Tuesday, December 9


This past weekend, the Washington Post had a nice thorough two-part series on the National Zoo's problems, showing exactly how animals died needlessly due to carelessness and/or incompetence on the part of management. "[I]ncompetence in management and veterinary medicine," says the zoo's pathologist, "has led to poor animal care, animal suffering and even animal deaths." Worse, he says records were altered as the zoo tried to cover up its fatal blunders. The zoo's director, Lucy Spelman, speaks on the record and is consistently contradicted by her own documents as to what happened when and why.

Reading through the case histories, a couple of trends become apparent: Animals sometimes die because Spelman seems to not understand their biology, and how can she for so many different kinds of animals? And animals die because the zoo staff are busy with other problem animals. These two problems are the flip-side of a zoo's appeal: A large number of a wide variety of animals grouped together in one spot for easy viewing. Additionally, there are several cases where an animal died of something internal or non-obvious because the staff was concerned with treating how the animal looked to the viewing public (e.g. Nancy the elephant and her lame foot, who turned out, after death, to have had tuberculosis - which was never tested for - or the zebras whose diet was cut in half, and who died, because Spelman thought "they looked fat"). This is another intrinsic problem with the concept of a zoo. They never exist to benefit animals, only to force animals to serve human needs for entertainment.

So a zoo rejoices when a polar bear goes from psychotically pacing one-third of the day to just one-sixth, never stepping back to say, "hey, you know what the problem might be here? Polar bears don't belong here, in this freakin' state, much less in a tiny cage!" The WashPost series, though, brings this thought that much closer.

UPDATE 12/11: MORE ANIMALS DIE AT INCOMPETENT ZOO Rat-Borne Disease Kills Zoo Monkey, Cheetah Also Infected at National Zoo.

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