Zoo animals need more protection from foolhardy humans.

The demise of Eko, an endangered tiger at Naples zoo, is another example of why zoo animals need more protection from foolhardy human visitors.

The death by shooting of Eko, an endangered tiger at Naples Zoo, is another example of why zoo animals need more protection from human visitors. The emphasis should be more on keeping the animals safe from us rather than the other way round.

Killing endangered captive animals through no fault of their own.

Captive zoo animals, particularly endangered species, must feel pretty positive about their lives and existence. They are more often than not pampered as valued inmates, usually part of a breeding programme and are celebrity attractions. Little do they realise though that in the blink of an eye they can be killed through no fault of their own.

Incidents over the last couple of decades have proved that it is an unfortunate fact that no zoo animal is completely safe at the hands of their humans keepers. Recently, (December 2021) yet another endangered animal had its life cut short by the idiotic behaviour of a human. This time it was a  critically endangered Malaysian tiger named Eko in the Naples Zoo in Florida. The unfortunate animal was shot and wounded, then sedated and finally died of his injuries all because of failures in health and safety, staff training and our desire to treat all animals as fluffy beings

The zoo was quick to issue a statement that Eko was much loved and died quickly from internal bleeding. They have set up a conservation fund for people to honour his death and asked the public to respect the feelings of the staff. I am sure Eko would have been pleased.

Zoo animals need more protection from foolhardy humans.

His early death was caused by a contract cleaner, who decided to put his arm through the bars to presumably stroke Eko who grabbed and mauled the arm of this unfamiliar human who was invading his space. The comment from the zoo was “This was a tragic encounter at our world-class zoo facility.” Hardly world class if they allow unsupervised outsiders to behave in such a manner.

Eko the tiger joins many others who over the years have suffered similar fates. It has become a regular habit for us to kill critically endangered captive animals through no fault of their own.

In September 2021 another tiger was shot and killed at the Delhi Zoo when a young man decided to jump down into its enclosure. And of course there is the case of the infamous shooting of 17 year old Harambe, the endangered lowland gorilla, who was shot by a Cincinnati zoo marksman when a child fell into his enclosure.

Harambe gorilla with child in moat Cincinnati zoo
Harambe was shot and killed even though he didn’t appear aggressive.

Human life will always take precedence over that of an animal.

Zoo officials were afraid for the child’s life and although the zoo was criticised for not doing more to save the child and Harambe, Mr Holloway, a zoo spokesman stated, screams from the crowd further agitated Harambe and it’s a horrible call to have to makebut human life will always take precedence over the animal.

Zoo animals are also regularly killed in the name of research and conservation, a practice called zoonasia and mainly kept hidden from the public. This was highlighted in the case of Marius the giraffe at Copenhagen Zoo who was killed because he didn’t fit the criteria for breeding his species. His death was covered worldwide in the press and social media.

There has been much discussion worldwide in the past of the dangers to the public visiting zoos particularly after each fatal incident. It has been estimated that there have been 256 injuries to the public and keepers over the last 26 years but only 33 deaths. This figure seems rather conservative. But it is more a question of how many animals the zoos are killing.

Time to keep captive endangered species away from the public.

The moral of the story for captive zoo animals is that their life is at the discretion of zoo scientists, veterinary surgeons, zoo directors and the actions of the public.  Although animals like Harambe and Eko may be sentient, are endangered and protected species, are disappearing at an alarming rate in the wild and maybe doing there bit for conserving their species by being part of a breeding program, none of this saves them or is of any consequence if they react to some stupidity on our part.

We will never save the life of an animal at the expense of a human, but we could accept they are wild animals and not retaliate when a human causes an incident. And if we are serious about saving species by zoo breeding, keep the animals away and out of view of the public so they can get on with the business of breeding undisturbed like humans prefer.

What is Zoonasia?

We seem to have little knowledge or understanding of the secret world of ‘disposal of genetic surplus’ or in layman’s terms – the euthanasia of zoo animals not suitable for breeding in the opinion of science.

