Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Moral Question: How do you deal with negative comments about zoos?

Since the release of the Movie That Shall Not Be Named (MTSNBN), things have... changed, at zoos. In fact, things are almost volatile. It's more common for people to balk when they find out what I do for a living now than to think it's cool or ask me questions.

And frankly, it's heartbreaking. 

As a writer, I've tried so hard on this blog to counteract the damage that MTSNBN has done, but it seems people are choosing the popular path when it comes to how they feel about zoos. They've been emotionally manipulated into believing it's wrong instead of doing their own research or taking action against the real enemies, i.e., poaching, wildlife trafficking, sensationalist "animal welfare" organizations, and climate change. 

It's exhausting. Some days, it makes me question my sanity. It makes me question my career decisions. It makes me wonder if I'm a horrible person. 

Let me make something quite clear: I don't know a single zoo employee who doesn't love the animals in their care as if they were their children. We take better care of our animals than most people take care of their pets. We devote our lives to them. We stay awake for days at a time when they're sick. We're constantly looking for new and creative ways to enrich them. We're always trying not to think too hard about the battles their wild cousins face, because it breaks our hearts. 

And talking to someone who has already made up their mind about how evil zoos are and is looking for a reason to be proven right feels like yelling at a wall. 

Perhaps it's time to stop calling them zoos. Perhaps it's time to shift away from that word, like we shifted away from menagerie, and start calling them what they really are. Except "Environmental Conservation and Wildlife Science Facility" doesn't roll off the tongue quite the same. 

I've been pretty lucky so far that I haven't had any major encounters with anti-zoo visitors at my job. For the most part, unless they're undercover for An Organization That Shall Not Be Named Either, people who don't like zoos don't tend to go to them. But I have had some bad luck in my personal life. 

There's a person I know very well who's vocally anti-zoo, pro-MTSNBN. And it frustrates me to no end. Because she should know better. She should know that I'm not a cruel person. But I think I finally changed her mind. Or at least opened the door for her to do it. 

I told her, a few weeks ago, about what's going on in Africa. How dozens of species will be extinct in the next 20 years thanks to poaching and wildlife trafficking. How zoos may be the only place people will get to see those animals. How without zoos keeping those animals now, we wouldn't understand their social and breeding behavior and be working towards saving them. 

How ultimately, we work to release animals back into the wild. 

I told her about tigers, and how there's more tigers in backyards in the US than left in the wild. 

I told her about the California condor, and how there were only 22 left in the wild thirty years ago, and now there's more than 400, and that's ONLY thanks to zoos. 

As for marine animals? Well. The thing that's particularly frustrating to me about that whole thing is that SeaWorld is the only reason most people know what a killer whale is. Until the Marine Mammal Protection Act was passed in 1972, it was legal for the US Navy to use them for target practice. They were seen as scary, dispensable monsters. Now millions of people love them, all because of what SeaWorld has done. And no, their early practices weren't sound, but we knew so little about animals back then (yes, even fifty years ago), and their animal care now is top notch. 

Ocean animals are so hard to pinpoint in population, but rest assured with climate change and rising ocean temperatures, they're all not long from being endangered, too. 

And finally, I told her how what I want from her is to be getting mad at the people who ARE actually doing the harm. Get mad at the poachers. Get mad at the traffickers. Get mad at the roadside "zoos" who breed exotic animals for tourists to pose with and then send them off to be killed in canned hunting expeditions. 

Don't get mad at the (usual disclaimer: responsible, accredited) zoos. Honestly. We're the good guys. Trust me when I say, we care more about the animals in our care than ANYONE else. 

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