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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 24 2013: I think one of the advantages of Elise's project is that questions like yours could be brought up in a forum.

    I also think before this TED closes that we need a head count of who is in for the long haul ..
    • Nov 24 2013: That's fair. I think you, Mary, Harald, George and I are in -- I hope that MIT's media lab will back us up through and through. I don't think the Right Honorable Sasquatch will join us. ;-)

      Honestly, I do wish TED would allow us to imbed names, so that it could function as prompts ....
      • Nov 25 2013: yes, i'm in, just try to get rid of me now! I am hoping to operate some cams down the road :-)....omg i want to be a drone-cam pilot!
        • Nov 27 2013: Mary, you can be queen of the drones!

          Btw, I think we need an expert, someone who can help us ensure that our use of drones doesn't cause aversion/avoidance of areas. Webcams and satellites, there, I'm not too worried, but drones apparently can be quote loud at low altitudes.

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