If you have been to a zoo, have you ever thought, “How and what is the zoo doing to keep their animals happy and healthy?” This is a question that many ponder, including me.
In the New York Times Article, Zoo Animals and Their Discontents, Dr. Vint Virga says, “The ability to interpret animal behavior is a function of temperament, curiosity and, mostly, decades of practice. It is not an easy skill to have. What does it mean when an elephant lowers her head and folds her trunk underneath it? Or when a zebra wuffles, softly blowing air between her lips?”
Dr. Virga has been a distinguished practitioner and leader in veterinary medicine for more than 25 years now. He is recognized for his insights into our relationships with animals.His expertise spans the animal kingdom from dogs and cats to wild species such as leopards, gibbons, wolves, and giraffes.
Because of Dr. Virga’s exstensive experience and expertise, he could see into the inner lives of animals. His profession is not a common one but definitely important. The Behaviorists profession is mostly unregulated and many of them are former animal trainers and come from a totally different field. Dr. Virga, on the other hand, happens to be a veterinarian. He is most likely one of the few whose full time job is tending to the psychological welfare of animals in captivity across the US and Europe. He believes (like most mental health professionals), that animals possess unique personalities and vibrant emotional lives. His unique and important take is described in his recent book, “The Soul of All Living Creatures.” Dr. Virga, who trained in the scientific method, has embraced beliefs that, until recently, were viewed in the scientific community as being controversial. This is progress!
Then there is the controversial issue of killing off healthy zoo animals. An opinion article by Marc Bekoff in National Geographic writes that killing off healthy zoo animals is wrong and the public agrees. Bekoff speaks of the global uproar following the deaths of two African lions and their two ten month old cubs at the Copenhagen Zoo in Denmark. Their lives were ended because the zoo wanted to introduce a new male lion to the remaining females to produce more lions. This is in addition to the death of a Marius, a healthy young giraffe.
An online petition was launched asking the zoo to hold off on the killing until another home was found for Marius. Even though another facility offered to give him a home where he could live out his life in peace and safety, the zoo decided to kill him because he had the wrong genes for their facility’s breeding program. The gifaffe was then publicly dissected and fed to the zoo’s carnivores, including lions.
These deaths were not administered through euthanasia (a mercy killing when an animal is suffering or lingering near death and must be put down). Instead, it was “zoothanasia”. The killing done by zoo workers because an animal is no longer needed for whatever reason and then deemed to be a disposable object.
Not all zoos are alike or managed the same across the world. There are AZA accredited zoos that follow good practices. In the infamous words of the late Pat Derby, “You can fix a zoo, you can’t fix a circus.” Being one of the founders of PAWS Sanctuary in California, she would know. The animals observed in this video below are from zoos in Austria, Beligium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, France, Greece, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland and Romania as part of the EU Zoo Inquiry 2011 (an in depth investigation conducted by the Born Free Foundation, in association with the European coalition ENDCAP, involving 200 zoos in 21 EU countries. As you can see the animals are not in good shape or in a good environment. So this begs to ask the question, IF the Born Free Foundation and European coalition did not get involved, what would have happened to these zoos and their animals? I think we all know the answer.
Captive Animal Misery in European Zoos