Cruelty to zoo animals, zoonasia, zoo lions,
Iconic zoo animals are often killed as surplus to requirements.

The declared dogma of most reputable zoos is that of a scientific and research emphasis based on doing everything possible to save species from extinction by any means possible. Most of this work operates behind the scenes and therefore is not entirely understood by the public and many of us may feel uncomfortable about what is involved in saving species.

In many ways the modern-day ‘professional’ zoo can almost be likened to a research laboratory where they use a team of veterinarians, scientists and researchers to carry out their breeding programmes, but when such professionals become involved in ‘saving’ or ‘rescuing’ species, the rights, welfare and interests of the individual animals become less important  and sometimes lost.

Jens Sigsgaard, a zoologist at Aalborg Zoo in Denmark puts it this way: ‘Our function is not to keep an individual animal alive, but to keep the species alive’.

Zoonasia explained

A major problem for zoos is maintaining a good gene pool of unrelated animals from a dwindling supply of captive animals and avoid inbreeding. This is done by constantly exchanging animals around the world’s zoos, but the difficulty is that it is impossible to breed to order. Therefore  the process of maintaining stocks of endangered and iconic animals for ‘future generations’ involves collateral damage in the form of “surplus” animals.

Iconic animals such as lions and tigers that help pull in the crowds are constantly overbred or are born the wrong sex and become liabilities as do many endangered species if they do not meet the requirements of a breeding program. An estimated 3-5,000 zoo animals are killed each year in the UK, although reliable figures are difficult to obtain or substantiate due to the obvious reluctance to divulge such information. Killing these animals is known in the trade as ‘Zoonasia’. This carnage appears to go mostly unnoticed by the public and even when highlighted is soon forgotten.

Zoos promote a caring public face by giving animals names to make our visits more personal and they are happy to show off expensive natural enclosures, state of the art veterinary care and top-quality diets, but the zoo professionals have a strange detachment when it comes to killing surplus animals.

The case of Marius the Giraffe

This subject came to public attention in 2014 with the story of a two-year-old male giraffe named Marius who was killed at the Copenhagen Zoo  by their veterinarian Mads Bertelsen, DVM, DVSc. He then dissected Marius in front of cameras and families with young children on the pretext of education after which his remains were fed to the zoo’s lions.

Zoonasia, zoo animal culling, cruelty to zoo animals
Young zoo animals can find themselves surplus to requirements if they are born the wrong sex.

That same year the zoo killed  four of their lions and dissected a beautiful Sable antelope. The zoo was unrepentant despite worldwide outrage and couldn’t understand what the fuss was about. Bengt Holst, the Director of Research and Conservation was surprised at receiving death threats and a petition to sack him. The zoo not only upset the public, but the zoo profession in general, as they were not best pleased that their relatively secretive activity of culling animals was made so public. The zoo explained their reasoning in this way:

“The side effect is that we have a surplus of animals. It is in fact fortunate that we can use them as food. Instead of killing 20 goats or a cow, we can use the giraffe,” says Mads Frost Bertelsen. Zoo Veterinarian.

Mads Bertelsen, had apparently regularly carried out research on giraffes over the years for their ‘benefit’ and had dissected ‘a large number of surplus giraffes to investigate their cardiovascular anatomy using state-of-the-art methodology.

Jens Sigsgaard, a zoologist at Aalborg Zoo, Denmark was quoted as saying that surplus animals are already dead biologically speaking in the sense that they do not contribute to the next generation’. Only a scientist could refer to animals in this way.

All this is being done on our behalf to save animals for future generations of mankind and for a mythical time when the animals are released back into the wild. But will future generations be that interested as there are few if any wild animals existing already and most people do not seem that worried.

At least one zoologist, Liz Bonnin, has declared that it might be time to close zoos down as they no longer serve any purpose only to entertain and charm the public and has commented: ‘They’re [Giraffes] sentient, emotionally intelligent, cognitively gifted animals that deserve a better quality of life. It’s shameful that we scoff at anybody who raises the issue of animal welfare’.

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