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. 

Image result for excuse me gif

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?

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/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

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.