Let’s Not Go To The Zoo…

elephant-baby-and-mother.jpg  When I was in grade school, our teacher, Mrs. Morris, loved taking our class on outings.  She took us to the Brooklyn Zoo and the Bronx Zoo many times. We were all in awe of the exotic and not so exotic animals inside the cages. They seemed comical and entertaining at the time. But I also remember once going to the Bronx Zoo and watching an elephant all alone in a cage. He paced back and forth continually and raised his trunk every now and then. At first I thought it was just something elephants did, but I overheard an adult say that the elephant had become “neurotic” from being held in captivity. At the age of ten I had no idea what neurotic meant so I asked my Dad later that night. He told me that it meant more or less being very upset. I felt sorry for this poor animal. Obviously he was unhappy to be caged up. Maybe he had a family somewhere. Maybe it was a female and she missed her children. These were some of the things my ten year old brain and heart could relate to. That was the very last time I went to a zoo. In fact, Mrs. Morris scheduled one last outing to the Bronx Zoo at the end of the school year and I pretended to be sick so I didn’t have to go.

  My point is this: Should animals be taken out of their natural environment purely for the entertainment of humans? Should they be forced to live behind bars never to be able to fly, swim, run, hunt, climb, scavenge, forage, explore, and select partners again?

  Let’s suppose some higher, supposedly more intelligent beings decided that humans are a hot commodity and a lot of money could be made by putting them in cages and charging other higher beings to come and watch their crazy little antics. Human babies would then be whisked away from their mother’s arms because, as everyone knows, babies are cute, adorable and have the potential to make even more money than do adults held in captivity. Now think about never being able to run, swim, play or mate? Humans would become physically and mentally frustrated. They’d resort to abnormal and neurotic behavior such as swaying, pacing, bar-biting and self-mutilation because this is exactly how animals in captivity react. Now, I don’t mean to get all “Planet of the Apes” here, but you can see my point.

Consider this excerpt from a recent article I found on Peta.org:

“Even big zoos with fancy names and a high degree of popularity, such as the San Diego Wild Animal Park, engage in unscrupulous practices, such as dumping unwanted “surplus” animals and taking animals from the wild. Proponents of zoos like to claim that zoos protect species from extinction—seemingly a noble goal. However, wild-animal parks and zoos almost always favor large and charismatic animals who draw crowds and neglect less popular, but still needy, species. Most animals in zoos are not endangered, and while confining animals to zoos keeps them alive, it does nothing to protect wild populations. Returning captive-bred animals to the wild is, in most cases, impossible because animals reared in zoos are denied the opportunity to learn survival skills, may carry diseases picked up from other animals at the zoo or even from people, and often have no natural habitat left to return to because of human encroachment. Breeding programs simply provide cute baby animals to attract zoo patrons and generate revenue, creating a surplus of unwanted adult animals. As a result, zoos often find themselves extremely crowded, and older animals may be “warehoused” or shuffled off to shabby roadside zoos or auctions.”

“According to a 2004 report by the World Conservation Union, the world’s biodiversity is declining at an unprecedented rate primarily because of human activities that cause destruction of habitat; exploiting animals for food, the pet trade, and medicine; pollution; and climate change. Captive breeding does nothing to address these serious problems that currently put more than 15,000 species in jeopardy of extinction. In fact, the many millions of dollars that zoos regularly squander—on redesigning enclosures that do little to nothing to improve animal welfare, erecting statues and amusement rides, and building gift shops and concession stands—would be much better spent on habitat preservation projects.”

“Warehousing animals is not the way to save them from extinction. Their salvation lies in protecting habitats, not in life imprisonment in zoos. Instead of patronizing zoos, help animals by supporting organizations that work to protect captive animals from exploitation and to preserve habitats. ”

  So what can we do to show our dissaproval of the mistreatment of zoo animals? Peta suggests these:

– Never patronize zoos. The money spent on ticket purchases pays for animals to be  imprisoned and traded, not rescued and rehabilitated.

-If your local zoo solicits money from corporate donors and/or charitable organizations and foundations, write to the zoo’s sponsors and encourage them to instead put their money toward protecting animals in the wild.

-Zoos are covered by the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA), which sets minimal housing and maintenance standards for captive animals. The AWA requires that all animal displays be licensed with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which must inspect zoos once a year. However, some zoos that have passed USDA inspections with flying colors have later been found by humane groups to have numerous violations. Read Beyond the Bars, edited by Virginia McKenna, Will Travers, and Jonathan Wray, for more information.

-Encourage your local zoo to stop breeding animals, to pledge never to accept any animals captured from the wild, and to make space available for rescued exotic animals in need of a permanent home. Report poor conditions to the USDA, leaflet at the zoo, write letters to the editor, and pressure local officials to stop subsidizing zoos with taxpayer money.

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