Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Prison Fun for the Whole Family

Today's Bizarro is brought to you by Charming Garden Statuary.

I used to love zoos, but now I despise them. I know that the human brain is a unique product of evolution (or creation, if you're of that camp) and other animals are not as complex as we, but in emotional ways, other species are far more similar to us than they are dissimilar. It's easy to miss, but if you get to know a non-human animal it becomes apparent quickly. Anyone who has made friends with a dog knows in their gut that there are emotions behind that slobbering muzzle. Other species are no different.

I no longer think that imprisoning any animal for purposes of entertainment is morally defensible. If I were dictator of the world, I would ban zoos, SeaWorld, circuses with animals, etc. There are always ways to entertain oneself without victimizing someone else.

Some argue that zoos give the public face-to-face appreciation for animals that help them to protect them in the wild. Personally, I think that is a cop-out. I don't need to visit an Indonesian orphan behind bars in a zoo to know I shouldn't buy products made by ones being enslaved in Jakarta. If a person has a conscience, they don't need the personal experience to understand an injustice, if they do not, the visit to the zoo doesn't help anyway.

Modern, "nice" zoos are not much better than archaic ones. No matter how nice your house is, if you're not allowed to leave it for the rest of your life, you go nuts.

All this is just my radical opinion, take it for what it is worth. I like to think that other animals are here with us, not for us. Accordingly, I won't do (or subsidize being done) anything to a non-human animal that I wouldn't do to a human child. Surprisingly, I don't find that I'm missing a lot. Here's a page I wrote in 2003 about my relatively late-in-life conversion to this way of thinking, if you're interested.

Sorry for the lack of humor in today's posting. Here's something funny to make up for it.


Anonymous said...

Right on! Thanks for speaking up on behalf of those that can't. Well, they CAN, but so few humans really care to listen. It's absurd.
I say that if a person really feels that visiting zoos is their right, then just be prepared for what may come next.
I was dragged to zoos as a kid, in order to enlighten me or some other such nonsense, and as a result I became extremely opposed to them. People are responsible for the knowledge they have, so it shouldn't be too surprising to find that exposure to the sadness lurking within a zoo's walls just might stay with you for the rest of your life. It may just be a factor in turning you into a "radical." I know for a fact that my parents made my transition into becoming vegan possible simply by showing me how not to treat other beings. Funny that they had no idea at the time...but I thank them for it.

Lynne said...

Totally agree. Rather see them in the wild here in Alaska.

Josh said...

Question, Dan: would you support wildlife preservations in place of zoos?

Waldo said...

Regarding zoos, I would recommend reading the (fictional?) book "Life of Pi" by Yann Martel.

It talks about a boy named Pi who grew up in a zoo and how he romanticized the animal's experience in the zoo.

On a side note: loved the book... until I met the author at a book signing. In my opinion, what a prick. I gave my signed copy away..

Christiann said...

I agree wholeheartedly. And zoos are not only imprisoning animals, they are all (yes, even San Diego and the National Zoo in DC) participating in practices that link them to the animal black market. *sigh.*

(Here I cite Animal Underworld: Inside America's Black Market for Rare and Endangered Species: http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=85972391) Yes, the book is ten years old. Yes, I hope things have changed. No, I don't think they actually have.

Thank you, Dan, for being a voice of reason and a good reminder for folks about animal rights. And for being a genius maker of cartoon art. ;)

Mike said...

I'm with you, although it gets complicated when we go beyond entertainment and get to medicine. I despise medical testing on animals, but (while I haven't done the research) can guess I've benefited and supported the practice with my healthcare dollars. For now I'm still taking Advil for my headaches, and Nyquil whenever I have the craving for faux cherry taste.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dan,

As a biologist, I agree with you that animals are probably intellectual and emotional beings, just like us. Mammals, in particular, are not that different from humans. They have the same organs, same general body plan, and similar biochemistry, so why assume they don't have emotions? (Occam's razor). However, I disagree with your assessment of zoos. Although it's unkind and even cruel to cage animals (particularly large, free-ranging mammals) in small enclosures, I do believe zoos serve a purpose other than entertainment. There are people who live in cities who have very little exposure to nature, in general. I once visited the San Diego Wild Animal Park with a friend from work. He caught sight of a native hummingbird at a flower, and he was utterly mesmerized. He had NEVER seen a hummingbird before! I was absolutely dumb-founded by this. I realized then that some people have no concept of the natural world around them, simply because they haven’t been exposed to it. Zoos educate and make people aware of the natural world. I would argue this DOES encourage conservation. Television can’t compete with “hands-on” exposure to nature. Zoos are evil, yes, but a necessary evil, in my opinion.

