A gentle reminder that zoos are not the answer

Every now and then I comment on an Instagram post about animal issues. I do not care for the catty nature of insta-arguments, and it is heartbreaking to see how hateful people can be on social media, so I largely keep to myself. But sometimes I get inspired.

Some news outlet recently reposted a cartoon about how zoos educate children about animals not native to where they live, and thus encourage children to get involved in conservation issues when they’re older. The cartoon acknowledged how zoos aren’t the best environment for some of the animals there, but that they serve this educational/encouraging purpose and so we still need them. I found this post well-meaning but naive.

So I make the point in a comment that the problem with zoos is that the animals cannot consent to being locked up and that it is morally unfair for us to essentially imprison them for purely human objectives. Furthermore, doing so perpetuates this idea that we are lords over non-human animals and can do whatever we want with them. And, these days, zoos simply are not necessary to educate kids about wild animals, what with the technology and travel capabilities we have now. We’re past the days of menageries, people (or are we?). I learned empathy towards animals by having domesticated animals around. Elephants were important to me long before I ever saw one in person.

So anyway I made a short, sincere post and went on with my life. Well, someone responded to it. Which is fine, totally cool. Except that she had gone through my Instagram feed and brought my cat into the argument. 

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I am very protective of Nora, but that is not the point. This individual said that my cat could not consent to being locked up as my pet, and that if zoos made kids want to be conservationists then that’s a good thing. The fun part is that she did not offer any evidence that zoos do accomplish this purpose, when my explicit argument was that they do not accomplish this purpose any more than other methods. But she also erroneously connects lack of consent (which is a whole thing, it’s why we can’t marry horses) to a rescued, domesticated animal.

One depressing fact is that a lot of the elephants in India and SE Asia are domesticated, and it’s causing a huge problem figuring out what to do with them now that using them for logging has been banned, because they still need care. Similarly with dogs and cats, we domesticated them and then we were SUPER irresponsible, and now there are too many. And they need to be rescued and cared for (and spayed and neutered, I’m 100% behind that). But the fact is that shelter cats and dogs must be cared for by humans, because they cannot care for themselves. That’s what domesticated means.

So here’s how that connection is severed regarding elephants. First, some zoo elephants are captured from the wild – this ain’t okay. They cannot live healthy lives in zoo enclosures. In fact, even domesticated elephants can’t. Elephants need three things at the very least: (1) lots of room, (2) to forage for food, and (3) not to be separated from their herds or forced to cohabitate with a stranger elephant. The first point is all we need to look at to discredit the idea of zoos being okay at all for elephants. Zoos will *never* build enclosures large enough to house a family of elephants in a healthy way, because (a) they cannot afford to, and (b) the enclosures would be, essentially, sanctuaries (because we’re talking square miles rather than acres) and zoo visitors would never see the elephants and so what is the point in having them. It’s all about drawing crowds and making money.

We have videos, movies, books, semi-affordable safaris (I mean, I cannot afford them, but maybe someone who feels she is entitled to have the entire animal kingdom physically represented in her hometown can afford one). A kid does not need to see something to care about it – it’s called empathy.

Anyway, here are a few arguments for zoos and what I think about them.

“Zoos are educational and teach children about animals”

So do textbooks, videos, and the internet which is included on every single phone and now even 4-year-olds have their own phones.. I know it’s crazy, anyway thank u, next.

“It’s worth having zoos if it contributes to saving a species”

I read an interesting argument somewhere earlier (here) that submitted that a “species” in and of itself is a collection of individuals, and it’s not the existence of the species so much as it is the quality of life of the existing individuals that matters. How do we choose which individuals in a given species are unlucky enough to be subjected to a life of confinement? Again, that humans wield this power over animals and think we are “saving” them is narcissistic and, um, wrong. Like factually incorrect. Zoos do not contribute to saving a species because (a) it’s extremely difficult to reintroduce the animals into the wild, (b) zoo breeding programs are trash, and (c) it’s about money, guys.

