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’.

A Vet’s Life – compassion fatigue, burnout and suicide.

Veterinarians are stressed.

Veterinarian, operating, veterinary surgeon
Vets are having a hard time at work.

Keeping our pets and farm animals healthy and alive and well appears to make veterinarians sick and suicidal.

Apparently, it is not a bed of roses for veterinarians and many consider the profession an extremely stressful one. They are allegedly four times more likely to commit suicide than us ordinary folk, twice that of medical doctors, with 30% suffering from depression and many disillusioned with their job according to a British Veterinary Association (BVA) survey in 2012 and studies in the USA and Australia.

The survey also found that 42% said they would probably not have pursued a career as a vet having experienced being one, particularly recent graduates in the 24-35-year-old group. It is generally accepted that levels of depression, stress and anxiety suffered by vets is disproportionately high and this is the same in other countries like Australia and the USA.

It is a wonder anyone wants to become a vet.

Many reasons are to blame for this state of affairs and it is a wonder that anyone wants to become a vet, but the numbers applying far outstrip the capacity to train them.

Long anti-social hours, stress, poor rates of pay, lack of support, heavy workload, difficult client relations, a misunderstanding of what the job involves and the conflicts of interest are just some of the reasons cited.

Strangely some experts have also suggested that the type of person attracted to becoming a veterinarian are more prone to mental health issues because they are ‘high-flyers’ or ‘high achievers’ and find it difficult to cope if they do not meet the high ideals they have set themselves.

Putting animals to sleep is not good for you.

The necessity to put animals to sleep is also believed to have a great impact on their mental health and some studies in the USA have suggested leads to a type of Post Traumatic Syndrome Disorder (PTSD). I can personally vouch for this as during my early career, working in the Caribbean, I was faced with putting hundreds of ill-treated and sick animals to sleep which certainly affected me.

Some can view the painless killing of animals with barbiturates as a good way to end a persons suffering and does apparently influence a vet’s preferred method of suicide as they are familiar  with the drug and it is readily available. Suicide contagion is yet another cause because vets are sometimes influenced by the suicides of colleagues and their peers within their tight-knit profession.

Compassion fatigue

Veterinary surgeons, veterinarians, operating, vet surgery
Being a vet is not a healthy occupation.

Compassion fatigue is a condition blamed for making anyone ill who works in a ‘caring’ profession and is continually confronted with humans or animals in distress. The constant stress of dealing with other people’s problems leads to a gradual lessening of compassion over time resulting in  sleeplessness, nightmares, negative feelings, anxiety and hopelessness.

The rate of burnout is so bad that most veterinary authorities give support and counselling and emergency telephone numbers to vets, particularly newly qualified ones. A recent study has shown a large drop out rate of new graduates as high as 40%.

Alcoholism and drug taking is not unheard of either and every year the veterinary disciplinary committee has deals with cases which result in the vet being ‘struck’ off permanently or until rehabilitated.

In 2018 a Great Yarmouth vet was struck off for working while under the influence of alcohol, making disparaging comments about other vets and failing to treat two dogs properly. Colleagues noticed that the vet appeared to need more help than expected, was overly friendly in speaking to clients and was unable to prepare a syringe correctly. In another case a vet from Dyfed was banned from practicing for 6 months for alcoholism and went on rehabilitation.

So the next time you are berating your vet for the exorbitant bill or being kept waiting too long or criticising their refusal to treat your pet because you cannot afford the fees remember that you are probably shortening the life of the poor vet.