Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Zoos Versus Sanctuaries Part 3

I try to avoid stating an issue without also introducing something in the way of a solution.  Even an idea that is more pipe-dream than workable resolution has the potential to start a conversation. 

With the damage done to Sea World, the downfall of the circus, and the increasingly aggressive calls to boycott zoos worldwide, it is time for professionals in captive animal management to stand together.  All forms of private exotic animal ownership are being targeted for illegalization and are likely to be the next major focal point for activists, but don’t for one moment believe that the big AZA zoological institutions are immune.  The way things are looking, they’re poised to die last.
That’s not the same thing as having security.

We have to look at ourselves as an ecosystem.  There needs to be a balance in order for the whole thing to work.  Like it or not, when we sit back and allow public opinion toward any sort of animal based business to spiral toward pitchforks and torches, we’re assuring our own eventual downfall. 

Don’t get me wrong.  I am not asking for anyone to promote the return of shopping mall cub petting companies.  I am not saying that we should stop holding each other accountable for gross negligence or deliberate mismanagement.  I am asking us all to stop painting other facilities as concentration camps, and competitors as villains. I am asking animal operations to stand on their own merit as opposed to creating unnecessary public outrage to raise funds. I am asking us to recognize the value to be found in differing methods of animal husbandry and agree that allowing deliberate misinformation is universally destructive.

One way we can begin helping each other is with full disclosure.  We can be open about what goes into the creation and maintenance of wildlife parks, whatever kind they are.  If a sanctuary is showing off new animals that need housing, food, and veterinary care, then they need to be willing to tell the public where they came from and under what circumstances. When a zoo gets a new species to display, it should be okay to disclose if it was purchased from a private breeder, traded from another zoo, donated, or otherwise.  When an animal dies, we shouldn’t have to dance around the idea that everything dies and there is no shame in being bested by illness, injury, and time.  Carnivores eat meat.  Horses, bunnies, chickens and cows are made of meat.  Why do we shelter the public from making that connection? Let the people decide for themselves whether to support those animals and the facility that is their home without resorting to manipulation and emotional blackmail, or pretending that a jackal can eat dog chow.

Another frightening yet powerful method that would help us all show a united front would be to publicly lend support in the wake of tragedy.  I see it happen on private zoo keeper and cat keeper forums; the outpouring of love and sympathy when a keeper gets killed or an iconic animal dies.  But in the public eye, we all kind of sit back and watch our colleagues get strung up on top of the grief and hardship we know they’re already facing.  We are unwilling to associate our home operation with the one being torn apart by the media and arm-chair activists.  We might put in a call offering to loan staff or equipment, or trade information on what to expect if we have had a similar unfortunate experience, and even to lend an ear to commiserate. But to make a supportive statement to the media as the official spokesperson for another zoo, or a message of solidarity on social media or our own home page is too risky. None of us dare the potential damage to our own reputation, or the red flag that would wave in the face of zealots in a feeding frenzy and only too happy to include another target. 

In the face of natural disasters such as flood and fire, I have watched as animal rights activists blame keepers for putting their resident animals in harm’s way, demanding immediate answers for what they call negligence, and accepting a lack of response from the threatened facility as an admission of guilt. This is a perfect example of a situation where a calm show of public moral support made by fellow professionals could make an immense positive impact. A gentle reminder that the highly trained and dedicated staff members are occupied with their work and not available for comment can go a long way in showing that we are all working together on some level.

And I’m serious about making it a gentle reminder.  When arguing, online or in person, be nice.  Being professional often means taking the high road, as much as that can suck big rocks. That means please stay on topic and avoid personal commentary.  Understand that the individual that just called you a baby-eating devil-worshiper loves animals, too. Admit the validity of another person’s feelings even when they’re being abusive toward you. Use a spell checker. Cite your sources. Be willing to follow links to sources that counter your stance for the sake of continuing education. Show the people whose entire knowledge base centers on articles from the Dodo that zoo keepers, biologists, veterinarians, and researchers can maintain integrity even when they’re operating from different perspectives. Know when to leave a conflict.

We all need to share information, and be willing to take the time to study the information shared by others.  New research is happening every day.  New data regarding wild populations, habitat conditions, and captive genetics are available but often difficult to locate.  The more we share these recent findings, the more accessible they become to the general public, the more palatable differing ideas seem when balanced against highly marketed misinformation.

We also need to keep each other up to date on where zoos, sanctuaries, aquariums, breeders, and private owners stand with legal issues.  It is up to all of us to watch APHIS, USDA, Federal, State, and local legislation.  We need to be careful about allowing private entities and outside organizations to dictate how laws are changing, and how we manage our facilities. 