Another problem with this one is that a lot of zoo animal species aren’t in trouble. I’ve not embarked on a study of the animals housed in every zoo but it’s not like zoos are saying, “all of the species you see here are endangered and it’s important to save them.” No, all the zoos are worried about is having exhibits with cute animal babies in them to bring in more money. Babies that likely won’t live as long (and definitely not as happily) as their wild counterparts.

The biggest problem I have with all of this is (obviously, by now) that people think they need to be able to see something to care about it, that it’s our right as humans to be able to see wild, powerful animals in the flesh because we want to. What’s with the entitlement? It’s so incredibly selfish. We take for granted the freedom we have, especially in this country, and we don’t find it necessary to bestow that same freedom on animals?

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This little angel isn’t in a zoo, and we would never see something this endearing or playful in a zoo, I would predict. Until I can afford to travel to a reserve I am satisfied watching videos of elephants, cuddling my 3 or 4 stuffed elephants (yes I’m an adult), and encouraging any kid I come in contact with to do the same. And if I ever have a child and they beg to go to the zoo, I would take them (only once) and I would say, “these animals don’t belong in cages, but not everyone realizes that yet. Momma/Mommy/Mother/Dude (whatever the kid calls me) is working to get these animals out and back into the wild, where they belong.”

Moral of the story is do not call out my cat on Insta if you don’t know her, however if your aim is to get a response from me then that is the way to do it.

Have a good Thanksgiving and you don’t have to eat turkey if you don’t want to! Meow

There Were Cats the Whole Time?

This blog is becoming more and more about human emotions than elephant issues, but I promise to mention elephants in every post.

Clearly, ABCs of Endangered Species is on hold, although I’ve picked out next few in the alphabet so maybe I’ll get around to it one day.

In the last post I talked about loneliness and sort of touched on identity, and I think now I’m going to ramble about identity, careers, and cats for a few paragraphs.

Like a lot of people I’ve always struggled with identity. Not so much labels, but more trying to figure out where I fit in the grand scheme of things. What is my purpose, how can I help, what am I supposed to do with my life besides take up space. I wonder about all of these things. And I’ve felt this confusion especially acutely in the past few years since I’m not in school anymore. In school, you’re supposed to learn, not really do, and you can put off worrying about your purpose until you leave the nest. I always thought I would figure it out when I graduated.

It turns out you have to really do the work to get to know yourself before you can answer any of these questions. I thought I could just take opportunities as they came to me and that I would eventually figure it out, without having to do any difficult work on myself. Wrong. Job after job, place after place, I still don’t feel like I have found where I fit. Everywhere I work, I feel out of place. And it’s quite frustrating not even knowing how to take steps to figure out what’s off.

I may have inadvertently let my identity sort of depend on what type of job I have. I’ve always been a strong believer in having multiple facets to one’s life – for example, I would crumble and die if I had a job where I worked around the clock, because I’d be committed to just one thing, and my personality has too many facets for me to be able to thrive doing just one thing forever. I’ve always been happier when I’m involved in lots of different things. But heading out into the “real world” with loans looming puts a lot of pressure to find a secure job, and a secure job (especially in law) takes up a lot of time and energy. For me, it’s necessary to have a job in an area I’m somewhat passionate about, or my energy plummets and I’m miserable. Like now.

It’s hard for me to compartmentalize and say, I’m doing this job not because I like it but because
-I need “experience”
-I guess I need health insurance (?)
-it’s technically in the “public interest”
– gotta make loan payments
-it’s a job ? who cares what it is, i should be thankful I have one.
I can’t do that. Despite my advocacy for not letting a job take over one’s life, I have let my identity depend on the work I’m doing. I get too worked up about the job I’m doing because I don’t think it’s “right” for me, it’s tedious and safe and boring and secure, and that’s just not for me. I’m not doing any good for anyone except myself. That’s what I think, constantly.

I’m terrified that I’ll never find where I fit, and that I’ll spend my whole life wishing I were somewhere else. So many people seem to have found their niche, or at least something they’re good at, and I’m hanging out doing the bare minimum at a job I hate. COMPLAIN COMPLAIN WHINE. Wine? Yes please.

