From the Perspective of Captive Wildlife: A Zoo Animal’s Plea

AudreySmith_MasaiGiraffe_ZoosAndAquariums

Juvenile Masai giraffe, Brevard Zoo, Melbourne, FL.  Copyright Audrey R. Smith 2013.

I wrote this years ago, after a particularly frustrating day of telling visitors to the zoo where I worked not to throw things to the animals, to take their child off the perimeter fence over the alligator exhibit, please stop making monkey sounds or “here kitty kitty” calls to the animals, etc…All the things that come with working at a zoo.  Some days you say that stuff more than others, and this day, I had to ask myself, “How could I put the animals’ situations in a way that people would understand that they are being rude?  That coming to the zoo is not a free-for-all for those who enter, and that they need to exhibit (pun!) at least a small amount of decorum; after all, they are “visitors,” or “guests.” ” So here is what every animal in every zoo wishes the visitors would bear (another pun!) in mind when they walk through the zoo gates…

A Zoo Animal’s Plea:

“As you walk through the zoo, looking at each of us and pointing us out to your family and friends, we all ask that each visitor bear in mind a few things:

I am a zoo animal.  My job is to be here so that you can learn about me, and encourage and teach others that I am worth saving.  Please remember that while I might sometimes enjoy attention, I, like you, have days where I would prefer to be left alone.  Keep in mind that while I am here for you to look at, I don’t necessarily want to pose for every camera.  When you whistle, hoot, clap, or shout, remember that I have heard that same sound a hundred times already that day and each day before that, and that is why I decided to ignore you.  When I am hiding from everyone and you are upset that you didn’t see me, remember that you also have days when you want to leave work early or call in sick.  Keep in mind that just because my species is known for its ferocity does not mean that I am going to eat you.  Likewise, just because my species is known to be placid does not mean that I won’t defend myself if I feel I should.  Know that I don’t necessarily want to be touched; poking, punching, tapping, and other sudden contact might make me upset with you, and I come equipped with a full set of teeth and claws, horns and hooves, or some other aspect of my physiology that makes me so successful at surviving in my native habitat. Please remember that I may be old, or sick, or having a bad day.  I may have just come from seeing the vet, and may be sore or groggy.  I may have arthritis, or I may have just had babies.  I also might be new here, and find all of this very frightening.  While small children may not know better, tapping on the glass gives us headaches, and we ask that the adults in each group teach the younger ones not to do it.  Know that while this fence protects you, it is also here to ensure my safety and its boundaries must be respected.  Remember that I am a wild animal, not an exotic pet or conversation piece.  I have instincts I follow and behaviors I can’t unlearn.   Just because you fed some of us in the zoo when you were a kid does not mean that it is still permitted.  We are all on special diets that fit the nutritional requirements of our kind, and anything you feed us–including popcorn, candy, hot dogs, and chips–could possibly kill us. Remember that I am here as an ambassador for my species.  Without me, most people have never seen another one of my kind and may never visit my homeland.  Many of my wild cousins face challenges for the species’ survival, and conservation is their only hope.  Know that the entire zoo staff is here because they feel a connection to all of us, and strive to do the best they can with what they have.  Know that this facility, as well as every aspect of my life are scrutinized by several different agencies and must meet certain criteria.  If my care is not up to their standards, I could be taken away from here.  Please understand  that my keepers have gone to school for years in order to care for me.  They work long hours, and have student loans, second and third jobs, and used cars.  Their days consist of hard labor, often in harsh conditions like snow or excruciating heat.  Rest assured that I am monitored seven days a week, 365 days a year, including Thanksgiving and Christmas.  I see the vet when I am sick, and for regular check-ups.  I get all my vaccines, have my food planned and prepared for me, and am provided enrichment to make things interesting at least once each day.  If something breaks in my home, it is fixed; if something needs to be replaced, it is.  Know that my keepers are poorly paid, but lose sleep every night to worry about me if I didn’t eat, use the bathroom, or drink enough water that day; know that my wellbeing is their whole life.  And finally, please remember that I am a living, breathing creature.  I can feel pain, anger, joy, and sorrow.  There are things that please me and things that scare me.  I may be looking at you from the other side of the fence, but my job is to help you understand things, and I deserve your respect no matter my size, shape, or place in the world.

