Thursday, June 23, 2011

Our Zoo part twoo

And I didn't feel too bad about the birds and reptiles either. Sure, most birds are accustomed to being able to fly...which must be one of the greatest pleasures that any living being ever experiences. But, they are only "bird-brains" after all. I find it hard to believe they really suffer from captivity in a well designed arboretum. Same with the reptiles...can their simple brains begin to grasp the fact that they are being held against their will. Do they even have a will...other than the urge to hunt, kills and eat?

But what about the mammals, the ones that haven't been turned into livestock over the last several thousand years? This is where the dilemma begins for me.

Putting these animals in cages, no matter how "humanely" they are designed, doesn't just keep them contained, it keeps them from being themselves.

What becomes of a Red River Hog who never sees a river?
How can the Fossa be a "top predator" when it has no prey?
Is a "stotting" Patagonia Cavie still a Cavie if she is forever unable to stot?

These questions plague me. I put them to rest by remembering my pets: Frankie, Dosher and Pi. I know Frank would rather be outside killing birds any day of the week, but she seems to settle for prowling about the sofa. Pipey, if freed, would pee her way around the neighborhood, and then come home for supper. Dosh wouldn't go any farther than the front stoop, no matter how long we left her out there.

I know my animal companions are decended from a long line of domesticated little monsters, and that is part of why they are such home-bodies. But I still think they make a good example of how mid-size mammals feel about their places of confinement. They don't see themselves as "trapped" inside the house (most of the time.) They see themselves as "home."

I suspect that is how many of the zoo animals feel as well; that their pens are their safe areas. And if the territory is smaller than what they would claim in the wild, maybe that is okay because there is enough food and water to sustain them. Isn't that the main deciding factor for how large or small a wild animal makes it's territory scarcity or abundance?

Ok. So I've talked myself into feeling peaceful about the Housecat to Border Collie sized specimens.

But what about the meerkats, marmosets and monkeys? They are more than just mammals to me. With their grasping digits and thoughtful expressions, they easily convince me of our close family connection.

How do I feel about these furry little people being locked away for a lifetime? At first, it seems just awful. But, when I started to really consider the reality of human nature, it doesn't seem that bad. U.S. citizens watch an average of 151 hours of TV every month (Nielsen, 2008.) Add to that the 240 hours we spend sleeping and the other 240 hours we spend at school or work and you're pretty much got the month covered. Most of our few remaining hours are spent traveling back and forth from our TV's to our offices and classrooms.

Really, considering what we homo-sapiens do with our so-called freedom, the human resemblance these three little "M" species share might actually be a reason why they are so WELL adapted to life in a box.

Having completed these emotional, semi-rational decision-making processes, I was almost able to conclude my zoo tour in absolute comfort and ease. After all, I wasn't visiting these animals in jail, I was a guest in their very own living rooms. What in the world could be wrong with that?

And then I saw the tiger.


There is just no way I can look a tiger in a cage, especially a gorgeous orange and black striped Malaysian Tiger like this one, and not feel my heart sink down to my heels.

Tigers should not be in cages.

I don't care how many house they spend asleep. I don't care how well they are fed. I don't care how lovely and lush their environs are made to be.

Tigers should not be in cages.

I'm not the only person who feels this way. Back at home, I started researching the Charles Paddock Zoo on-line. (I can't even remember how I lived before the internet...can you?)

On a site called "lotsafunmaps" one traveler expresses his extreme disappointment in the zoo, especially this exhibit. He writes about the "life and hope gone from his eyes." He asks, "why buy a Tiger if you don't have room for one?" And he laments, "for the sake of my and my child's entertainment, he spends his life this way." He concludes that his zoo entrance fee was "last money of mine that will support such cruelty."

I know this is not the effect "Mike" was expecting his comments to have, but after reading them I felt a whole lot better about the Charles Paddock Zoo, and zoos in general. He was putting words to the emotions I had been feeling. Under scrutiny, they just don't hold up.

"Life and hope gone from his eyes?" Really? This is so clearly a statement of projected emotion. How could any of us every-day citizens be able to accurately discern a "woe-is-me" expression from the countenance of a bored, frustrated, content or curious cat of this size? I doubt even animal scientists can do it.

"Why buy a Tiger?" This guy is obviously not thinking his arguments through. This issue is not the same as that of puppies, dog breeders and mills. The problem with Tigers is NOT overpopulation! We're not going to end their suffering by refusing to buy them.

In fact, this Malayan Tiger (not Burmese, as the lostsafun guy mistakenly names him) is represented in the wild by only 500 or so individuals.

"For the sake of my...entertainment?" This is probably the most embarrassing statement "Mike" makes, as it reveals the complete self-centered nature of his perceptions. Zoos are not like movie theaters or roller coasters. They do not exist solely for the amusement of paying customers.

While providing a happy experience for human visitors is important, accredited zoos also play a huge role in conservation. Sadly, for many animals, zoos are their last hope of survival. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums oversees Species Survival Plans for many endangered megafauna such as cheetahs, rhinos, pandas, gorillas, giraffes and yes, tigers. As a participating institution, the Charles Paddock zoo contributes to a united effort to conserve, protect and study endangered and threatened species along with the wild places they inhabit.

Zoos also play a vital role in environmental education.

As Bill Baker of the Abilene Zoo puts it, "It’s our reach out to the next generation that will become the conservators of the’s critically important that [children] understand the role that people can and do play in the preservation of the wild places of the world."

If I have one criticism of the zoo, it is in the area of education. Is there some way the can communicate the value of the zoo in a clearer way? I hate thinking that children who visit with guys like Mike leave thinking that they best thing they can do for animals is to never again pay an entrance fee that will "support such cruelty."

For those of us who care about wild animals, as I believe poor misguided Mike really does, one of the BEST things we can do is give money to zoos. So I'm inviting you now to go and visit the Charles Paddock Zoo, or one local to you, and don't just pay the entrance fee, give them a big tip too!

Or donate on-line at

If people like Mike don't want to give their money to zoos, that's fine. They can do other things to help wild animals, like reduce the amount of fossil fuels and cheap foreign goods they consume. Or they could petition their representatives in congress to push for stronger protections for the environment. They can chain themselves to redwood trees or pick up trash along the beach.

But to blame zoos for the plight of Malaysian Tigers and other majestic, endangered species is like blaming TV newscasters for deaths in Darfur. The people who bring a sad situation to your attention are not the same people who are causing it.

So, Thank You Mike, for helping me think more clearly about this issue. And, Thank You Charles Paddock Zoo for all you do to help animals, and for giving us a lovely afternoon.


Dear Mr. Lostafunmaps,

The object you derisively refer to as a "sculpture" is actually a children's drinking fountain. As such, it is not laughable, is it adorable. I'm sorry your kids didn't get to enjoy their experience at the zoo, but it was not because an enjoyable experience wasn't there, just waiting to be had.

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