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(INTL) No such thing as a good zoo: Victoria Martindale in The Independent

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  • Shubhobroto Ghosh
    http://www.independent.co.uk/biography/dr-victoria-martindale Victoria Martindale Tuesday 20
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 20, 2012
      Victoria Martindale<http://www.independent.co.uk/biography/dr-victoria-martindale>

      Tuesday 20 November 2012
      Why there's no such thing as a good zoo

      The alleged abuse of elephants at Twycross Zoo should make us consider once
      more the role zoos play in animal conservation

      A keeper tries to persuade baby elephant 'Uli' to step on the scales during
      inventory on December 29, 2011 at the zoo in Wuppertal, western Germany.

      Damian Aspinall, who inherited a number of zoos from his father, recently
      wrote an article titled: "Zoos and wildlife parks are no way to treat an
      It raises some interesting points about the urgent challenges facing
      conservation today. And it's also aptly timed with another story that has
      emerged at Twycross Zoo in
      involves allegations of zoo workers abusing their positions of power
      and causing deliberate suffering to animals after two elephants were
      allegedly beaten with canes. Both workers have been sacked and Twycross
      maintain that no lasting harm came to the animals.

      Most people nowadays recognise that not all zoos are considered equal:
      there are both �good� and �bad� zoos. Most of us would agree that those
      pitiful animals in barren cages so often found at far eastern roadside zoos
      are in the �bad� category while we would expect zoos in developed
      countries, like Twycross Zoo and the zoos of the Aspinall Foundation, to
      maintain higher standards of animal welfare and be among the �good� ones.
      But categories are not always that clear cut and boundaries often
      overlap.Insidious mistreatment of the kind that is alleged to have gone on
      at Twycross Zoo can be hard to detect by the lay visitor. We walk along
      paths through well maintained grounds to a welcoming reception. Everything
      appears clean and well kept. The seating is comfortable, the refreshments
      good and the general ambiance of the place is tasteful and nice. We see
      only well-fed creatures who appear to be adequately looked after. We go
      home happy, taken in by all the hype, and our trust in the benevolence of
      these commercial enterprises remains in tact.All seems well and the
      popularity of these places only confirms this to us. But even with
      unannounced inspections it is hard to uncover this kind of abuse. If
      inspections are missed altogether and legal standards are not complied with
      or enforced across the zoo industry, as publicised by this
      it makes it very hard to effectively protect animals in zoos.If you were to
      take the time to observe the individuals a bit more closely, do you think
      you would be able to notice any abnormality or signs of abuse? Would you
      spot symptoms of distress and suffering like hair plucking, listlessness or
      teeth grinding? Are the animals behaving as they would in the wild? How
      many elephants do you see in the wild that get down on their knees on
      command? That are fed by hand at fixed times of the day? What kind of
      educational value does this offer us? What kind of training techniques do
      you imagine were used to make these magnificent, proud creatures so
      obedient? It may make us laugh but it brings no benefit to the animal
      itself.Like the Aspinall Foundation, Tywcross Zoo also boasts that it
      serves much needed conservation initiatives. Yet elephants fare
      particularly poorly in captivity, as the dreadful breeding records, high
      infant mortality rates and reduced longevity show. Aspinall defends his
      zoos by pointing to a number of successful reintroductions into the wild,
      including 51 gorillas over a decade and three rhinos this year.

      But even if there are examples of reintroduction working, it amounts to a
      tiny handful of captive bred individuals that are benefiting, while
      millions more spend their entire lives incarcerated in zoos. Is this
      justified? Or more to the point, if endangered species are preserved only
      within the artificial confines of captive breeding programs is this to be
      applauded as successful conservation?
      Conserving cruelty

      I wish something as simple as a zoo was the answer to the challenges that
      face conservation today but sadly after 400 years zoos, wildlife parks,
      safaris, and nature parks remain stuck in the past. They have failed to
      meet these challenges or reverse the mass decline in endangered species.
      Successful conservation does not occur within cages, but within the wild
      habitats where these creatures belong.

      Instead, these elephants are forced to waste away as exhibits in a cramped
      themed park- a tiny fraction of the vast space they would naturally roam.
      Deprived of privacy and a refuge, they are on constant view to the tourists
      who are immersed in an ersatz "Sri Lankan experience" in the heart of the
      West Midlands and meander by the elephants for "close quarter views". Just
      as unnatural, is holding a rock festival in the park where clubbers are
      encouraged to release their �wild side�.

      But even putting these grossly inappropriate commercial ventures aside, it
      may still be the case that zoos, including the Aspinall Foundation,
      endeavour to uphold high standards of animal welfare, impart informative
      nuggets to the public and attempt to fulfill more than their minimal legal
      requirement of conservation. But to me such efforts are mere tokenism and
      do not justify the unnatural confinement of wild animals. Neither do they
      serve the exigent issues of conservation.
      So when these elephants have it bad enough already, they are now allegedly
      being beaten too. It is not the kind of behavior we would expect from a
      �good� zoo, not from a �bad� zoo either. Yet even in those �good� zoos
      where there is no overt cruelty like beatings, the animals suffer. This is
      why I consider there is no such thing as a �good� or �bad� zoo. All zoos
      are equal. Damian Aspinall is right: no zoo or wildlife park is any way to
      treat an animal.

      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
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