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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 27 2013: Terrific information, Anthony.
    • Nov 27 2013: Anthony, do you mind as if I use your last comment as a wrap-up?

      As our TED time comes to a close, I wanted to take the time to thank everyone for her or his point of view. Whether I agree or not is irrelevant or important. What is important is that y'all took the time to comment on an idea, and in the process helped make the idea better ... lots better.

      Special thanks to Anthony and Mary, and to Harald, who not only took the time to comment, put to move a fairly spectral idea a bunch of steps closer to reality.

      Thanks to TED for being willing to foster this sort of thought leadership, and designing pretty nifty algorithm that featured us well and often enough to drive a few folks our way.

      Cheers, and happy Thanksgiving for the US crowd.

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