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Are We Getting the Message About Big Cats in Zoos?

Last Friday I wrote about how getting close to captive tigers might not be such a good idea and could, in fact, be fatal. Haley’s Act, named for a 17-year old girl killed by a tiger during a photo shoot, would prohibit direct contact between the public and big cats, but, it has no, ahem, teeth. It wouldn’t include zoos, for heaven’s sake. Or aquariums. And it’s not a ban on private ownership of exotics.

Within 24 hours of that post, 28-year old Ashlee Pfaff, a keeper at the Denver Zoo, died after being mauled by a jaguar (who was, of course, shot and killed). In Jaguar Mauling Revives Zoo Debate (AP), Dan Elliott presents both sides.

Let’s deconstruct:

  • Retired biology professor Marc Bekoff, who authored THE EMOTIONAL LIVES OF ANIMALS, said: "These animals should not be in zoos because of the possibility of these things happening and for the welfare of the animals. . . . What’s to be gained by having an animal like that in the zoo?"
  • Vice president of animal collections at the St. Louis Zoo, Jack Grisham, said: "Money that’s raised by zoos goes a great distance to preserve their habitats. We can do so much with education." 
  • An instructor at an Exotic Animal Training and Management Program by the name of Mara Rodriguez said: "Regardless of the handling, the hand-rearing, the years of captivity, that animal is still a jaguar. . . . Any predator is a predator and it will always have that instinct. They are looking for opportunities to be themselves."

I’m hopeful that zoos, like the Iditarod and greyhound racing, can disappear in our lifetime and become an embarrassing chapter in American history. But unlike the dog events, zoos will probably need to be dismantled by taking away one animal at a time (elephants, large marine mammals, exotic cats, all of which are why people go to the zoo) until the economic pressure is too much and they must close. If you think that wild animals can be themselves only in the wild, and that we shouldn’t breed or capture them to put them on display for our use, vote with your feet and your dollars. Remember supply and demand.

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