Monday, February 21


It's clear now that public sentiment about caging elephants is undergoing a gradual sea change as the issue becomes impossible for Joe Average to ignore. This is fueled by a spate of needless elephant deaths in zoos, a couple of captive elephants killing their trainers (the latter one after another elephant at the zoo had just died), and the growing uncertainty as to how competent even the most high-profile zoos really are. An overview of the debate from Reuters quotes Tufts University animal behaviorist Nicholas Dodman: "In the old days, when you didn't have television, children would see animals for the first time at the zoo and it had an educational component. Now the zoos claim they're preserving the disappearing species, preserving embryos and genetic material. But you don't need to do that in a zoo." Or in a circus, of course: Ringling fights charges and documentation that it routinely abuses elephants by citing its own touchy-feely elephant-breeding program, as though elephants need to pay us - by performing moronic tricks - for the right to have their species preserved.

It's good to see someone finally using the "elephant in the room" analogy to talk about people's willful blindness to the suffering we're causing elephants: This cover story from the Anchorage Press is titled just that, and though it gives more ink to the captivity apologists than they deserve, it often cuts through the BS admirably: "Animals in a zoo fascinate me because I can see them. At the same time, I don't ever really suppose they want to be there, any more than my childhood collie really wanted us to dress him up. I just blind myself to that elephant in the room to satisfy my curiosity. I'd bet I'm not the only person at the zoo lying to myself this way, pretending that this is somehow a choice the zebra or the leopard would make. What worries me is this: Isn't saying we want zoos to remain really to say that our interest in other animals is more important than their happiness?"

UPDATE 2/22: Another newspaper covers the "time to stop putting Elephants in zoos" issue. While not a complete whitewash, this is typically wishy-washy, but it does contain overview info such as "The Detroit facility is the eighth zoo in the United States to close elephant exhibits in recent years. Others include the Chehaw Wild Animal Park in Albany, Ga.; the Mesker Park Zoo in Evansville, Ind.; and the Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison, Wis." (San Francisco is still up in the air.) Also: "'I tell my staff that the justification for having live animals is that we promote conservation and we educate our visitors in a way they're not going to be educated in anymore out there in the world,' [Brookfield Zoo Director] Strahl said. Nevertheless, IDA's Smith asks what kind of education are zoogoers getting if they see elephants displaying neurotic behaviors, such as swaying and bobbing." As I've said before, they're being "educated" to understand that it's humans' right to abuse and exploit any and all animals under whatever circumstances we want to.

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