Tag Archives: zoos

Why did Harambe die?

By Brittany Peet

How did a 3-year-old boy end up face-to-face with a 400-pound gorilla? Harambe’s death was as preventable as it was tragic.

Western lowland gorillas are gentle animals. They never attack unless provoked. Video of the incident at the Cincinnati Zoo shows Harambe appearing to stand guard over the boy and carefully picking him up by the back of his shorts. They briefly held hands. Eyewitnesses said that it appeared the screams of bystanders agitated and confused Harambe.

According to reports, the little boy didn’t even spend the night in the hospital. He was treated for scrapes and released. No fractures. No internal injuries. And that is the only good thing to come out of this incident.

So who’s to blame for Harambe’s untimely death? Was it the parents, who might not have been supervising their child closely enough? Was it the zoo, which didn’t have an adequate secondary barrier, making it possible for a small child to fall in? Or are we all complicit, by allowing him to be robbed of everything natural and important to him, including his freedom and the opportunity to be a father to his own child?

Gorillas are keenly intelligent, complex, vegetarian animals. Their lives revolve around their families. In the wild, Harambe would have worked to become the leader of his troop. He would have decided where they would stop to eat or rest and where to build their nests at night. He would have put his life on the line to protect his family.

Female gorillas, like all primate mothers, nurture their babies and have shown that they can be protective of smaller living beings. Who can forget gorilla Binti Jua, who gently picked up an unconscious boy who had fallen into her enclosure and cradled him in her arms before carefully handing him over to Brookfield Zoo keepers?

Breeding gorillas under the guise of saving them is a farce, although that doesn’t stop zoos from churning out babies. Newborns are irresistible to the public and bring visitors through the gates. In one final indignity, the Cincinnati Zoo literally squeezed every last possible dollar out of Harambe by “harvesting” the sperm from his dead body. But captive-born gorillas will never be released into the wild or be able to help their wild cousins.

Gorillas do not belong behind bars. At least 14 zoos have used drugs to control “undesirable” behavior in captive gorillas. We should not continue to imprison animals who have to be drugged in order to be controlled and to mask the evidence of their unhappiness. Zoos cannot even begin to meet these magnificent animals’ complex needs. Instead of squandering millions to keep a few gorillas in cages, zoos should work on protecting their besieged natural habitats and fighting poaching. The public can help by supporting reputable sanctuaries that put animals’ welfare first.

Zoos: misery behind bars

By Delcianna Winders

Costa Rican officials recently announced that the country’s two zoos will shut their doors within the next year. Animals who can be returned to the jungles, forests and savannahs will know the joy of being where they belong. Those whose health or behavior has been too compromised by their years—or decades—in cramped cages will be placed in sanctuaries.

Around the world, governments are recognizing the fundamental injustice of keeping animals in captivity for our fleeting diversion. Recently, India banned captive-dolphin displays and El Salvador banned animal circuses. So why are the United States and Canada still so far behind when it comes to bringing animal-protection laws into the 21st century?

In zoos, aquariums and theme parks all over North America, tigers pace the length of their cages looking for relief that never comes. Birds are crammed into cages where they can barely spread their wings, much less fly. The few bears who aren’t forced to stand on concrete leave paw impressions in the dirt, where they step in the same spots over and over again. Elephants rock and sway like automatons with no “off” switch. Dolphins swim in endless circles.

The unmitigated monotony of captive animals’ existence goes far beyond mere boredom. Renowned oceanographer Jean-Michel Cousteau reported that he was forever changed after witnessing a captive dolphin commit suicide by ramming his head into a tank’s wall. Orcas in theme-park tanks break off their teeth by trying to chew through the metal bars that separate their pools. Caged chimpanzees chew their own fingers until they are raw and bleeding.

U.S. laws that govern captive animals are astonishingly minimal. Cage-size regulations, for example, require only that animals be given enough space to make “normal postural and social adjustments.” In practice, that means that a cage is “large” enough if an animal can stand up, lie down, turn, and move around a bit. A study conducted by researchers at Oxford University determined that the size of a typical zoo enclosure for polar bears is about one-millionth of the animals’ minimum home-range size.

In their rightful homes, elephants walk up to 30 miles a day. Lions and tigers control vast territories. Wildebeest migrate over the entire Serengeti Plain. Orcas and dolphins effortlessly explore the endless fathoms of the wide-open ocean.