Organizations such as Big Cat Rescue, PETA, and HSUS are frightening opponents.  They have a lot of money which makes them powerful.  They generate that money with big marketing campaigns that falsely portray all captive animals as slaves being tortured for profit.  
Last year, HSUS was nearly successful in stopping the transfer of healthy cubs from a proven top breeding facility to a well-equipped zoo with an amazing enclosure and established husbandry protocols. Without any proof or vetted sources a HSUS representative delayed the transfer of these animals for three months and cost both zoos thousands of dollars. Though ultimately unsuccessful, this is still a frightening precedent of zoo professionals allowing an outside entity to flaunt perceived power. We are letting this happen by not standing up and governing ourselves, and not helping the public to understand the reality of our global impact for the good. 

Similarly, laws are being proposed that would stop zoos from acquiring native animal species unless they are members of the AZA.  Admittedly the Association of Zoos and Aquariums is a fantastic organization that does wonderful things for its members, but they are not the only accrediting entity and many outstanding facilities cannot or will not fall within AZA guidelines. It isn’t right to allow the AZA to create a situation under law where only their members can continue to operate. This is a subtle yet powerful system of exclusion that will ultimately damage educational programs and conservation efforts throughout the country as well as effectively closing wildlife rehabilitation centers.

For members of the general public who are taking the time to read this post – Thank you!
For the sake of saving endangered species, protecting wild habitats, and keeping the zoos in operation, we need your help, too. 

You can support your local wildlife centers and zoos by visiting them.  Bolster recycling programs, and choose sustainable products to support habitat retention. You can keep your pets indoors and keep them from breeding to protect local wildlife populations. You can clean up after yourselves and others at home, in parks, and at the beach and help others learn these habits.

You can stop the bad media from causing further damage, too.  The next time you see a video or story showing horrific images or alleging animal abuse, ask yourself a few basic questions:
     *Is it recent?  - A lot of the activists and marketers are using old recycled footage and making up new text to go along with it. There is nothing you can do to help an animal that was filmed being abused 10 years ago.
     *Is it local? – If that heartrending photo of a starving horse or bleeding dog in no way correlates with an animal in need of assistance in your neighborhood, chances are you can do nothing for it. Petitions to prosecute animal abusers in another country do nothing except generate traffic, which in turn generates a further market for more horrific images.
     *Do you need to click a button to get to the next part of the story? – Clickbait sites make money.  That is their only purpose.  By looking at 10 different pages to see sad animals, you are encouraging someone to create more images of sad animals. None of the money generated goes to helping those animals or stopping the abuse.
     *Is a particular facility being targeted? – If, for instance, the 2011 tragedy in Zanesville, OH is being held up as an example, you’ll know the article you’re reading is complete garbage.  One incident at one facility should in no way reflect on the captive animal situation of an entire county.  If a journalist needs that kind of a crutch, then the journalist doesn’t have a story.

For 99.99% of the horrible animal stories that you see on social media, the best thing you can do to help is delete it.  Don’t click on it, don’t forward it, and don’t engage the person who posted it.  You are only encouraging the creation of more videos and fake stories and rewarding those who are perpetrating negativity.  We have enough negativity in this world without asking for more.

Use sites like Trip Advisor and Yelp to check out unfamiliar animal attractions, and to leave honest reviews for those you’ve visited. When leaving a review, be specific about things you liked and things you don’t like.  If you do see something that you don’t like while visiting a zoo, then ask a keeper.  There’s probably a reason that a leopard is pacing or an exhibit looks dirty.

Or, if you see something that really disturbs you, or really makes you question…  Please ask me.
Seriously, ask me anything.
That’s why I’m here.  That’s what I’m doing.  I have my experience, my education, my contacts, and my love of the animals to fall back on. 
If I don’t know or can’t find an answer, I’m going to ask someone else. If I still can’t figure it out, I’ll say so.

Also – Zookeepers, Directors, Educators, Vet Techs, Biologists, Researchers, Attorneys, and other professionals who are seeing this… Please help! 

I would love to see links for recent findings – genetic analysis, reintroduction, recent births, and discoveries.  If you have written an article, if you have data that proves zoos are helping animals in the wild, if you have a blog that talks about good, positive things we are doing with and for captive wildlife, please post it in the comments.  Leave a link.  Promote yourself. Share.

If there is an inclusive website for zoos and sanctuaries and others, I would love to see that!  If there isn’t…  Maybe that should happen. 

Either way, let’s do something good here.  Let’s help each other.  For the love of our planet and everything living on it, let’s come together before it’s too late.

#Zoo #Wildlife #Sanctuary #AnimalAbuse #PETA #HSUS #BCR #BigCats #AZA #Attack #Clickbait #APHIS #USDA #Captive #Conservation

1 comment:

  1. The IUCN - International Union for Conservation of Nature is the most trusted of the resource sites among the animal people I know. Their articles aren't as popular as others because they're a bit dry, but if you want to know what's really going on out there...
    Here's one on the wild tiger population: