By Lauren Wong
When you think of zoos, the some things that come to mind are the innocence of kids, laughter and the happiness that comes from being up close to animals. So little do we think of the heart that is beating behind the cages, bringing us the enjoyment. It’s time we speak for the ones stuck without a voice.
The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) describe zoos as merely a collection of animals, versus a safe haven or home for them. Zoos are no more than a prison. Animals are pulled from their community and natural habitat to be locked behind bars, facing a life sentence. So easily we brush off the thought of their well-being. This isn’t a topic that is often being thrown in our face. It’s not something we see every day on national news, or in protests, because we can’t empathize with these animals. We don’t know or hear their thoughts, or feel their pain.
A condition called zoochosis has started to spread around zoos around the country. You have seen it up close if you’ve ever looked into an exhibit to see the animal rock or sway back and forth with repetitive behavior and no apparent goal in mind. The cheapest method to cure zoochosis is for zoos is to use anti-depressant drugs, such as Prozac, for treatment.
Around the Tampa Bay area we have the Lowry Park Zoo, Busch Gardens, the Disney Safari in Animal Kingdom and more. The only scenario that could be considered worse, is a life of constant travel. Just recently, the Florida State Fair came to town bringing giraffes, goats, yaks and zebras among others.
One local place in particular that focuses all their time into the well-being of their animals is Big Cat Rescue. Afton Tasler, media producer and part-time operations manager, was adamant that their mission is solely to provide the best home for their animals and help end abuse of big cats in captivity, all while focusing on prevention of extinction and furthering education.
“Captive breeding is not conservation,” said Tasler. “Those animals are not releasable to the wild, but rather they are used to make a profit.”
Tasler goes on to explain that zoos accredited by the American Zoological Association (AZA), have been doing a great job at convincing the public that they are “the arks of the future” and they manage their captive populations through a breeding program called the Species Survival Plan.
Tasler explains that even zoos covered under the AZA have been caught selling babies out the back door for profit to brokers as pets or props. Sometimes they are even caught being sold on the black market for their teeth, claws, bones, hides and meat.
In 2013, CNN and Magnolia Pictures released the documentary, Blackfish, exposing the reality behind Seaworld. It only takes a matter of seconds for these whales to swim into the wrong place and be caught; tangled in a net they frantically try and break free of. This doesn’t cross our minds. When we are sitting in those bleachers, watching these killer whales splash around, we’re blinded by the smiles, the flashing lights and confidence in these leaders as they tell us the story of their happy whales. The thing is, this just isn’t the truth.
We are lucky we have the right to speak for what we wish, we have the ability to be heard. In Blackfish, we saw a prime example of how little we know about what goes on behind the scenes. Orcas have a higher developed brain than we do as humans. In a society already full of depression and anxiety, I can’t even begin to fathom what trauma we put these animals through every day without a second thought. Brushing away those sad eyes peering through the cage, because our smiles are the only distraction we need.
It’s time we start caring about those who aren’t as lucky as we are and can’t speak their minds. It’s time we let these animals roam wild and free like they were always meant to be.
you can reach Lauren Wong at firstname.lastname@example.org