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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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  • Nov 9 2013: You can view 27 of the World's Best Zoos in the Google Map, linked below, and it's associated Google Earth KML file located within the map. With them you can zoom in on the zoo's features. Several of them, those indicated in Red, enable you to digitally walk the zoo in Google Street. By turning on the photo option, you get to see photos of the animals taken by visitors. Each location has a link to both a Wikipedia or other resource and a link to the zoo's web site. By downloading the Google Earth KML file, and turning on the buildings layer you can see several of the zoos in 3D. The San Diego zoo even rendered in the trees.

    • Nov 9 2013: George, on the digital side, this is step one in a process and a real step forward. So, thank you.

      On all other grounds, it represents net zero in improving the lives of animals and largely a distraction. Showing people the current state of marginal or worse enclosures is not the goal. By way of example, "rendering in" is particularly disappointing: the point is not to "render in" trees for human beings to be duped, but to actually given trees -- real trees -- to the animals who need and deserve them, so the process of the seeing animals isn't turned into something awful. We can give people access to animals at no cost to the animals, and at a vast improvement to us as watchers.

      Not by the way, the statement that your board represents the "world's best zoos," borders on disingenuous. Disney's is not a "world's best zoo" by any measure of animal care or husbandry, any more than Tom & Jerry is a measure of our current view of race relations. Perhaps, it has a historical place, but we can and must have a much better present, not to mention future.
      • Nov 12 2013: I understood your article, and I can agree with your point of view. However, the zoos exist and they are not likely to go away any time soon. The rating system used to rate the zoos in the map was not based on how well they treat the animals, but on how good of a learning institution they are. To my surprise the zoo map is very popular and has been linked all over the internet by visitors

        On the other hand, you missed an opportunity. To your point, you should use the map to prove your point, use it to further social change. You should have asked to include your point in my map.

        So, I will go one step further by including a quote from your article in the map (the 3rd paragraph) along with a link to this article and 2 Live Cam links. Then you can make your point with a wide range of audiences online so that they can compare the caged animal with the wild animal right from their home.
        • Nov 14 2013: Wow, George, I am so very sorry to have missed the opportunity you identified, and so appreciative that you have taken the time to point out what I missed Please also allow me to apologize: I should have better explored the website, and figured out how to do what you have done. This is a good lesson for me, and I will be much more careful next time, the credit for which belongs to you. My very best,
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      • Nov 17 2013: Thanks, Carolyn and George. Take a look at Anthony's and Harald's suggestions -- I think we're truly getting somewhere. Cheers, and thanks for following.

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