Friday, March 13, 2009

Reason #7,967 why zoos are terrible

It seems like every month or so, some zoo somewhere sends out publicity photos and videos of a brand new baby animal, and animal lovers around the world spend countless work hours ogling the brand new baby giraffe/orangutan/elephant.

If you don't believe me, check out, a website that specializes in photos of baby zoo animals.

Yet the untold story is that while zoos celebrate the new baby animals, which mean more visitors and thus more profits, many zoos can't actually afford to keep those animals. In fact, one of zoos' dirty little secrets is the way that they "retire" old zoo animals, by selling them via the exotic animal trade to other zoos, to roadside zoos, into the pet market, and sometimes, into canned hunting operations where they'll be shot point blank by some rich asshole like Dick Cheney.

Usually, however, the babies are safe. But not always.

The Basel Zoo in Switzerland recently celebrated the birth of little Farasi, an African hippopotamus born in November. The zoo has no room to keep him, and in cases like this, the zoo's policy is to kill "surplus" animals and to feed them to the carnivores. Because of public protest, the zoo is trying instead to find a new home for the hippo.

Whether or not Farasi gets fed to the lions or ends up in another zoo, this story brings up an important issue that the public (and especially the zoo-going public) needs to know about. As long as we buy the zoo industry's spin that zoos are about education and conservation, and that captive breeding programs somehow help conserve species or aid wild animals, then we will be shocked at stories like this one.

But the reality is that zoos are not in the business of conservation, or even education. They're in the business of displaying animals as entertainment for a paying public, a public that loves animals. So what if a photogenic baby hippo has to lose his life to help the zoos' bottom line?

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