Invisible Voices

a voice for the voiceless

Daily Archives: April 10, 2007

The Onion and Zoos

flowering trees

I was surprised to see a video on The Onion today that brought up a spectrum of AR issues surrounding zoos. It came about because of the headlines the elephants in the El Paso, LA, and Philadelphia zoos have been getting lately, I’m sure, perhaps added to the controversy surrounding Knut the Berlin polar bear cub abandoned by his mother.

What I found interesting was that, even though it was a spoof, they did a good job of making various AR arguments – that animals would have a view of zoos drastically different from the “benevolent humans” who imprison them, that the breeding in zoos is actually a forced impregnation, which is essentially a rape, and that the emotional and physical distress that these animals suffer from might very well mean that if they could communicate to us, they might tell us that they would rather be dead than living “protected” in the zoos.

What I couldn’t quite figure out is whether the folks at The Onion were sympathetic to AR or not. Did they expect that the viewers of the video would laugh at the notion of animals having their own interest in their lives? Would it be funny to someone who refused to think about it from a non-human perspective that a panda bear might hate her life imprisoned in a zoo to the point that she wouldn’t want to bring another life into that situation?

Then I got an alert about an opinion piece in a philly newspaper about why the two remaining elephants at the Philly zoo should stay, even though they fully admitted that it was a wretched life for the elephants which would more than likely lead to an early death. There was no logic anywhere I could see in the entire piece, other than “they earn us a lot of money, therefore we should continue to exploit them, at the cost of their life” type logic.

The Philadelphia Zoo should keep two of its elephants, even if they are bored, even if they cannot roam the savannas, woodlands and forests of Africa or Asia, even if captivity means a shortened life.

It’s worth the trade-off if Kallie, Bette or Petal stay to fire the imagination of children and educate young and old about wildlife and the importance of conservation.

Zoo officials are closing one of the most popular attractions: the elephant exhibit. The space for these behemoths is too small – most zoos’ space for elephants is too small, according to animal-rights activists.

A movement is afoot (a big foot in the case of these largest of land mammals) to liberate elephants and other animals from the confines of zoos. Studies have shown that elephants in zoos suffer behavioral and digestive ailments. They have foot and joint problems from being fenced in and walking on the concrete floor of their indoor shelter.

No news flash there – an elephant living in Philadelphia is in an unnatural environment. (Hey, Bette, would you like that tree branch wit?) Good zoos are trying to create healthier conditions for animals, but they never will be able to replicate the wild. They shouldn’t have to.

The insensitivity shocked me, and I can’t figure out if I’m that out of touch with how the average person justifies things, or if this person really is more insensitive than most. Or perhaps simply more obvious about their disregard for others in their statements than most. Certainly the actions of the average person show little sensitivity to anything but their own interests.

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