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What? You came to Tampa and didn't look me up? For shame! :)


I am not against zoos. Some zoos contribute to important conservation efforts.

However, I find it interesting that you brought up white tigers in your first paragraph, because in my opinion white tigers highlight what is wrong with zoos. Here is a link that details "the white tiger fraud": http://www.bigcatrescue.org/cats/wild/white_tigers.htm . One thing that I dislike about zoos is that they often purport to be educational, and yet promote the myth that these white tigers occur naturally when in fact they are the result of severe inbreeding.

Lisa S.

Elise, thanks for your viewpoint. In my entire post, you'll notice that I didn't link white tigers to breeding or conservation efforts.

I'd ask you this: does promoting the white tiger "myth" undo all the other conservation and breeding efforts that zoos sustain? Or can that be looked at as one unfortunate or aberrant example?


Roger ... I had no idea you were even still out there! ;)

Next time, I promise. Also, you need to show up more in the comments -- I've missed you.


You know, when I heard that the tiger had earlier mauled a keeper from its enclosure, I was like, how did that happen? When I lived in NYC, I saw a tiger feeding at the Bronx Zoo, and trust me, it was set up so that the keepers stayed VERY far away from any place the tigers might be able to reach--and for good reason! Everyone watching the feeding was quite impressed by how strong, quick, and obviously lethal tigers are. I think the SF Zoo has a lot to answer for, even if those kids were harassing the tiger--you have to be prepared for the possibility that at least some of your visitors will be idiots.


I totally agree with you, Lisa. We have an excellent zoo just 10 minutes away, so we have an annual membership and take the kids there at least once a week when the weather is warm. This zoo has made major changes since I was a kid, creating habitats for the animals that are as close to natural as possible, and focusing heavily on conservation education for children. My kids have learned so much about animals they would never otherwise have any exposure to.

Here's an example of how nice this zoo is: My four-year-old was reading a book that showed zoo animals in cages, and she said, "Look at this! That's silly--animals don't live in cages."


I totally agree, Lisa. I think it's disingenuous at best to assign human desires for freedom to animals - pretty much living in the wild is stressful as shit. The rates of kills for cats is really, really low - I believe cheetahs maybe are successfull 5-10% of the time.

Life in the wild ain't roses and sunshine. Zoos at least can keep animals alive, contribute to conservation efforts, and educate people.

I'm pro-regulated zoo, all the way.

if people would just stop anthropomorphizing animals so much, we'd all be in a much better place.


Lisa, of course white tigers do not undo all the other conservation and breeding efforts that zoos sustain. That is why I stated at the beginning of my post that I am not against zoos. I just find it really puzzling that zoos continue to house white tigers, considering the consequences for the animals.


I feel bad for animals that are accustomed to a certain degree of range, though. Elephants, for example, range over miles of territory daily. Some of that is undoubtedly that they can't meet their nutritional needs any other way, because wild life indeed kind of sucks, but it still must be pretty difficult to adjust to life in a quarter-acre or less, and to the loss of stimulus. Moreover, it's been a real problem in the Northwest that our climate is not safe for elephants and some of the big savannah cats, so outdoor enclosures aren't a great option, either. It makes it hard to justify zoos with animals from radically different environments, but if zoos can't show us the diversity of life, then what?

I am also vehemently against both anthropomorphism and cuddleism - top-level predators can be attractively furry, intelligent, and engaging, but they are not cuddly snugglepuffs for humans. Not only is their emotional state largely alien to us, but their capacity to kill unexpectedly is an inherent survival characteristic, and it's life-threateningly stupid to assume a human is safe with them.

Lisa S.

Elise, I see your point. I am glad I've seen white tigers, and I'll be sorry if/when they go, but genetic viability should be more important -- you're right.

(This is why I watch the cheetah program with such interest.)


Ginger, your comments viz elephants are at the heart of something I wrestle with personally. I love seeing elephants -- the animals just plain make me happy. But as I've learned more about the health problems they have in zoos, I feel so much more guilty about seeing them. I feel for zoos too -- on the one hand, they're under pressure to provide the best possible homes for animals, and in some cases, that may mean saying, "No, the weather here doesn't work for [an animal]." But on the other, they're dependent on public awareness and money from attendees to survive, and it's hard to compete without the crowd-pleasers.