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22 thoughts on “From the Perspective of Captive Wildlife: A Zoo Animal’s Plea

  1. This is just what I am doing in the Zoo. Telling the visitors why the animals are in the Zoo. They are the ambassadors for the animals in the wild. When people see the animals and I tell them what happens to them in the wild (for instance the elephants) they understand much more than reading about it. They see the animal and can nearly touch them.
    The animals in de Zoo are doing a great job.
    I am a volunteer in a Zoo in the Netherlands and hope the visitors are learning about the animals. That they feel pain the same as we do.

  2. Education is the key. Drumming it in to thick skulls….not so easy. In a perfect world there would be no zoos, but large reserves where the animals are kept safe from the horrific humans who deface the earth and everything on it.

  3. Wouldnt it be considered cruelty to knowingly subject animals to the list of annoyances listed in this article? Best intentions aside, you need to use your head and stop giving fuel to the dummies that are opposed to zoos

    • Hi Kyle,

      Unfortunately, these examples are what does take place at any animal facility, anywhere in the world. Simply a fact. Those people who would do that sort of thing already visit said facilities, and I promise that anything I have written is nothing new. Zoo staff are always on the lookout to protect their charges from anything that could harm them, intentionally or not. That said, though there are some people who are opposed to zoos, there are also those who understand and appreciate them for what they are: a place to learn about the wildlife in our world, when they cannot visit those areas of the globe for themselves. People connect with things better when they are allowed to interact with them and experience them firsthand. This cannot be better represented than the example of a zoo animal. While there will never be an end the captive/remain wild debate, the fact of it is that we do not live in a perfect world, and seeing these animals up close is any species’ best chance for conservation support, which comes from those same people.
      Thanks for your input.

  4. Really enjoyed this post, Audrey. I shared it with a local Facebook group of like-minded photographers who love spending time at our Zoos here in San Diego (Zoo and Safari Park). Some of our members also actually work at the Zoo. We regularly have meetups and we’ve had this very conversation on more than one occasion. We try to educate others and instill respect for the animals using our photos.

  5. This is absolutely perfect. It should be handed out at the entrance to every zoo and aquarium. Shared it on Facebook and my blog, and hope to send some of my readers your way. Utterly brilliant.

  6. Pingback: A Zoo Animal's Plea » Websites about Zoos & Animal Conservation

  7. Great post, (gave me goosebumbs)
    We really need to get every person that visit a zoo to read this. heck not just read it. but understand it!
    Such a shame that too many people doesn’t understand this.

    • I know! To be honest, that’s where all of those thoughts came from. If zoo visitors the world over understood, maybe general behavior would improve. Being considerate and mindful of others would be a virtue too many people choose to ignore, but would make the world a better place. They would probably feel better too! Thank you.

  8. Also very true: The keepers are very low paid, but they love their jobs and the animals for which they care. I know because my daughter is a keeper at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo.

  9. Very nice. I will share on fb. I get negative posts from people who are “friends of friends” who have never met me. They go on and on about how horrible I am for what I do. I do not disrespect them for their comments as I am aware they have the right to make them. I too have been offended by certain things I see/read. The difference is that I research the topic before setting a fire. Ignorance is bliss…..knowledge is power.

  10. Pingback: From the Perspective of Captive Wildlife: A Zoo Animal’s Plea | Where the heck is the bathroom?

  11. whoah this blog is excellent i like studying your articles.
    Stay up the good work! You know, lots of persons are hunting round for this info, you could aid them greatly.

  12. Pingback: Seeking the image at an elephant sanctuary | NatureQuest Photography's Blog

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