 

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Which brings me to Mari Andrew and cats. I love Mari Andrew. I already loved her, then I listened to her talk at this synagogue in DC and completely lost it. She talked about how the parts of us we consider weak are actually strengths once we figure out how to harness them, etc. She also used to feel out of place but turned it into a strength because she’s really good at observing people – and I am the same way. She looks for meaning in life and definitely in her work as well, although she probably wasn’t as dramatically unhappy as I can act sometimes. Anyway, she traveled around doing odd jobs for a long time, and she talked about her job at a bakery and how she would do things to make the job meaningful.

to make the job meaningful.

Well, maybe not meaningful, but enjoyable.

That resonated with me even though it’s not a new concept to me. Of course I have tried to think of ways to make my own job more meaningful, which only work on days where I’m not feeling dramatic and angry, which is no days. I’ve made friends at work, which motivates me to go to work but doesn’t help me concentrate on the actual work. I don’t think the work would ever be meaningful to me. I usually end up finding the most joy in polishing off bags of popcorn and/or swedish fish.

What I failed to do was try to make my work day enjoyable. I’ve been at this job for almost a year, and since the beginning I’ve known there was a feral cat advocacy organization located on another floor of our office building. I follow them on twitter, etc. Just last week someone mentioned that the organization has office cats that we’re welcome to go hang out with. WHAT. HOW. DID I NOT THINK. TO ASK. THIS. SOONER.

My entire year could have been different. Petting/playing with animals is THE number one therapeutic activity for me. Hands down. And I didn’t think to go see if they had animals in the office? What is wrong with me?

Well you best believe I went down there to find the cats. And the cats were sick. And the cats were moving out of the office in two days.


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Worst timing, but also best timing. If the cats are leaving, I’m leaving. I’m interviewing for other jobs and will hopefully find something a little more my style soon, but this is a really good lesson I will take with me to my next job. On the stupid days at work, take advantage of your environment. If you’re like me, it’s easy to live in your own head and forget that your immediate surroundings aren’t a jail cell. For an entire YEAR, I could have been playing with cats at work. I could have looked forward to going into the office everyday, I could have spoiled the shit out of these cats with treats, toys, and cat clothes. Coulda woulda shoulda. I miss those cats and I never met them.

I was so wrapped up in feeling like my personal growth was on hold because I’m at a job I don’t like. How dramatic is that? And why do I feel entitled to the “perfect job” at 28? And who says I was growing in the first place? Crying because my cat turned five and I remembered she would die one day isn’t really a sign of an emotionally mature person who is experiencing significant personal growth. (for real though why can’t our pets live forever I can’t handle it)

But I could have at least enjoyed going to work even though I don’t want to be there forever. Trying to keep the job at arm’s length zaps my energy and doesn’t leave anything left to put toward my own writing or any other hobbies besides drinking and sleeping late – both art forms which I have mastered. But I also love animals and writing, and the hardest part of trying to navigate the professional career field is making time for the things you love if you can’t incorporate them into your work. I have not mastered this.

So anyway, elephants. I guess I imagined a job where my love for elephants would be intertwined with my work. But then I remembered I paid for this website’s URL, and I should keep using it and see what happens. And I don’t have to painstakingly research every blog post and I likely won’t ever do that again because it’s hard enough to do legal research when you actually get paid to – why would anyone do it for fun, and why did I think I could be that person. So I’ll keep writing about elephants and people and cats in my free time because I love all of them except people, and I’ll quit whining about not being able to find the perfect job that incorporates all of my hobbies which would be impossible because all of my 18 different personalities have different hobbies. So.

Conclusion: Elephants are awesome. They are satisfied living their lives just doing elephant things and I wish humans would let them do that. I’m living my life doing people things, hoping I can find a way to help make the world better. Hoping I can meet an elephant one day. Hoping I can start to make sense of things. I would encourage anyone that reads this to find out if there are office animals in your building and to visit them when you feel bored or unfulfilled at work. I give you my blessing (see below).

 

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Live footage of me giving my blessing to you