Is it any wonder why some zoos have resorted to doping neurotic bears with anti-depressants to try to curb their anxiety? Or that zoos and aquariums keep a supply of antacids on hand because so many captive dolphins develop ulcers? According to a survey conducted by Franklin Park Zoo veterinarian Hayley Weston and Harvard professor Dr. Michael Mufson, at least 14 zoos have used drugs to control “undesirable” behaviors (read: upsetting to visitors) in captive gorillas.

We consider ourselves to be progressive and compassionate, but continuing to imprison intelligent social animals from birth to death simply for our own amusement is neither.

Zoos: Don’t “get the party started”

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.

Life in a zoo? No way to “save” polar bears

By Jennifer O’Connor

Time is running out for polar bears. According to some estimates, unless we drastically reduce our greenhouse-gas emissions, Arctic summer sea ice could disappear by 2030—and two-thirds of the world’s polar bears could be extinct by mid-century. Amid these grim statistics comes a self-serving new proposal being promoted by several U.S. zoos: To “save” polar bears, we should sentence even more of them to life in captivity.

As you mull over this idea, ask yourself: Do zoos really think that displaying depressed and stressed animals will help motivate people to preserve the Arctic environment? Or is this just a ploy to get paying customers through the front gate?

Sorry, does that sound cynical? Consider that one of the facilities on board with this proposal, the Saint Louis Zoo, spent $20 million on a new polar bear exhibit but now has no animals to display there. The zoo would benefit greatly if rules on importing polar bears for public display were relaxed.

But polar bears do not fare well in captivity, and zoos know it. Ronald Sandler, director of Northeastern University’s Ethics Institute, calls polar bears “one of the worst candidates for captivity.”

Polar bears thrive in enormous Arctic expanses and open water—which no zoo can hope to provide. An Oxford University study noted that a typical polar bear enclosure is about one-millionth the size of the animal’s minimum home range and concluded that captive polar bears suffer from both physical and mental anguish.

For evidence of this, we need only remember Knut, the Berlin Zoo’s “star” polar bear, who spent his days pacing incessantly, bobbing his head repeatedly and exhibiting so much captivity-induced mental distress that one German zoologist called him a “psychopath.” Some zoos have attempted to curb such abnormal behaviors by drugging polar bears with anti-depressants. Knut’s half-sister, Anori, who was born in January, is now on display at Germany’s Wuppertal Zoo.

If U.S. zoos are allowed to start importing polar bear cubs, as they’ve proposed, where will the adult animals end up? Babies like Anori bring in big bucks, but as the animals get bigger, crowds grow smaller. Visitors lose interest and move on, while adult animals languish behind bars—warehoused, sold or bartered like damaged goods. Before Knut died at the age of 4, the Berlin Zoo attempted to unload him onto another facility.

Not a single U.S. zoo has a policy of providing lifetime care for the animals at its facilities, and many zoos breed animals knowing in advance that the males will be difficult to place when they mature.

Some zoos take drastic measures to deal with the “surplus.” Animals from zoos have ended up at dilapidated roadside zoos, traveling circuses and even canned-hunting facilities, where they are easy marks for hunters seeking trophies for the den. One Swiss zoo killed two endangered lion cubs simply because it didn’t have room for them. The Cleveland Metroparks Zoo’s chief of veterinary services has even called on members of the zoo community to support the use of surplus zoo animals in medical experiments.

Zoos talk a lot about “conservation,” but none of the elephants, gorillas, tigers, chimpanzees or pandas born in zoos will ever be released back into their natural environments. In the case of polar bears, where would they be released exactly, if the Arctic ice disappears? Putting animals on display doesn’t even foster respect for their wild cousins. They are still hunted, poached, culled and captured for exhibits.

If we truly want to save polar bears, then we must save their habitat—by doing whatever it takes to cut our greenhouse-gas emissions. That’s the kind of campaign that deserves our support. Condemning animals to a life sentence behind bars is not the solution.

2011: a surprisingly good year for animals

By Heather Moore

2011 was tough—when people weren’t bemoaning budget cuts, lining up outside job fairs or fretting over the stagnant housing market, they were listening to worrisome news about the war in Afghanistan, political shootings and natural disasters. But things weren’t all bad. There were signs of progress and reasons to be positive, especially when it comes to issues that impact animals. As we head into the new year, let’s reflect upon some of the things that made 2011 memorable for animals.

Eight of the nation’s largest financial institutions, including MetLife, Goldman Sachs, PNC Financial and U.S. Bank, stopped using glue traps after People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) explained that animals who get stuck in them often suffocate and die slowly. The Social Security Administration, Georgia Institute of Technology and Toronto District School Board—the fourth-largest school district in North America—also agreed to use more humane methods of rodent control.

