Tuesday, March 02, 2010

The quandaries of an animal lover

As I'm sure anyone who reads this blog knows, I am an animal lover. After reading the story of the whale Tilikum killing one of the trainers, I am once again thrown into confusion.

On the one hand I have been to SeaWorld and seen the Shamu show, and loved it. It was so cool. On the other hand, I thought it very sad seeing such huge creatures kept in tanks too small for them. They're not "small", but compared to a life of exploring the ocean, it's small. It doesn't surprise me that such a large whale saw a dangling ponytail and decided to play with it. The whale didn't understand he was killing a trainer - it was just doing what it does.

I love going to zoos and seeing my favourite creatures up close, and being able to interact with them, but it breaks my heart when zoos have no animal conservation plans in place, aren't trying to give back to the animal kingdom, and don't plan enclosures that keep with the natural environment.

I kind of assumed at SeaWorld they used mostly rescue animals and trained them up - in fact I hadn't really thought about it too much. Then I read that Tilikum has fathered 10+ offspring in his time at SeaWorld. Really?? I know that the conservation status of killer whales is considered "data deficient" due to so many unknowns. I am very interested to know if Tilikum's offspring were released into the wild, or kept as show animals. As far as I'm concerned, the only animals that should be bred in captivity are those that are of a Threatened or near threatened conservation status.

The best zoo I have ever been to is Singapore Zoo. It truly is fantastic, and it's also the reason I now don't like going to other zoos - nothing can compare. For a start, they put a lot of effort into conservation initiatives and breeding programs. According to their website "To better meet the healthcare needs of its animals and working towards its aspiration to become a leading global centre of excellence for veterinary healthcare and research, a purpose-built Wildlife Healthcare and Research Centre was set up in March 2006."

Walking through Singapore was an amazing experience. All of the enclosures were size and animal appropriate, and each animal had a good write-up of the species, location etc. I've been to some zoos where it will have the name of the animal, and that's it. The other thing I loved was that it was very interactive. A lot of the animals had feeding times, and you could join the Feeding Trails, where a keeper would feed a few different animals in the one area. This is one of the Afternoon Feeding Trail schedules:

Polar Bear
White Rhino
African Lion
Treetops Trail
White Tiger
Pygmy Hippo

So you would just follow the keeper around, and they would do a short feeding of each animal and give detailed information about the animals, and you could ask questions along the way, and I found we learnt so much more about the animals this way. You could pretty much stay with different Feeding Trails all day if you wanted to. That was probably the thing that impressed me most. It was so interactive - not with the animals themselves, although there was plenty of opportunities to feed different animals along the way, but with the keepers, and you could watch all the animals being fed. A fabulous learning experience and gave us a much better appreciation for the animals.

The other zoo I really enjoyed was Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo, Australia. Because there was so much space, they had room to create huge spaces for the big animals, where they could graze happily. There were almost no fences as such, just moats, or ditches or whatever was necessary to keep animals in and people out! We hired bikes for the day and got around like that, and it was well and truly worth it to see the big animals in a more natural environment.

On the contrary, I think the worst zoo I have been to was Bronx Zoo in New York. It was about 10 years ago now, and I hated it. Each animal was in a tiny cage. Birds of prey were kept in small cages. Pack animals were on their own. There was no education of the animals themselves. It was packed with people, there was no keepers around, and the zoo seemed more intent on making money through selling hot dogs and merchandise than providing an educational experience. I felt sick after going there. I hope that things have improved there since.

But back to the event that set this off, I've been annoyed reading reports of PETA demanding for the whale's release, and other groups demanding the whale's euthanasia. The whale CANNOT be released, because it's been in captivity too long, and putting him to sleep is also unthinkable - in the wild, killer whales are no threat to humans. WE brought the whale into captivity, WE pay to see him perform, WE make SeaWorld dependent on those shows to make money, so WE the human race are the ones to blame, not the whale.


Christine said...

I have the same moral dilemmas that you do over the issue. Zoos in general make me queasy.

I believe animals should only be in zoos if they have been rescued and are unable to be returned to the wild, or if they are endangered and part of a breeding program with the aim of re-populating them in the wild. I think there should be stricter guidelines zoos have to comply with for keeping animals too.

Sarah said...

Yep. A well-run, educational zoo with a well thought out breeding program that takes in animals in need is a wonderful thing. If only they could all be like that.

Ewen said...

My friends said the Singapore zoo was the best.

Glad things are going well on the home front. We'll be in the NE US next year - late summer though, so hopefully there won't be any snow, although it does look beautiful.