Fewer zoos now

Jul 6, 2016 at 10:53 am
Fewer zoos now

If I were an animal fortunate enough to obtain an invitation to Kentucky’s miraculous, new Ark park, presumably where I’d be saved from an apocalyptic flood, I might just take my chances with the flood. Human beings have demonstrated an unrivaled command over the food chain. We have also demonstrated that we are not sophisticated enough to handle that responsibility humanely.

Zoos and animal sanctuaries can serve a valuable role for researching and protecting endangered species — even though human activity likely endangered them in the first place. The Louisville Zoo recently demonstrated this importance by successfully breeding an addax, an endangered Saharan antelope. This species is so close to extinction, there are believed to be only three left in the wild. Three!

However, once the function of zoos moves beyond science — to say … entertainment — humans are inadequately prepared to safely and humanely manage animals (particularly wild animals).

Recently, within 100 miles of here, two animal attractions have been in the news for disturbing stories: The slaughter of an endangered gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo after a child wandered into its pen, and a report of deplorable conditions and treatment of exotic animals at Wildlife in Need, a petting-zoo in Southern Indiana. Within just the last week, there were stories of felony criminal charges being brought against a racehorse trainer and owner from two separate farms. These cases show that humans, even the most expertly-trained and caring, cannot responsibly manage animals, which means we should not be in that business. And make no mistake about it, it is a business.

In the case of the gorilla, there is plenty of blame to go around. But the zoo itself, which should be the most qualified to safely exhibit animals, is clearly culpable, and its negligence led to the death of the endangered species it is supposed to protect. I know they didn’t want to shoot the gorilla, and, with the gorilla dragging the young boy around like a toy, they truly didn’t have another option. But if there are no other options available — kill the gorilla or watch the boy be killed —  that should be a sign that we aren’t prepared to use the animal for our entertainment.

As for the Wildlife in Need petting zoo — the Southern Indiana pose-with-a-tiger photo booth — they were once again found in violation of several basic regulations — regulations that are designed to protect animals and patrons. While the owner feels like the government is out to get him, in reality, this guy is nothing more than an arrogant, self-imagined martyr who harms animals — his “ambassadors” — for the entertainment of others.

He claims it is a place designed for, “rehabilitation & release of indigenous wildlife & provision of permanent safe harbor to an array of exotic & endangered species.” If all that occurred at the “refuge” supported that stated mission, there wouldn’t be a problem. But of course that’s not all that goes on there. Apparently, to achieve that mission — or as payback for the treatment they receive —  the animals must perform for, and socialize with, visitors. If that doesn’t sound too bad, read the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that describe the violations and mistreatment.

A report issued in January describes how a brown bear was injured and had a “significant amount of bright-red blood in the fur.” A kangaroo had fallen sick, and a “person in Australia was contacted.” The animal died within 24 hours, and no necropsy was performed. Two baby otters died due to “a possible formula issue,” the report said. No veterinarian was contacted and no necropsy was done. An adult otter “appeared sick and died within the hour.” No veterinarian was contacted, and no necropsy was done. A dog and lion were housed together on snow-covered ground and a dirt floor.

And then you can’t help but wince at stories of baby tiger cubs being paraded around, prodded and teased into acting playful, all for some paying customers to get good selfies with the adorable cubs. This isn’t “rehabilitation” or “safe harbor.” This is making money.

We’ve recently witnessed what public outcry and pressure can do to curb the practices of even the largest animal attractions, as Sea World is winding down its orca/killer-whale shows — its preeminent attraction. Now is the time we need to apply the same pressure to places including Wildlife in Need. Don’t be misled by the name. The wildlife stuck in these well-documented, deplorable conditions need to be in their natural world … Or an Ark park without the humans.