Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Problem with Zoos

Nearly a week has passed since a young man and a tiger died at the San Francisco Zoo. I am equally saddened by the death of the non-human animal as I am saddened by the death of the human, but perhaps the tiger's death freed her from an unhappy existence, confined to a small space (by tiger standards) - not having the freedom to stalk her prey or run through the jungle or take a dip in a river. Tatiana existed for the pleasure of humans and the profit of a zoo.

I recall a visit to the Los Angeles zoo when my daughter was small. As we approached a caged panther restlessly pacing back and forth seeking a way to freedom, a deep sense of sadness washed over me. I didn't enjoy seeing animals suffering and after that I didn't take my daughter to the zoo again.

More recently I've begun supporting a wonderful organization called In Defense of Animals and through them I learned about how animals are suffering in zoos and circuses. The president of IDA was interviewed by the San Francisco Chronicle regarding the recent events and this was his response:

"The major problem with zoos is they put the entertainment value at a higher priority than the welfare or well-being of the animals," said Elliot Katz, president of In Defense of Animals, a Mill Valley animal rights group. "Because elephants and tigers are big draws, the zoo creates dangerous situations."

The article continues with the following comments:

Katz helped organize the effort to get the elephants removed from the San Francisco Zoo after obtaining medical records that showed they were being mistreated. He said that both elephants and tigers need much more space than the zoo provides.

Katz hopes the publicity from the Christmas Day mauling death of 17-year-old Carlos Sousa Jr. will result in the removal of the tiger exhibit.

Lisa Soldavini, a 50-year-old animal rights activist from Petaluma, said she believes animals should not be kept in zoos because zoos do not treat them well. She said many people wrongly believe that the animals are provided enough space and are happy.

"We are brought up in a culture that says zoos are fun, but we should really be angry that these animals are taken out of their natural habitat so that people can gawk at them," she said. "This is done for profit, not education, and it's frustrating that the public doesn't get that. People can learn about wild animals by watching the excellent documentaries available on Discovery, Animal Planet and 'Wild Kingdom.' "