Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Conflicted about zoo apes

I think a lot of people are like me, kind of conflicted about zoos. I love to learn about new animals, and visit old animal friends. Of course, we all love to see a baby animal… chimp, orangutan, gorilla, they are all wonderful. On the other hand, there’s the issue of captivity.
I recently wrote a blog post about respecting all animals, and I suggested that maybe zoos needed to reexamine their breeding policies:
“Zoos today are much better at keeping their chimpanzees for their full 30 or 40 or 50 years on this earth, but – and here I’ll probably tick off my zoo friends – I am conflicted. Most accredited zoos try to give chimps enrichment to fight boredom and to stimulate healthy behaviors, but it still seems insufficient to me. I wish zoos would stop reproduction in captive chimp populations. I love seeing a cute baby chimp as much as the next person, but I’m not sure we should have the right to breed them just to subject them to cement, cages, and human dominance for ‘exhibition’ purposes for their entire life.”
Not long after I wrote that, a chimp expert challenged my long-held beliefs. I usually HATE to admit when I'm wrong, but this one is easy. I was wrong.
Steve Ross chairs the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) “species survival plan” (SSP) for chimpanzees, and I was impressed by what he told me about improvements in zoo standards for the care of chimpanzees. I was especially delighted to hear that accredited zoos are taking an active role in providing new homes for “retired” show chimps.
“We have kept the birth rate purposefully low, as we have been making a concerted effort to open up space for chimps from the entertainment and pet industry,” Ross told me. “Working with Project ChimpCARE, we have brought 17 ex-pet and ex-actor chimps into the population in the past five years or so, including 14 ex-actors from a movie trainer’s facility last year.”
Fantastic! Read more from Steve at my blog post, Chimp expert challenges my long-held beliefs.
Lovely Lucy, at Smithsonian National Zoo,
has long held my heart.
Now, the next question… How are zoos caring for their orangutans? In my three years as a volunteer with a zoo primate program, I often heard visitors lament the perceived sadness of the quiet orangutans. Lori Perkins, the chair of the AZA SSP for orangutans, has promised to tell us what accredited zoos are doing to make sure our lovely red apes have a fair shake in life. Maybe Lori can help resolve the conflicted feelings of zoo visitors - like me - who have had the privilege of looking into an orangutan's eyes…

1 comment:

Dawn said...

I just wanted to bring readers up to date. It has been four months since I posted this item and, for whatever reason, Lori Perkins did not provide any information on orangutan care in America's zoos.