By the way, I always enjoy your posts, and today is no exception. Keep up the good work!

Ray Avito said...

It's always dicey for me to talk about animal issues because I eat a lot of meat, but I'm not a fan of the zoos chiefly because of the elephant treatment. Watch any show on elephant behavior and you'll know just how incredibly emotional they are. And I seem to remember an experiment involving a mirror and a painted dot on the side of an elephant's head as a way to show they could recognize themselves. They are very smart animals.

People love dogs, I think, because of their depth of unfiltered emotion.

Prospero said...

Sadly, for some species, zoos are their last hope. Mankind has ravaged their native homes, making their propagation impossible anywhere else. And for many animals in zoos, the only life they've known has been in captivity and they don't have the hunting/foraging skills required for survival in the wild. It's a horrible Catch-22, and while I agree that it's wrong to force animals to perform in circuses and theme parks, it is also wrong to decimate a species... No easy answers here.

John Reid said...

i totally agree with your opinion on zoos Dan. I find keeping animals behind cages for us to stare at somewhat troubling. Im sure if the animals could choose their path in life, this would not be it.

Don Berg said...

So what's your take on the forced detention of children in schools?

Should we only incarcerate young animals to make it equivalent?

Or should we just limit the animal's sentences to 12-20 years in the zoo?

Maybe they could get time off for entertaining behavior or passing a test or something?


Don Berg

Site: http://www.teach-kids-attitude-1st.com

Free E-book: The Attitude Problem in Education

Toph said...

I think you make a good point. In this age it's pretty easy to watch and learn all about, say, elephants without having to imprison one. But animals are always more impressive in person. I enjoy watching the wolf pack at my local zoo, and their red panda breeding program is one of the most successful in the world. Are most zoos populated now with offspring of other zoos, or are they capturing animals from the wild?

I'm curious on your opinion of pets. Dogs and hamsters and such are also prisoners in a fashion, but they were bred to be our companions.

doug nicodemus said...

i hate to say it but zoo's are necessary but cage style zoos are not...humans have lead to the extinction of more than 8,000 species...i think they would be better off if they were in a zoo someplace..

still, funny cartoon

Piraro said...

@Josh...if by "wildlife preservations" you mean large plots of wilderness set aside for wild animals, yes, I'm all for that.

@Waldo..."Life of Pi" is a fascinating book, I agree. Thanks for the tip about the author, I'll avoid him. :)

Penny said...

Hear! Hear!

I LOATHE zoos. LOATHE them.

Keith said...

So much understanding of the whole zoo situation in one small picture!! Easily worth a thousand words. And your blog posting is even better -- not radical at all, just seeing things for what they are. Zoos claim a valuable role in educating the public about the life and plight of wildlife, but what do folks learn from their 45 seconds in front of a sad, listless, probably head-bobbing elephant? Not much at all about their amazing intelligence and sociability, active roaming lifestyle and survival challenges. Just a few laughs and on to the next curiosity. Look, there are still 500,000 elephants in Africa, 50,000 in Asia inside and outside wildlife reserves. THIS is where we should be putting our money, where the real hope is, not in these past-their-time glorified animal prisons. You so totally GET this all. Can I buy you a drink?

what ever said...

ok so there are more lions left in zoos than in the wild

should they release those lions?

they'd die off...

hiko73 said...

I've loved your work for years & now that I just read how you feel about zoo's & humans treatment of animals - I shall love you more :)

Thank you!

Anonymous said...

RT what ever - I don't think they'd 'die off' as you so eloquently put it, they'd be KILLED off. There's a difference.

Keith said...

More lions in zoos than in the wild? Where did THAT craaaaazy idea come from? Despite all the real world pressures, there are still thousands of lions in the wild. And lions in zoos are bored stiff, fat, unhealthy sofa cushions... And please don't anyone say "Duhhhh...jeez, well better that than killt or sumpin'..." Those aren't the only alternatives, and it's insulting to the people working hard on conservation in range states (including lots of African and Asian folks) to say that every wild thing would be better off behind bars in the good old US of A. Give your brains a racking!

Amber Avines said...

Thanks for talking about captive animals and zoos, Dan. I vote for YOU for dictator of the world! Hands down.

Ban zoos today!

alyne16 said...

I observed a 6 year- old child watching an elephant pace at the zoo say: “Look Daddy, the elephant is doing the cha-cha-cha.” Sadly, zoos (and parents who take them) allow children to look upon suffering as entertainment. When the archaic zoo model began centuries ago that was acceptable, but with the plethora of fine shows and the internet, there is no excuse that absolves the suffering. There is an IMAX movie about elephants playing at the theaters that will teach more about elephants than all the time you could spend looking at the shell of a being in the zoo.