Anyone in the Cleveland area? The Cleveland Metroparks Zoo does a Polar Bear Special in January--any day the forecasted temperature is below 32 degrees, they drop the prices to something absurd like $5 for adults and $3.50 for most kids.


(On a related note, Lisa, I bawled my head off once at a TV program - maybe some retrospective of National Geographic Specials? I don't remember - that showed the reunion of two female elephants who had been performers together decades before. They bent the steel bars of the gate trying to get to each other! They wouldn't let go of each other once they were together. I know that flies in the face of my rejection of anth. and cud., but the person who could watch that without projecting a bit is a cold bastard indeed. Elephants, man, I'm really gonna miss them when they're gone. I shouldn't feel any worse about them than I do about endangered insects, but - elephants have long lives, and they seem so aware that they're in trouble, unlike, say, green pitcher plants.)

Anyway. Yeah. The worst thing about it is that elephants are so close to extinction that zoo populations and conservation efforts might really matter.

Lisa S.

I don't think it's anthropomorphizing to be open to the idea that some non-human species are capable of emotional intelligence. So basically, this is me saying that yeah, elephants have complex emotional lives. So do lots of primates, and plenty o' cetaceans. And the last time I was at Monterey Bay Aquarium, one of the folks there was telling us that they're pretty convinced the octopuses are also pretty intelligent and have their own emotional reactions to things.

Anyhoodle ... it's tough, advancing the idea that other species have feelings too, because you have to make the distinction that those species' feelings and reactions aren't going to be just like ours. Heck, people can't even grasp the idea that different members of THEIR species have different emotional responses to one situation.


Thanks for this post, Lisa--I struggle sometimes with my love of zoos vs. my concern for conservation and animal welfare. If I respect the rare and beautiful forms of life with which we share this planet, how can I justify removing them from their environments and caging them? I just do my best to support responsible zoos and decry ones that are more or less animal jails.

I saw an awesome video once on the web. A woman had climbed over the first safety ring around a polar bear cage to "get a better picture." The inner ring's bars were widely-spaced enough for the bear to reach through, grab one of her legs, pull it into the cage, and start mauling it. You could hear all three major bones snapping like kindling. I don't mean it was "awesome" in that the woman deserved what she got (of course not, she was just being momentarily dumb), but in the sense that if she hadn't gotten immediate medical attention, it looks as though she might have died--even though all the bear could reach was a single leg. It happened so fast.

They should show that video to people waiting in line to buy zoo tickets so they respect what they're dealing with. Sure, some kids would get so scared they'd refuse to go in, but those kids make too much noise in the Nocturnal House anyway.


When I saw Mike Rowe on "Dirty Jobs" feeding the tigers at the San Francisco zoo, I did boggle at how close the zoo workers were to the cats at feeding time. It seems one of those tigers was Tatiana, who mauled a zoo keeper a year or so ago, and was the tiger involved in this incident.

The tiger grotto there apparently was built in 1940, which predates years of developments in zoo enclosures. I know bringing zoo enclosures up to date can be hugely expensive, but 67 year old enclosures should probably not still be in operation. I hope the San Francisco zoo works to resolve their obvious safety issues, for the sake of the workers and the animals.

I respect the work (most) zoos do in conservation and education, but it makes me sick to see wild animals in cages. I don't visit zoos anymore. If I had kids, I'd probably relent and take them for the educational experience, but just for myself it's too uneasy a form of entertainment.


I respect the work (most) zoos do in conservation and education, but it makes me sick to see wild animals in cages.

Maybe it's just the zoos I visit, Antoinette, but it seems like you rarely see animals in cages nowadays--the zoos really seem to have made the move to creating wild-like habitats for the animals. Even if there is a physical cage, it's quite large and the interior is landscaped so that the animal can have privacy. It seems to work--I remember as a kid seeing a lot of what was clearly zoo psychosis (repetitive movements, animals running in the exact same pattern all day long, etc.), and I rarely see that these days.

I bawled my head off once at a TV program - maybe some retrospective of National Geographic Specials? I don't remember - that showed the reunion of two female elephants who had been performers together decades before.

Ginger, I cried when I read that elephant poachers will shoot to wound the first elephant, because that elephant will call for help and the rest of the band will rush over to assist, and then the poachers can kill them all.

We're not the only social animals out there, and elephants in particular are highly social. This article from the NY Times is a fairly depressing examination of the social pressures on elephants that are caused by poaching and habitat destruction.

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