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Replacing cages with streaming feeds of animals -- an air zoo.

Zoos arose when access to animals either did not happen at all, or required grueling travel. Theoretically, zoos brought the exotic creatures of the world home in fascination (less charitably, in domination). Mostly, they were sad places for animals and people alike. Cramped, concrete jungles, too often in urban environments.

Perhaps, zoos improved on taxidermy. The denizens of “natural history” museums teaching children, teaching us, that Big Life is glass eyed and moth eaten – as far from the true ethos of wildlife as it could be. If zoos improved on the shotgun schools of zoology, however, it was marginal. Nothing is itself in a cage. As the Toronto City council to its credit recently concluded before sending Thika, Toka and Iringa to a California sanctuary, elephants do not belong in Toronto.

Today we have every possible means of observing animals in their natural element or large open sanctuaries. The NPS's live webcam of brown bears salmon fishing at Katmai is a perfect and excellent example! As science museums have evolved to present what is new in new ways, so we should encourage zoos to do the same, by moving animals to legitimate open space sanctuaries and bringing the images at home.

Imagine streaming feeds of formerly caged animals in sanctuaries. Imagine an “air zoo" that would truly allow our children, would allow us, to appreciate what it is to be a tiger, a lion or an elephant. And would do it in ways zoos do not and simply cannot achieve – close up, resting and foraging, interacting with their companions, being themselves. It also would conform to our evolving sense of proper treatment and care of animals, as the Toronto City Council has proved with its pioneering decision. Finally, it would keep zoos out of the exotic animal trade, an increasingly problematic relationship that troubles more and more of us past distraction.

Zoos can evolve better and faster, and should.


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  • Oct 28 2013: Unfortunately zoos are often the last and only barrier to extinction of some species. I remember seeing on the internet Benjamin the last maursupial wolf who is long dead. Several in the zoos if taken good care of by the keepers could have allowed preservation. Very old Tasmanians told of pet wolfs. Would this make a bad pet? More than that while the world has many sheep today. There are no Tasmanian Tigers.
    • Da Way

      • +1
      Oct 28 2013: how about adapting Elise's idea and have only 'sanctuary zoos' for saving near extinct animals. All others can be watched online.
      • Oct 29 2013: That would be a good idea if zoos were really that bad. I like zoos as long as the animals chosen can be humanely zooed.
        • Oct 29 2013: George, I will look hard, but I suspect that most zoos are urban or close, with space limitations that translate to confinement of animals who deserve better. Is there a good zoo? Perhaps, the San Diego Wild Animal Park a least deserves praise for its open space, integrated herbivores and suitable climate for some of the animals there. But, if 1 in a 100 is ok, shouldn't we break the mold?
      • Oct 29 2013: Awesome thought, particularly if the "sanctuary" part was real!
      • Nov 5 2013: Da Way, I looked back and realized that I hadn't properly responded. Thank you, again, as your thought seems just right to me. I'm even comfortable with more sanctuary zoos -- if we can get our Big Life to have reasonably large spaces, guided by a sanctuary mentality, e.g., no bull hooks or electric shocks, I'm there.

        Here's my short list of bad dynamics:

        (1) The zoo enclosure is a barred a cage of the sort circuses routinely use, a concrete hole in the ground, or glass cage in a casino.

        (2) A social animal is alone.

        (3) Any animal is chained.

        (4) Any animal is performing, hauled out for people to handle, or paraded around as an infant, whether its mom bellows in the next cage of not.

        There are others, but altering the above would be a major leap forward.

    • Oct 29 2013: George, first, thank you for weighing in. I finally decided to post what I have been thinking about because I value this community's keen insight, yours included. That said, I wish that you were correct, and that zoos were designed as or functioned as genuine barriers to extinction. In fact, while the examples are too few to provide meaningful statistical analysis, I think the anecdotal history is that zoos have contributed to extinction in two ways: (1) poor husbandry and sharing; and (2) distortion of animal needs. Regarding #1, take your thylacine. Apex predator -- not so may of them by the 1930s, except in Tasmania. Yet, several (many?) were taken to zoos, and the last died there -- with no apparent real thought or effort to stopping its precipitous decline. Everybody was happy to have "gotten theirs." The same MO of "getting one" without regard to their needs or the future occurs with elephants today, where zoos persist in maintaining a single elephant for decades -- a terrible, lonely life for this herd herbivore. Compare the sanctuaries, whether PAWS or Tennessee, where space, herd life, comparatively reasonable temperatures and companionship are provided. Regarding #2, even if it were true that zoos are strongholds against extinction, we must ask: At what cost to what we're "saving?" If zoos are to have a mission of being the last stronghold against extinction, let's design them as animal-centric places designed to foster breeding and re-release into the wild. Let's give them what they deserve, as we try to save them, and lets give ourselves the ability to watch them -- by streaming feed -- on something that amounts to their actual habitat or a reasonable facsimile of that habitat.
      Let's decide, as a culture, what zoos are for and let's help them to get there. As a person committed to innovation (technology) and animals, my view is that zoos are a 18th century technology and have failed to deliver in any credible manner. Cheers.
      • Oct 30 2013: I am not sure the thylacines would have been treated now likeBenjamin was in 1930. Okay i like the Fort Worth zoo. The alligators and some birds seem as happy as anyplace. I still believe mold your zoos and chose your animals. Probablly a Brazilian river dolphin and certain others don't belong in zoos. Nothing about the treatment of certain great apes by men anyplace seem right.
        • Nov 1 2013: George, thank you. I agree about great apes, and I also tend to agree about alligators and birds, though I often think that is my failing -- that I have presumed too little of them. I have not been to Fort Worth's zoo, and when I survey zoos in my mind, I can muster some support for the San Diego WIld Animal Park, with its fairly large spaces for herbivores -- giraffe, rhino and elephants, particularly. So, in the end, I think we could easily meet in the middle: Lucy, a elephant alone and confined for decades in Edmonton, should go to a sanctuary where she has the benefit of companionship, space and a temperature climate. Edmonton should expect that they have a large streaming feed of her day-and-night at the zoo and also at home. In the end, I'm expecting that most of us will find that dynamic preferable in every single way. Cheers, and again thank you.

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