dice time, kiddos! Sorry!

The carcass of Marius, a male giraffe, is eaten by lions at Copenhagen Zoo, after he was put down to prevent inbreeding. Photo: AP

(Photo Credit: AP) Click photo for news story.

What’s most messed up about this whole thing is the math involved. The new lion coming in was basically procured to mate with two lionesses who reached breeding age in 2012. So, wait? What? The zoo killed four lions so that they could bring in one lion to hopefully make more lions? Maybe the adults in the family unit were past their prime (which is questionable since they had two young cubs in the pride…I mean just where did those come from??) but I still don’t get how killing two perfectly healthy cubs for one male is sound arithmetic. Sure we all like 2-for-1 sales, but this one seems a bit backwards to me. It just sounds like gambling to me. Sure the new male will probably be successful at pumping out some kids of his own, but if you already have two, why tempt fate? That’s like winning $1,000 at craps then instead of walking out of the casino you keep playing because you can’t help but feed the greed.

The zoo claims that in nature, this new male lion would surely kill off the cubs (because they are not his offspring).  That may be true.  But and it’s a pretty big “but,” that would only happen if he bested the other dominant male and became the dominant male himself.  The zoo never allowed this natural process to take place – they simply got rid of the competition by killing off the two resident male lions. And rather than segregate the cubs until they reach maturity, well, they just killed them off too.  You know.  To be safe.  To allow natural selection to do its thing.

This zoo has been doing awesome lately. It’s the same zoo that killed a healthy two-year old giraffe (named Marius) because he “didn’t fit in the zoo’s breeding program.”  Forget the fact that they obviously bred him into surplus.  I mean why breed a species in your care if you’re just going to kill it?  That makes a lot of sense. Oh, and it gets worse. After they made the decision to kill Marius (after having several offers from other sanctuaries to take him), they actually thought it would be a good idea to make his death and dissection public…so it all took place in gory, graphic detail in front of zoo visitors, many of whom were children.  Don’t even get me started on the parents who thought it would be a good idea for the kids to see a giraffe shot with a captive bolt, chopped up and fed to lions.  Oh wait.  These are the same lions they just euthanized.  How wonderful. It’s come full circle.

I mean, hey – let’s pack up the kids, honey! We’re going to Denmark! This zoo sounds like it knows exactly what it’s doing. Fair warning though, Little Jonny, if I see a cuter kid than you I might have to put you down so I can upgrade. That’s apparently fair game there.