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

ABCs of Endangered Species

FRIENDS ~

 

It’s World Elephant Day.

 

Today, I choose to celebrate animals instead of stress over the convergence of the white nationalists and their unkempt facial hair onto DC.  I’ll also encourage you to donate money or share information with your friends or protest your local zoo, or order a pet portrait from me so that I can then give that money to elephants. Or protest Betsy DeVos as a human being, or… I don’t know, adopt one of these chickens from the Humane Rescue Alliance. However you want to celebrate.

 

This holiday (should be a federal holiday, right? Maybe I’ll skip work tomorrow, on principle) always makes me think a lot about the injustice of what’s happening to elephants, which usually spirals into a tornado of all of the injustices in the world.

 

Here’s something I thought about today.

 

I currently work in veterans’ law, dealing with disability appeals, and so I am more aware than I used to be about how policy affects veterans differently than other demographics. The New York Times covered Betsy DeVos’s decision to roll back transparency requirements that for-profit colleges are supposed to meet, that are supposed to protect prospective students. Not only is her decision transparently dirty, as most of her minions are involved in the for-profit college scam and get A LOT of money from taking advantage of students, but it can disproportionately affect veterans because of how they pay for school.

 

Please return to the ritzy hell whence you came, Betsy.

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A 22,000 square foot summer home…? Who needs that?

 

I won’t go into it – you can read for yourself here and here, and also check out this informative presentation on why Mrs. DeVos and her eyebrows are evil. 

 

Anyway, this realization sort of strengthened my resolve to do better at work, to do better for elephants, to do better for many marginalized demographics, rather than sit around and complain. There are so many ways people can be taken advantage of, and conversely, so many ways to help.

 

It can be overwhelming to think about all of the terrible stuff going on, especially living in DC where complaining about policy and social justice issues is super posh. But I saw on instagram the other day (while making responsible use of my time) the quote by Mr. Rogers where he encourages us to “look for the helpers,” meaning that, where there is injustice, there are people trying to make it right.

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And those are the people we should look to for guidance, rather than seething over the purveyors of injustice. Focusing on the good that’s being done, and working to improve on that, is a much better source of motivation.

 

I recently attended a day of the Taking Action for Animals conference (TAFA), hosted by the Humane Society of the US every other year or so. First and foremost, I got to hear Allison Argo speak. She made the film about Shirley and Jenny, the two ex-circus elephants who were reunited after a long time apart and remembered each other. Watch this famous clip and let the tears flow freely.

 

More importantly, I got to immerse myself in a community of people who consider the compassionate treatment of animals to be common sense. It was invigorating and inspiring, and the food was pretty good. I got to hear people speak passionately about tiny birds, big cats, and horseshoe crabs, and it reminded me that all animals deserve as much attention as elephants. A little blind dog gnawed on my hand. It was glorious.

 

Working in animal welfare is tough, as is other employment in which you mostly deal with the worst people in society, some from your home state. A pretty clear secondary theme of the conference was to focus on the good being done, to remember all the achievements of the past few years to strengthen resolve moving forward.

 

In honor of focusing on the good, and remembering the marginalized, I wanted to highlight other species besides elephants that need our attention, while also focusing on the ways people are already helping them. And, because art is therapeutic, I’m drawing them (sorry, not sorry).

 

In honor of World Elephant MONTH 2018, I present to you

 

the ABCs of endangered species

 

 

Sure, it’s sad that these gorgeous and unique animals are endangered, but yay for the groups working to save them.

 

Our first celebrity endangered species is, behold,

 

the Amur Leopard.

 

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Hisssss

 

Bio:

 

OTHER NAMES

 

Far East leopard, Manchurian leopard, or Korean leopard.

 

 

HABITAT

 

Northeastern China and the Russian Far East – also known as Amur-Heilong. More specifically, according to Science Daily, the Primorskii Province of Russia and the Jilin Province of China. I know nothing about these places.

The-current-range-of-the-Amur-leopard-popu-lation_Q320

 

POPULATION

 

Like 84 – which is an increase from the 30 counted in 2000, and 70 in 2015.

 

 

SIGNIFICANCE

 

Like many other endangered species, conserving the Amur leopard’s habitat benefits the other species that live there, like tigers and deer. Plus, the Amur leopard can jump 19 feet in the air – that’s reason enough to warrant saving it (and to warrant staying the hell away from it).

 

But, similarly to elephants, why don’t we consider saving them because they are animals, and they’re worth saving. Moreover, since its sort of our fault as humans that they’re in trouble, then it is our duty as humans to right that wrong.

 

 

THREATS

 

A few things. Its habitat is shrinking, and its being poached for its beautiful coat. Obviously my drawing won’t do it justice, so here is an actual photo.

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d/b/a Beyonce

 

 

It also suffers from a shortage of prey (like deer), which also benefit from habitat conservation.

 

 

THE HELPERS

 

Thankfully, the Land of the Leopard National Park was established in Russia in 2012, giving the leopards 650,000 acres of safe space to roam. It was largely this move that allowed the population to begin to recover.

 

 

 

HOW YOU CAN HELP

 

Thoughts and prayers! Just kidding, that doesn’t work.

 

Though I’m skeptical about where donor dollars go with big organizations, feel free to adopt a leopard through WWF for $55 – you get an adorable plush toy in return.

 

Um…. go to North Korea and herd their leopards across the Russian border? Maybe don’t do that either. For several reasons.

 

Find ways to support groups that are working to save them? Yes. You’re smart – do this however you want.

Boycott Betsy DeVos for funsies? Somehow, this will help.

Boycott zoos? Definitely. (BTW, just because some animals live longer in captivity doesn’t mean they live well… It’s still inhumane to cage wild animals).

Tell your friends how cute Amur leopards are and how high they can jump? Absolutely.

Do things that make you happy and be nice to others? Good place to start.

 

Happy World Elephant Month! ❤