By Jennifer O’Connor
What do blaring techno-pop, psychotropic drugs and zoos have in common? The answer, of course, should be “nothing,” but in an effort to keep revenue flowing in, zoos and aquariums around the world are welcoming events ranging from raves to weddings at their facilities—at a high cost to the resident animals. It’s bad enough that animals are confined to these facilities in the first place. They shouldn’t also be reduced to party props.
Recently released toxicology reports suggest that two dolphins at a Swiss zoo died after ingesting a heroin substitute shortly after a weekend-long rave was held near their tank.
Reports speculate that the drug had been dumped into the tank during the rave “accidentally” or as a practical joke, but Shadow and Chelmers died slowly and in agony. Chelmers’ keeper described his last hour: “He was shaking all over and was foaming at the mouth. Eventually we got him out of the water. His tongue was hanging out. He could hardly breathe.”
Zoos are marketing their facilities for birthday parties, corporate receptions and nighttime “safaris,” even though the commotion and noise can leave animals anxious and unsettled. Three guides at a rave at the Georgia Aquarium admitted that music at such parties upsets the animals and causes them to fight. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, the agency that inspects zoos, has acknowledged that allowing nighttime visitors can agitate primates. At the San Diego Zoo, an inspector asked zoo officials to reevaluate nighttime display of the gelada baboons, as they appeared to be stressed out.
Aren’t zoos and aquariums supposed to be focusing on the comfort and well-being of the animals? It seems we haven’t progressed much in the years since a former zoo director admitted, in a 1984 article, that the animals are “the last thing I worry about with all the other problems.”
By their very nature, zoos leave animals vulnerable to the whims and wishes of zookeepers and visitors. Animals in zoos have been poisoned, left to starve, deprived of veterinary care and burned alive in fires. They’ve been beaten, shot, pelted with rocks and stolen by people who were able to gain access to the cages. Many have died after eating coins and trash tossed into their cages. A giraffe who recently died in an Indonesian zoo was found to have a wad of 44 pounds of plastic in his stomach made up of food wrappers thrown into his cage by visitors.
It’s no wonder that zoos are increasingly desperate to attract visitors: Parents who still take their children to the zoo are becoming as rare as the dodo bird. Most people are starting to agree that sentencing animals to life behind bars is ethically indefensible, and in response many zoos are adding trains, sky rides, carousels and water attractions to entice visitors to come through the gates.
Visitors to Disney’s Animal Kingdom are “educated” about threatened wildlife on a thrill ride once called “Countdown to Extinction.” And let’s not forget coyly named fundraisers such as “Woo at the Zoo” and “Jungle Love,” at which visitors pay to watch animals have sex. Accompanied by candles and Barry White tunes, tourists sip and sup while awaiting “action.” How does this foster even a scintilla of respect for animals?
Zoo events may be a novelty for visitors, but for the imprisoned animals, it means that their already-limited period of peace and quiet has been stolen from them. Parties and picnics belong in the park or in backyards, not outside the bars of a caged animal who can’t decline to attend.