Elephants — Real Ones, Not Republicans

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Life's a zoo in DC.

Life's a zoo in DC. Source: alaner79 hide caption

itoggle caption Source: alaner79

The tiger mauling at the San Francisco zoo was one of those odd stories that had us inexplicably glued to the TV whenever it came up. It also had us oddly sympathizing with both mauler and maul-ee (I sometimes find the relentless pacing of the lions, tigers, and bears at the (albeit amazing) Washington Zoo sort of sad). So when we found this series of articles in the St. Petersburg Timesa four year investigative look inside the Tampa zoo — of course, we pounced. You must read the series — it's a fascinating, and revealing look at human nature, by way of the animals. Take a break from elephants and donkeys, and tell us how you feel about our nation's zoos.

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I have been to the zoo many times. I am always awed by the beauty and power of the animals but I always have a nagging feeling that they should not be here. My inner being says that animals should be allowed to roam in the wild and not be cooped up in a cage. At the same time I know that many animals would now be extinct if it was not for the care they get at the zoos. It is always a bittersweet visit for me every time I go.

Sent by Tammy Hawk Athens, OH | 3:15 PM | 1-14-2008

I'm really torn between my love of the zoo, and my hatred of seeing how poorly they're treated, no matter which zoo I go to. It's very rare for me to see an animal that looks happy or content, especially those that need so much space, like fish and monkeys. They are so much fun to look at, but the fun is so bittersweet when you realize how much they must be suffering.

Sent by Joey Papan | 3:16 PM | 1-14-2008

Zoos are a Victorian artifact that do no good for the animals. the only moral approach, in my opinion, is to find a way to support endangered animal breeding programs without the revenue generated from exhibiting animals.

Sent by Christine | 3:16 PM | 1-14-2008

Aren't zoos obsolete? What about replacing them with wild animal parks so that the animals have more room to move around? And animal sanctuaries?

The last time I went to the San Francisco Zoo I was heartbroken to see how cramped the tigers were.

As far as the educational aspect goes, there are so many wonderful videos by David Attenborough and other wild animal experts. Maybe we have to give up the idea of seeing a wild animal up close and in real time in exchange for the animals' welfare.

Sent by Debra Gooch | 3:21 PM | 1-14-2008

I'd like to know what you think about what has happened recently at the San Francisco zoo regarding the tiger attack and the controversy surrounding the people who were allegedly taunting the tiger.

Thanks.

Sent by Michelle | 3:24 PM | 1-14-2008

After this attack, as a mom of two young animal lovers...boys ages four and six I am now very nervous about this. Also, I do not feel as though children actually learn as much as people think. We usually end up rushing through the zoo without gaining more knowledge than we can find out by reading books and watching Discovery Channel. I do not I will be supporting zoos, I now feel that these animals are kidnapped from their natural habitats for us to learn more about them in attempt to conserve but I do not think that it is actually working.

Sent by Angie Norris | 3:27 PM | 1-14-2008

Even as a child, I hated the zoo. The animals looked unhappy and I always left feeling sad. I have been to numerous zoos throughout the nation and still feel they are dismal places even today. Of course, I loved seeing the animals up close but this doesn't seem to justify caging these creatures. We should be working harder to preserve their natural habitats around the world, which would mean helping their natural human neighbors to appreciate them as well. Zoos are miserable environments for all animals.

Sent by Barbara | 3:27 PM | 1-14-2008

As a child in Jacksonville I loved going to the zoo and seeing all the animals that I would never have had contact with otherwise. They gave me an interest in animals and nature that has lasted all my life.
As an adult, I still love going to the zoo in Jacksonville thanks to the improvements made in the display and treatment of the animals and especially the effort to educate the public about those animals

Sent by Dave Blackburn | 3:27 PM | 1-14-2008

I live in Alaska and had to read about Maggie the elephant in the Anchorage zoo and it saddened me. They tried to put her on a treadmill and various other antics which I found cruel. Since nothing worked see has been transfered a more southern zoo. Better, but still cruel. Also at the Como Zoo in St. Paul most people knew that the polar bears on display were suffering stress because they just swam the same circle over and over. SAD.

Also I have been to several countries in Africa and seen first hand over grazing by elephants and it is indescribable. Also one refuge I visited in Kenya was set on fire 2 weeks before so the surrounding residents could get at the animals on the preserve.

Sent by Jen | 3:28 PM | 1-14-2008

I don't like to go to the Zoo or to a pet store or anywhere where animals are in captivity; confined or kept in cages. A few reasons; I think all living things have a right to be free. I feel badly for animals living in captivity, not only because they are not free, but because they must withstand so much intrusion in their lives by Zoo workers and onlookers. Last, but maybe most important, too often they are not well cared for.

I do however, appreciate those places that rescue wild animals from homes and Zoos, and who do a good job in taking care of them for the rest of their lives.

Thanks for the show!

Sent by Jann Harris | 3:29 PM | 1-14-2008

I wrote some very personal feelings about Zoo's in my book " Panda Wishes" also published on Femexplores.com
about the first Panda in captivity, in my introduction to my story I was compelled to say that sometimes animals are in Zoo's because of very sad stories- and the reality is not always nice that they are there, but often they will live a better life. I love the Turtle bay Museum in Redding, they have an example of resources used for the better of both the animal and the people. We can learn from animals, and we can be the one that helps. It is not the now we are looking at in Zoos, it is really the history that zoo's have become that we see. Read also . Let the Lions Roar, History of the Chicago Broofield Zoo, by Andrea Federicci Ross.

