What’s in a Zoo? – importance of monitoring how zoos function and making the effort to help animals that suffered in the Kosovo war

What’s in a Zoo? – importance of monitoring how zoos function and making the effort to help animals that suffered in the Kosovo war – Brief Article

Gus W. Thornton

If you drive along central Florida’s highways, where signs advertise everything from alligator-wrestling shows and roadside primate attractions to full-scale animal parks such as Busch Gardens, you’ll soon realize that there is a tremendous difference among establishments that call themselves zoos. Some are atrocious, some are better, and–if you’re considering going to one–it’s important to know the difference.

As our Special Report (“The Compassionate Zoogoer”) shows, the public is increasingly skeptical about zoo practices, and most Americans have mixed feelings about seeing animals in captivity. Expanding criticism has led more zoos to step up their conservation and education efforts, provide more-natural habitats, and accommodate the needs of social animals.

Yet many zoos remain nothing more than roadside menageries, and these demand serious attention. The U.S. Department of Agriculture inspects zoos and has the authority to close those that are substandard. Understaffed and underfunded, however, the agency often fails to investigate the many roadside attractions under its domain. As a result, they remain open, and the animals inside them suffer.

In the United States this would seem a reversible situation. Worldwide, however, the picture is bleaker, especially in poorer nations. Even worse, though, are conditions in zoos located in nations suffering internal conflict or outright war.

Time and again, the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), the MSPCA/AHES’s international affiliate, has come to the aid of zoo animals subjected to the ravages of war. Caged inside Facilities that have often been bombed or otherwise destroyed, they suffer incredible stress. Frequently, as human caretakers must leave or because of scarce resources, the animals lack food or water. Sometimes they are shot–either for fear that they’ll get out of their enclosures or for target practice. In Bosnia, the Gulf War, and countless other conflicts, they have become a forgotten casualty. This may also be the case in Kosovo.

WSPA’s field team has been interviewing refugees to assess how best to help animals that have survived the crisis. These interviews have revealed that farm and companion animals have been machine-gunned, set on fire, and subjected to other torture. No one yet knows what will be discovered as peace comes or just how zoo animals fared. The situation reminds us that once we confine animals, we must care for them–a lesson that applies not just to war zones.

COPYRIGHT 1999 Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group