09 March 2009

the zoo dilemma

Fiona bonding with a camel - look at the smile on her face!

The Stapletons are a family of animal lovers. We adore our "furry children" (Lulu dog, Biko and Molly cat, and Kelly the Fighting Fish) and often "rescue" worms after rainstorms, help ducks cross busy roads, etc. As a parent, I am guilty of imposing my values on my children. One of those values is avoiding the exploitation of animals for our entertainment. Right or wrong on my part, Fiona and Matilda will not attend a circus. (Read why here). I prefer to have the girls observe animals in their natural environment. This is why I love Ijams Nature Center. However, what do you I when you want to expose my children to animals that aren't found in East Tennessee?

Like a lot of animal lovers and environmentalists, I have mixed feelings about zoos. There are pros and cons to zoos:

Pros include:
* opportunity for children to see animals that they wouldn't normally get to see
* creates a connection for people with the animal world which helps in conservation
* protects endangered species through captive breeding programs
* educates the public about various species

Cons include:
* animals are taken away from the 'natural environment' - polar bears in warm climates, zebras not given ample room to roam and run
* natural instincts to hunt and gather are eliminated as an "unnatural diet" is fed to them
* shorter life expectancy in captivity
* fewer offspring produced in captivity
* boredom for the animals

After much debating and considering all the pros and cons, we have taken Fiona to the zoo on many occasions. Though the conditions are not ideal at the Knoxville Zoo and there are many exhibits I voluntarily skip - namely the gorillas, chimps, bears, and tigers - due to the number of times that I have witnessed distressed and bored behavior, the Zoo does provide an opportunity for us to learn. For instance, I never knew that rhinos have one "dung pile" that they visit as a community.

Fiona often comes back and wants to learn more about a particular animal she saw during our visit. Yesterday, we went to the zoo with her friend, Anabel. Fiona was fascinated by the behavior of the meerkats. Here they are watching the meerkat groom himself/herself? and then doing their best meerkat imitation. We are learning more about the social lives of meerkats and are looking into getting the series, Meerkat Manor. If it weren't for our outing, Fiona would have never been exposed to these loveable creatures.

We are also planning a trip to Disney in April for Fiona's 4th birthday. Fiona was excited to learn that there was a whole theme park devoted to animals - Animal Kingdom. Again, I have had mixed feelings about this childhood "rite of passage". Yet, I have learned that in this particular area, Disney has really worked hard on behalf of the animals there. While I was reading up on this, I came across The Green Parent blog who has some excellent posts about 'going green at Disney' and 'animal conservation at Disney'.

Maybe I am just trying to justify our visits to these places but I do believe that places like zoos and safari parks have benefits that are worth exploring. Of course, there is nothing like observing animals in their natural environment and hopefully, some day we will be able to take our children to far off lands to see giraffes roaming freely. Until then, we will settle for what we can and will make sure that we educate our girls that these conditions are not ideal for the animals.

What are your thoughts on the subject? I would love to hear from you!

Links to make you think:
Nature Watch's Fact Sheet on Zoos
Disney Animal Kingdom


GinSpaghetti said...

Am I the only nerd who clicked on all of your hyper links?! I hope I have kids soon so I can learn from your blog! You're not allowed to close it down, ever! Promise? At least without supplying me with the back up files so I can read through your posts! HAHAHA!!

LOVE your outlook on the animals. You are doing such a wonderful job ensuring that your girls are exposed to the right things. I love having you as my green mommy role model. Now, any good dog advice?! :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for mentioning Disney Go Green!

After 3 years, child health advocates are still asking Disney World to eliminate hazardous cleaning chemicals and implement a complete green cleaning policy. On March 10 in Oakland, CA they will be asking directly outside the Disney World shareholder meeting demanding Disney to cross the finish line and finally implement a real policy that will protect the health of their guests and employees.

You can join advocates on March 10 by sending in your photo next to CHEJ's speech bubbles. Check out the site to learn how:http://salsa.democracyinaction.org/o/852/t/2096/content.jsp?content_KEY=5344. You can also take a look at the photos people have already sent in on our flickr page www.flickr.com/photos/chej.

Thanks for your support!

Ciara Trainor

Jen said...

I feel the same way, but the kids love the zoo and I definitely feel like the kids benefit from our regular visits.

Dawn said...

We frequent our local zoo but mostly the Wild Animal Park. For years I felt terrible visitng the Zoo. The animals staring back at you through black metal fences but they have really been trying to improve. The Wild Animal Park is a research facility with hundreds of acres for the animals to roam. It's fantastic~

I understand your concerns... while visiting family in MO we went to the St. Louis Zoo and I was so distraught about the conditions, the smell and the lack of life for these primates.

As we all know these animals are highly intelligent and sitting in a dirty cage all day is not humane IMO.

D-land how fun! I'm very happy to hear they are trying to improve...


GinSpaghetti said...

YAY for the water!!!! oooh I'd imagine coffee would be hard to not drink. I like it but don't have to have it! Whew!

I need to write an update. I accidentally had a coke last week! Ahhh! But otherwise, so far so good!

s engelmohr said...

I am so with you on the circus animals and I have seen animals at the zoo's that look like they would rather be... well just lets say not there.
I was glad to read about Disney Land converting their trains to biodiesel made from recycled cooking oil.
Disneyland's five railroad trains are ridden by an estimated 6.6 million people each year using up about 200,000 gallons of fuel.

GinSpaghetti said...

Just saw this on someone's blog, I immediately thought of you! Could totally see you and Fi rocking this project out on a nice, warm day!