Friday, October 22, 2010

Zoos: Like Being Thrown in Jail Simply for Being Born?

PETA recently tweeted about a baby orca whale who was born nine days ago at Sea World in Orlando, FL.

This article broke my heart and brought me to tears. The following quotes were particularly wrenching to me:

"As Katina approached the birth of her seventh child, she watched her first-born's [dead] body lifted from the tiny pool that is their home." (credit)

"Katina is used to replenish the performing stock for Sea World, as female dogs do in puppy mills, while Tillikum, captured from Iceland and once kept in Oak Bay, is isolated in a back pool as a living sperm bank." (credit)

"Katina's baby will have a life of limitation and boredom, knowing there must be more and never to feel the ocean in a storm, the slide of kelp over skin while playing "kelping" with friends and siblings, the taste of fat chinook salmon fresh caught after a chase or see the bright anemones in sunlit water. This baby's home will be a barren concrete tank." (credit)

How often do you yearn for the salty ocean air, or the freedom to travel to a new or distant place? More applicably, how often do you feel like you just want to go home? 

What if you never could?

It's like being thrown in jail for life simply for being born. Imagining this terrifies me, this lifetime of solitude from the world one knows. Perhaps equally chilling is the constant exploitation of reproductive systems, the separation of mother and child, and the perpetual motion of this entire process. After all, zoos have been around for ages.

Zoos are intended to provide entertainment and sometimes, education, to the general public (who are paying for this, either in the form of a ticket or, I assume, through taxes). But when we really stop to think about it, zoos are more similar to haunted houses than anything else, only nothing is fake.

Here's a thought: DID YOU KNOW THAT HUMAN BEINGS USED TO BE DISPLAYED IN SOME ZOOS**!??? That's right. In both America and western Europe, people who were considered "different," namely those of non-European descent, were kept in small areas for the paying public to watch. Many of the people displayed in these zoos were short in stature and of African descent (commonly referred to as "Pygmy" peoples). Around 1904, a white, American anthropologist named William McGee thought he'd "discovered" that whites were "superior to all other races," and to "prove" this to the public, he set out to Africa, conned a group of Pygmies to come back with him, then put them on display at the 1904 St. Louis World Fair. Even though he never accomplished his goal of finding scientific proof that the Pygmy peoples were "less evolved" versions of human beings, he set the tone for racism in America and abroad. One of McGee's prized prisoners, Ota Benga, was later said to have shot himself in the head ten years after being put in this terrible anthropologist's "scientific" show. All things considered, it's not that surprising.
Human zoos. "Ethnic shows." Absolutely ludicrous, degrading, and disgusting, right? Totally and completely abominable, right?

It's like being thrown in jail for life, simply for being born.

I know that for most people, the horror of human zoos is far more terrifying and compelling than that of animals, but I bring it up to illustrate the dark similarities.

Now you might say, but animals cannot suffer like humans can, so it's not the same thing to keep them in zoos. 

Do they have to be exactly the same? Sure, there are differences between human animals and other animals, but the number of similarities is far greater. And they sure can suffer. Animals can feel pleasure, pain, and a variety of emotions. They communicate via a common language. Orca whales, as an example, live to be as old as humans and have tight family bonds.

But many species are kept from becoming extinct, thanks to the help of zoos, so zoos can't be that bad! 

To which I say, yes, while zoos can serve this important function, they also do a lot of harm to a lot of other species. Why not simply have wildlife preservations and sanctuaries for the animals who would benefit, and leave the rest to exist in their natural habitats? Why not use all the money that goes into zoos and put it toward said preservations and sanctuaries?

But what about the children? 

Educate them. Explain what happens to animals at zoos. Chances are, they'll catch on to these concepts rather quickly. Maybe they'll denounce zoos, maybe they won't, but my bet is that most kids won't be too keen on the idea of visiting a zoo once they understand. To quote the article, "Children are sensitive to injustice."

"Cowboy," a happy calf fella, makes his home at Animal Acres, a sanctuary in Acton, Ca. Here, he never has to worry about being used for veal.

What do you think about zoos? How does your dietary/lifestyle preference influence your opinion? I'd love to hear others' thoughts on this matter.

**I encourage you to watch the three-part documentary. It's eye-opening. 

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