A gentle reminder that zoos are not the answer

A gentle reminder that zoos are not the answer

Every now and then I get inspired to comment on an instagram post from a news outlet or some account with lots of followers when they post about animal issues. I have done this maybe 5 times in my life. People on instagram are usually dramatic, and I’m not trying to get into it with someone that may be a robot or selling magic weight-loss tea or whatever. Not worth it.

HOWEVER.

When well-meaning, potentially naive people post about how zoos are wonderful because they encourage children to get involved in conservation, my face gets hot because how does anyone follow this logic. My first reaction is to be like, um, zoos encourage children to want to be zookeepers, or have tigers as pets. Most children that grow up to want to be conservationists likely didn’t get inspired by a visit to the zoo, because visits to the zoo if you are even 3% intuitive are depressing.

So I had to make the point under some news outlet’s repost of a cartoon re: zoos are great that animals cannot actually consent to being held captive and so it is unfair to arbitrarily pick animals to go to zoo jail for our own personal objectives. Furthermore doing so perpetuates the idea that we lord over animals and can do with them what we want. Finally I added that these days zoos aren’t necessary to educate people about what a bear looks like. I knew what a bear looked and acted like long before I ever saw one in a zoo. And to be honest, the only memories I have of going to the zoo are trying to hold back tears at the monkey exhibit because they were trying to get out of their cages and I found the whole situation unfair.

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. 

Image result for excuse me gif

HOW.

DARE.

YOU.

TALK ABOUT MY DAUGHTER LIKE YOU KNOW HER.

get back

in your lane

and drive away

immediately

Image result for minions boxing gif

 

I am very protective of my kitty, and this person making sarcastic comments about her pissed me off. She said that my cat couldn’t consent to being my pet etc etc, and said if zoos make kids want to be conservationists then that’s a good thing? (ok but they don’t sooo)

First of all NOBODY WAS TALKING TO YOU.

But now that we’re here, I decided to revisit the reasons I don’t like zoos. And the reasons I don’t like zoos have been meticulously researched because I wrote about it in law school. Those reasons were based on arguments that zoos were unethical and unlawful. Without rehashing those rather dry arguments, here are some more reasons zoos are lame (with counter-arguments coming first).

“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

“Zoos teach children compassion for animals”

Ummmm I learned compassion for animals by having pets at home and having to help take care of them, watching them get sick, watching them get hurt occasionally, hearing them yelp when my clumsy self would step on their foot or something. My mother welcoming all of the weird pets we would bring to the house taught me more about compassion than staring into a depressed elephant’s face. All that did was convince me that other humans didn’t get it, didn’t realize when an animal was suffering quietly.

And anyway, since when do we need to see something in the flesh to care about it? Are humans not capable of a greater level of empathy than that? On this subject I would recommend Strangers Drowning by Larissa MacFarquhar. It’s a rather extreme picture of people who dedicate their lives, and I mean every square inch of their lives, to helping people with whom they have nothing in common. As the title sort of suggests, it’s about empathizing with people we don’t know and can’t see. I don’t need to see a Yemeni child right before my eyes to care about what he or she is going through.

“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 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.

This brings me back to the call for human empathy – we don’t need to see these animals locked up to care about their dwindling numbers. There are so many other ways to learn about and even see animals (sanctuaries for some species; photo safaris if you’ve got the money, and if you don’t got the money then too bad for you because I don’t either, we’ll survive).

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 hurriedly bred 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. 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? Humans are too powerful for our own good. See climate change.

Image result for elephant gif

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 (whatever the kid calls me) is working to get these animals out and back into the wild, where they belong.”

Also pray for me I have a job interview next week and I really want it slash need out of my current job before I completely lose my mind and actually start fighting with ppl on instagram HELP.

Moral of the story is do not MENTION my catdaughter on instagram if you do not KNOW HER however if your aim is to get a response from me then that is the way to do it.

The ethics of pets in an upcoming post… Maybe

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

Ethical Animal Tourism – SE Asia

Ethical Animal Tourism – SE Asia

Hey friends ~

 

How’s everyone feeling? If you feel good, I’m jealous of you. Everyone in the apartment is sick right now. Not to be excluded, even the cat threw up on the shag rug this morning. Now I have about 30 minutes of energy left in me, so let’s talk about elephants again.

 

The only tv I could handle today was Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown on very low volume. One of the first episodes was filmed in Myanmar, which is where The Elephant Project is looking to build a sanctuary. It reminded me that recently, a few friends have asked me about visiting elephants in Thailand and how to do it responsibly.