Sent by E B Masloff | 3:30 PM | 1-14-2008

Should harsh environments with extreme climates which may not be able to adequately provide the needed environment have zoos?

Sent by Kevin | 3:37 PM | 1-14-2008

As a final comment, about the Tigers and in the SF Zoo, I would like to say that Tigers are famous for what they do best, and its not for being cute and fuzzy. Just because we see them in the Zoo, we do not know them. They are like the movie or Music star, we see them and we think we know them, but we do not. They are wild animals, and they cannot be expected to be house pets. If we can realize that a future for a zoo is more of a hospital,and less of a show, then we know we are doing right; The Woo Long preserve, is also an example of what is right with zoos, use the land they live in, make it a preserve and keep out the poachers. This is good for all animals, and people. I recconend taking photos, and not animals home.

Thanks for this, it is time well spent.

Sent by E B Masloff | 3:48 PM | 1-14-2008

When I visit the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, I am heartbroken every time by many of the animals, especially the orangutans. You can see the sadness in their eyes as they turn away from the constant gawking of the visitors on the other side of the glass. The only ones that you ever see playing or seeming happy are the babies.
Other animals, like the cats, with less understanding of where they are, just wear a track around the limit of their enclosure. A writer once said that the thought in these animals' minds is "Why?" If you were able to ask them, "Why what?" they could not answer you, but just say why, why, why...
You can see it in their pacing.

Sent by Nathaniel Beck | 4:25 PM | 1-14-2008

I feel as though zoos played an important part in my learning experience. It is easy to read a book or watch a movie on an endangered species, but once you see that animal up close you create a more personal relationship with that creature. I had an eye opening experience when I was lucky enough to visit the panda reserve in Chengdu, China [I had never seen a panda up close before]. It was amazing to witness and learn more about such an interesting creature.

Your show always makes my drive worth taking!

Sent by Austin | 4:48 PM | 1-14-2008

I enjoyed Thomas French's comments about the work done by the Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa in its renovation to repair its image. I do not know how their few elephants that Lowry Park Zoo saved are being treated or are doing, but for this past Thanksgiving, I, took the 550 mile drive from Northern California to again visit the 1,800-acre San Diego Zoo's Wild Animal Park near Escondido. It is a wonderful wildlife sanctuary operated by the not-for-profit San Diego Zoo. It is home to 1,000's of animals and now at least for a while more elephants because it was willing to rescue the rest of a herd wild African elephants from Swaziland who were going to be shot with in weeks and this was important because African elephants are threatened with extinction. They appears to be doing such a good job in taking care of them, that I spent almost an hour watching the antics of the 3 recently born offspring, which aren't on display, from the rescued herd of elephants and from a Biologists 'point of view' that is great for the world wide elephants' gene pool. This seems to me to be another way to support endangered animal breeding programs. This wild animal park is known for such work as it did in helping save the California Condor from extinction. Naturalists answered lot of questions about their work with both animals and I was especially pleased with their effort to educate the public about these endangered animals. They also appeared to be doing a very good job in taking care of some of the oldest living Asian elephants in the world for the rest of their lives.
Thanks for this NPR Program

Sent by Stevan Wood | 5:22 PM | 1-14-2008

Zoos developed about 200 years ago at about the same time as circuses. They were founded on a concept of allowing people to see wild animals close up. Zoos have never really evolved from that original concept and have operated with only minimal scrutiny since. They are set up for the convenience of people -- the staffs and visitors -- not the animals.

Many wonderful thinkers, including David Hancocks, Randy Malamud and Derrick Jensen, have examined the promise and the reality of zoos and the lessons they teach. What does it mean to see an animal divorced from its natural environment? You see the animal but do you truly learn anything about it? And what does it say about our attitude toward the wild when we feel animals need rescuing from it?

Zoos need scrutiny, reform and rethinking. Certain animals, such as elephants, belong in zoos only if their complex physical, emotional and social needs can be met. Instead of spending huge amounts of money on exhibits that are outdated before they even leave the drawing board (the National Zoo is spending $60 million on its new elephant exhibit, money that could support entire populations of elephants in the wild!), zoos should put their money into real conservation of animals in their natural environments.

To end on a happy note: Maggie the elephant is very lucky. She is now at the PAWS sanctuary in California, gaining strength and preparing to join the existing group of 4 other African elephants. She should have a long and happy life in gorgeous natural surroundings.

Sent by Amy | 5:29 PM | 1-14-2008

I have a real problem with zoo's and definitely do not think they are as educational as some may think. Instead of keeping so many animals cooped up, why not recreate their environments and make interactive scenes for ways to better understand and learn about them. There is such beautiful footage caught on tape (like those on discovery channel) that could be displayed in a neat and fun way, without the animals stuck in cage. Think about something like the liberty science center meets disney's safari (the scenery, not the animals). I think that would be so fun and totally educational!

Sent by *lauren ann* | 5:44 PM | 1-14-2008

I went to the Elephant Conservation Center in Thailand last year and hand fed elephants sugar cane and bananas - not behind bars but right next to me! It is a shame what we do to elephants and other animals by keeping them in inadequate environments including zoos and travelling circuses. History will judge us.

Sent by carol anderson | 11:47 PM | 1-14-2008

Before we took Zoo's seriously, we had stuffed animals...and this was the way people studied them too, we could never learn how to save these rare animals, by using non living specimans. Live animals make for feelings and hope, and love its not that we dont want to care for them properly, its that we can actually see how important it is to take care of them. Without this opportunity, we might never see them at all.

Sent by E B Masloff | 10:47 AM | 1-15-2008