Wednesday, June 1


It's time to admit it: Humans don't know enough about ensuring the health and safety of wild animals, and should stop penning them immediately. As people begin to take notice of animals sickening and dying in zoos (incidents previously swept under the PR rug), it's inevitable that they begin to wonder about this.

Lions have starved to death at a zoo in China that's gone bankrupt: "Zoos have sprung up across China in the past decade to meet a growing appetite for entertainment among increasingly affluent Chinese, but many provide wretched conditions, inept management and cannot draw enough visitors to cover their costs." One wolf, two deer and two camels had also died in the past 17 months, it said. "Because we don't have the necessary maintenance techniques, experience and funds, we can only sit by and watch all these animals die," the zoo owner was quoted as saying. A candid statement of something that, in China, is only a moderate exaggeration of the situation here.

A polar bear being housed in St. Louis died during a two-hour surgery to remove an obstruction from his stomach. Whether or not the surgery itself was botched, the cause became clear: A piece of cloth and bits of plastic trash bag - items not found in the bear's natural habitat - had obstructed the stomach. So how'd they get there? "We have not seen anyone throw anything to our bears," Miller said. "While we think we've got the best behaved visitors in the nation, it takes just one careless mistake to jeopardize the health of our animals." How succinct: Zoos put wild animals into situations where one careless mistake can kill them.

And the list goes on: "Tinkerbell the porcupine wasn't performing well during educational shows at the Phoenix Zoo three years ago, and keepers decided to reduce her diet. They didn't want to hurt the little pincushion - just give her some incentive. But Tinkerbell died of starvation, and her death has become part of a dispute over the care of animals at the 125-acre exhibition." Aw, the porcupine wasn't being entertaining enough, so they starved her to death. Of course death was not the goal, but that's the point. This quote from the AZA sums up the disconnect: "I don't know of a single case where someone intentionally harmed an animal in an accredited zoo." No one has alleged that zoos are "intentionally" harming animals - that's a classic straw man - it's simply that animals don't belong in zoos, and keeping them there will manifest this fact in ways that inevitably harm them.

Meanwhile, too many of this variety of article are coming out for me to keep track of - covering the national elephant debate with local anecdotes, and as usual, parroting zoo officials' excuses and speculation without researching them, balancing them only with PETA. At least there's some discussion going on, and we can hope the quality of the debate will also improve.

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