While this is hardly revolutionary, it is indicative of a larger social movement to reform practices that harm animals. Many people are now less likely to accept activities that cause suffering—and it shows in our laws and business practices.

In 2011, West Hollywood became the first city in the U.S. to ban the sale of fur. City council members in Toronto and Irvine, Calif., banned the sale of cats and dogs in pet stores. Rodeos and circuses that feature exotic animals were also prohibited in Irvine, and Fulton County—the most populous municipality in Georgia—banned the use of bullhooks, sharp steel-tipped devices that are commonly used to beat, jab or yank on elephants.

The American Zoological Association (AZA) announced that bullhooks will be forbidden at all AZA-accredited zoos by 2014. The Toronto Zoo decided to close its elephant exhibit and send its remaining elephants to a facility that does not use bullhooks. And the U.S. Department of Agriculture slapped Feld Entertainment, the owner of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which routinely uses bullhooks to “discipline” captive elephants, with a $270,000 fine—the largest settlement of its kind in U.S. history—for repeated violations of the Animal Welfare Act.

Also in 2011, eight top advertising agencies pledged never again to feature great apes—who are often torn away from their mothers shortly after birth and beaten in order to force them to perform on cue—in their advertisements. Capital One pulled an ad featuring a chimpanzee and pledged not to use nonhuman primates in its advertisements again. The blockbuster film Rise of the Planet of the Apes featured CGI animation to create realistic-looking apes without exploiting and abusing animals.

U.S. Army officials announced that monkeys will no longer be used in a cruel chemical nerve-agent attack training course at Aberdeen Proving Ground. The University of Michigan, Primary Children’s Medical Center in Salt Lake City and Naval Medical Center San Diego began using sophisticated simulators instead of live cats for intubation training. And the world’s largest tea-maker, Unilever—maker of Lipton and PG tips—stopped experimenting on pigs and other animals just so that it could make health claims about its tea.

Aspen, Colo., became the first city in the U.S. to launch a comprehensive Meatless Monday campaign—local restaurants, schools, hospitals and businesses are now promoting plant-based meals on Mondays. The board of commissioners in Durham County, N.C., also signed a “Meatless Mondays” resolution, and several more celebrities, including Russell Brand, Eliza Dushku and Ozzy Osbourne, went vegan in 2011. The Rev. Al Sharpton also ditched meat from his diet.

Many of these developments were brought about, at least in part, by PETA, but everyone can bring about change simply by resolving to be kinder, greener and healthier in the coming year. By taking simple steps such as buying cruelty-free products, choosing meatless meals, wearing animal-friendly fashions and enjoying animal-free entertainment, we can all help make 2012 even better than 2011.

Heather Moore is a staff writer for the PETA Foundation.

Please! No more Polar Bears for Worcester!

June 20, 2011

To the editor:

Kenda [The EcoTarium’s polar bear]’s death is a heartbreaking reminder of the profound injustice in keeping these complex, free-ranging animals in captivity. This polar bear never stepped foot outside of a concrete icebox from the day she was born until the day she died.

Polar bears thrive in enormous Arctic expanses and open water — which no zoo/science center can provide.

Try to imagine living in the same cramped place for the rest of your life. Polar bears, who are genetically designed to roam and swim over vast distances, are no more able to adjust to lifelong captivity than we could.

A study conducted by Oxford University researchers concluded that large, roving predators show stereotypic symptoms of stress when kept in captivity, because they are unable to satisfy their instinct to roam. The researchers cite polar bears as an example of a species that does especially poorly in captive situations, and the report found that a polar bear’s typical enclosure size is about one-millionth of its minimum home-range size. Children learn nothing about who polar bears really are by seeing them in a cramped, artificial environment. Continue reading Please! No more Polar Bears for Worcester!

Exotic “pets”: suffering for sale

By Jennifer O’Connor

A toddler is strangled to death by her family’s pet python. A woman lies in a coma, her face and hands ripped off, after being attacked by her friend’s pet chimpanzee. A 9-year-old girl is dead after an attack by her stepfather’s pet tiger. Thousands of people all over the country—most recently in Florida, where the horrific python attack took place—have been bitten, mauled and killed by exotic pets. How have we reached the point where lions and tigers live in basements, monkeys are diapered and alligators are walked on leashes?

Every year, countless people succumb to the temptation to purchase “exotic” animals such as monkeys, macaws, lizards—even tigers, lions and bears—to keep as “pets.” Unbelievably, there is no federal law prohibiting the private ownership of wild or dangerous animals. But captivity is often a death sentence for exotics and, in too many cases, for the people who “had” to have them. Continue reading Exotic “pets”: suffering for sale