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