 

I have mixed feelings about visiting elephants. I wonder sometimes if all elephant tourism stopped, if eventually people would just leave them alone in the wild. This is obviously not true, as human-elephant conflict will never allow both parties to live in peace (I care about humans, too!). Maybe elephant tourism is a necessary evil. Some animal rights extremists say owning pets is a necessary evil, and that all domesticated pets should be neutered/spayed so that eventually they will die out. I don’t think that’s happening anytime soon, and neither is the end of elephant tourism. Plus, I’m thankful that at least people want to see elephants in their native countries, as opposed to some pathetic zoo over here. 

 

So,

Six rules for a responsible elephant sighting in southeast Asia.

 

 

 

#1  Take your chances

 

If you won’t be devastated by potentially not seeing an elephant, I would suggest visiting a national park or reserve, where the animals roam completely free. For example, according to this article it’s pretty easy to spot an elephant in Minneriya National Park in Sri Lanka during certain months of the year. I’m sure this is true in Thailand, where there are a bunch of national parks.

 

I know it’s tempting to visit somewhere that you know you’ll be able to interact with an elephant. Who wouldn’t? I would pee in my pants if I got to meet an elephant. But the point of seeing an elephant is seeing it happy, exhibiting behaviors like it would in the wild (waving its tail, flapping its ears, constantly on the move). Who wants to see an elephant that’s been beaten into submission? It’s not worth it. Please, if you can, take your chances. Your elephant karma will be high, maybe that increases your chances of seeing a family!

 

 

#2  No riding

 

 

Most people know this by now (hopefully), but under no circumstances should you ride an elephant. Who are you, Aladdin? Who needs to ride an elephant? Nobody. No matter what the reviews say, no nothing. Those elephants were most likely beaten as infants and are chained when they’re not working. Plus, even if trained elephants were treated humanely, spending money on this activity supports this form of tourism, which increases the demand, which increases the abuse endured by elephants in the industry. Spend your money other ways in the country if you want to help.  

 

#3  Do not. ride. any wild animals.

 

Just don’t. I can’t even post a photo of western tourists riding elephants because they look so. stupid.

 

snape

 

 

#4  Keep it on the elephants terms

 

Elephant Nature Park, right outside of Chiang Mai, Thailand, has the best reviews by “woke” tourists – most people picked up on the fact that every interaction at ENP was “on the elephants’ terms.”

 

You shouldn’t visit places that have trained the elephants to do anything for you. To be trained, an elephant usually has to be broken, first.

 

african-elephant-balancing-on-ball-260nw-718342978

 

NO…….

Here’s a documentary about domesticating an elephant if you really need to be convinced: Yes, it’s PETA, just watch it.

 

 

#5  Use common sense

 

Now that you know an elephant shouldn’t be performing tricks for you, pay attention to the interactions between the mahouts and elephants. Read all the reviews you can. Ask what happens to the elephants when the place is closed. Are they chained or allowed to roam? I’ve read a lot of reviews from people who said they decided not to stay at a place because it “seemed fishy.” If something doesn’t feel right, don’t stay.

Do the animals look healthy? Do they have visible wounds?

 

Do they look like this?

bad-elephant-drawing.gif

Definitely a bad sign.

 

Are the elephants separated or together, in groups that resemble their original family structures? If it feels bad, it probably is.

 

 

#6  Finally, apply this knowledge to other animals

 

Elephants aren’t the only animals exploited for tourism money. See what happened at the famous Tiger Temple a few years ago.  And now they want to open a zoo next door! Don’t visit a zoo, don’t visit a “menagerie.” You should only be viewing animals in an environment as close to their natural habitat as possible.

 

tiger
Mood

 

There are a ton of web articles about ethical elephant experiences, but the best advice is to use your common sense. If you feel that an elephant is being mistreated, don’t stay. If you feel an elephant is being mistreated at a place that claims to be ethical/rehabilitating/sanctuary, tell someone! Leave a review! Contact the owners. Blow up Trip Advisor. It’s important, now more than ever, for us to be responsible with our tourist dollars.

 

 

 

So, if you’re going to Thailand, or anywhere else in SE Asia, I’m jealous. I also hope you’ll spend your dollars wisely. It just takes a little bit of research but it’s totally worth it for the elephant babies – and for other animals too! Beware of any group that’s making an animal perform for you.