Thursday, 16 June 2016

64 Zoo Lane: A tragic tale of wild animals trapped in a residential area?

I've been a big fan of zoos all my life, I even wanted to be a zookeeper at one point in my childhood. As a child, there is so much wonder and excitement attached to visiting a zoo, they played a huge part in my own childhood and I have some memories I’ll never forget. As an adult, there is nothing quite like witnessing a child see a Lion up close for the first time. Their faces, the pointing, the attempts to roar back at them, it’s all the stuff dreams are made of. The joy of getting to see a penguin in real life, or hearing monkeys yelling from the trees, is undeniable. Unfortunately in the last year, for me and a growing portion of society, zoos have become less magical and more controversial. There's a lot of concern these days surrounding animal welfare in zoos and the more I hear the less inclined I am to visit one again. I'm not the boycotting type, I realise my one body would have little impact on them; the only reason I wouldn't spend a day there is for my own emotional well being. I don't think I could watch a Lion in a small cage without tearing up and demanding they let it out.

My major issue with zoos, among other smaller problems, is simply that it’s not our place to intervene. Animals are not made for our entertainment and are certainly not so below us that we are justified in "playing God", deciding who lives and who dies. Nature is vicious, that's the ultimate truth we have to accept. It’s a dog eat dog world out there, and bird eat bird, and fish eat fish.. you get it... Wildlife regulates itself and it is brutal sometimes, you only have to see one David Attenborough documentary to know that, but it is essential to the general life cycles of these animals and to the maintenance of the ecosystem. Food chains are something we learn in primary school, and each time we place humans at the top. Let’s get one thing straight, we are only the top of the chain because we have weapons. We are the most dangerous predators only because we have created objects which allow us to control wildlife, but place an unarmed man with an unarmed bear, who's top of the food chain then? Our weapons and opposable thumbs have given us the impression that we have the right, or even the responsibility to regulate wildlife. 

In February 2014, a giraffe named Marius was shot by keepers at a Denmark Zoo. It was then publicly dissected, and fed to the zoos resident lions. The reason the zoo gave for choosing this giraffe? He was unsuitable for breeding because his genes were "too common". This murder, and that's exactly what this is especially as they opted against euthanizing him instead, was openly protested against. Other zoos from all over the world offered to take the giraffe in to prevent him from losing his life. The zoos director gave a statement saying "We have been very steadfast because we know we've made this decision on a factual and proper basis. We can't all of a sudden change to something we know is worse because of some emotional events happening around us." Maybe I don't know a lot about the breeding program for giraffes, but I cannot find a way to believe that allowing another zoo to provide a home for Marius would be "worse" than killing him. The fact of the matter is that this 18 month old giraffe lost its life because humans feel their superiority means they can pick and choose what happens to animals. You can read the full story of Marius’ death here, The same zoo, just months later, killed an entire family of lions, two parents who were reaching the final years of their natural lives anyway, and two young cubs. The reason for this one was that a new male lion was going to arrive soon, and may have killed a male cub; I can’t find a reason for the deaths of the females or the parents, which breaks my heart. Why was one new male  sonecessary if it meant 4 others must die? Explore that one yourself if you wish

Zookeeper deaths are unexpectedly common. I’m not saying it’s a huge number, but 21 deaths in 22 years in the USA is a lot, and is equal to the number of fatalities from shark attacks in the USA. The reason for this is simple, these are wild animals. They have not evolved to live in captivity, or interact with humans, or depend on others for food. Back in April 2016, Stacey Konwiser, a keeper at a Florida zoo, was mauled by a tiger and lost her life. The details surrounding the incident have varied ever since, and are the subjects of 5 different investigations including an internal one. However, no matter what the circumstances and the reasons for her to be in the enclosure near the tiger; the fact is that this tiger is a killer by nature. That is how it lives its life and how it has evolved to survive in the wild. Putting a wild, lethal animal in an urban zoo doesn’t remove its innate desire to attack. The only way to guarantee safety from these kinds of animals is to carry a weapon, which in itself speaks volumes for the practicality of storing these animals for our own entertainment.  You can read about that one here

I understand that in some cases, zoos can be beneficial to the conservation and protection of animals, especially endangered species. The most important point is that zoos prevent these animals from being poached and hunted in the wild, or harmed in anyway due to human intervention. This is the only reason I would consider supporting zoos, there is no need to protect animals from natural dangers. Nature has been doing its own thing long before our intervention, and will continue to do so with or without us. That said, none of the animals we see in British zoos and most other countries’ zoos are not meant to be here. This isn’t their climate or natural habitat. There are reserves in many of their home countries, which are monitored by rangers, but allow animals to be protected from a distance. Their purpose isn’t for human enjoyment, and they have free range over a vast area of natural land rather than a small caged area, which never quite sits right with me. There are over 10,000 zoos worldwide and about 2,400 in America alone (I use America because it’s bigger, the statistic are more notable). The American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA) is an organisation established to enforce high standards of care for the animals as well as of science and conservation. Only 212 of those 2,400 zoos are a member of AZA. Honestly, that terrifies me. It’s talked about a lot, but it is actually very rare for animals to be reintroduced into the wild from a zoo, which seems like the only reason they should exist to me. I can’t find a solid reason, and trust me I’ve tried, for why animals are better off in captivity. I understand the occasional benefits, but as an overall conclusion, I just can’t back it entirely.

I chose to keep way from the gorilla story in this, because it’s been so widely discussed that my own opinion isn’t particularly vital, so I’ll keep it short. My issue with the incident isn’t the choice to kill Harambe, in the end there was no other option. As I’ve said, animals that have evolved to be wild are dangerous no matter what. Gorillas will tear smaller monkeys quite literally limb from limb for dinner, that boy was in danger regardless of what people think Harambe was doing. My issue is with the gorilla being there in the first place. One more time, they are not in existence for our entertainment. They are dangerous beings and there is no guarantee of human safety by keeping them in a cage surrounded by humans. He should not have been caged; the humans should not have been in a position where they could decide the fate of a wild animal.

I still see the joy in zoos somehow; all animals are majestic no matter what type and it’s hard to deny the attraction to watching them up close, especially for a person who will probably never travel to see them naturally in a safari or a reserve. However, no matter how hard I try, I can’t feel comfortable with them. Maybe someone needs to explain to me better the positives of holding animals in captivity because while researching this, I can assure you, I found no pros as concrete as the cons. In the end, my argument is this, we are not superior. We are simply more protected. I see no reason why our more developed brains mean we have the right to play god. I cannot justify why our weapons allow us to pick and choose who lives where, and if they live at all. 

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