MICHAEL HUTCHINS, PhD, DIRECTOR/WILLIAM CONWAY CHAIR AZA DEPARTMENT OF CONSERVATION AND SCIENCE October 2004 The Detroit and San Francisco Zoos’ recent announcements that they intend to send their remaining elephants to non-AZA-member sanctuaries have generated considerable media buzz.
It may also help us understand why some zoo professionals, government officials and members of the public have supported the transfer of selected elephants from AZA institutions to sanctuaries. My comments are based on written reports from other AZA members’ visits, as well as from the organizations’ websites and promotional materials.
In contrast, elephants at some urban zoos are maintained in considerably smaller areas (one acre or less) and therefore have little opportunity for exercise or social benefits that come from larger group sizes. While many AZA facilities cannot offer the same amount of space as the two sanctuaries in question, they are still quite large and complex.
There are many other factors that must be considered, including enclosure complexity and environmental enrichment, group size and composition, training, safety, veterinary care, nutrition, and so forth, when evaluating the quality of any elephant management program. In contrast, the focus of AZA and its members is both on the welfare of individuals and the population as a whole, both in zoos and in nature.
In AZA zoos, elephants are seen as animal ambassadors, which play an important role in supporting conservation of their cousins in the wild. This is accomplished through a wide variety of activities, including public education, professional staff training, research, technology development, field conservation and fundraising.
In addition, AZA established detailed Standards for Elephant Management and Care in 2001 and updated them in 2003. Of particular interest to AZA’s Accreditation Commission is the long-term financial stability of a zoological institution.
Without a predictable and reliable source of income, it is difficult or impossible for any organization to provide proper long-term care for animals or to ensure the safety of their staff. Like sanctuaries, most AZA zoos are non-profit entities, but still have solid business plans to ensure that they are not solely dependent on unpredictable “soft money” donations.
(e.g., one sanctuary’s veterinary team includes an individual who prescribes “flower essences” and claims to communicate telepathically with animals). These are all examined in great detail during the AZA accreditation process, as they should be at any prospective elephant holding facility.
Indeed, other than the space issue, I can see little difference in the day-to-day practical challenges facing animal caretakers at sanctuaries and accredited zoos. Animals must be fed and watered, introduced into social groups, trained to perform management-related behaviors, provided shelter, administered veterinary care when they become ill, and perhaps even euthanized when the quality of their life has diminished due to old age or health problems.
The facilities, personnel, and annual operating budget needed to manage this number of elephants would be enormous. It would be interesting to know the keeper to elephant ratio in AZA zoos versus sanctuaries.
In contrast, the two sanctuaries appear to rely heavily on volunteer animal caretakers or interns. Emergency procedures should also be in place to ensure public safety in case of accidental escape from the primary enclosure.
When it comes to keeper and public safety needs, there should be little or no difference in the procedures or requirements of sanctuaries and accredited zoos. Tulane (left) celebrates his first birthday at Disney’s Animal Kingdom with his mother, Mono.
However, AZA member institutions view conservation and education among the core missions of the profession. Accredited AZA institutions are required to have educational programs that are administered by professional staff.
AZA institutions are also asked to show some evidence of their commitment to conservation during their accreditation review. At last count, AZA members had initiated or supported 56 elephant conservation and associated research and education projects, many in range countries.
One sanctuary offers a special guest experience called “Seeing the elephant” for $750 per person and also operates an online gift shop. The other offers special tours of the facility for “VIP donors”- that is, those that provide $1,000 or more in financial support.
Zoos may find it difficult to compete with the perception of animals roaming “freely” through hundred-acre enclosures. However, I hope I made it clear that space is not the sole factor when evaluating the quality of an elephant management program.
The difference between having four or one hundred acres may not be as critical to elephants as having social companionship, effective environmental enrichment and quality nutrition and veterinary care. Until sanctuaries open themselves up for detailed peer-evaluation through periodic accreditation there will be no way to verify that their animal care programs, long-term financial stability, staff numbers and expertise, facilities, safety procedures and so forth meet professional standards.
The real question is: which elephant sanctuaries meet professional standards of animal management and care? It is not enough for individual facilities to pass USDA inspections or to be “accredited” by TAGS, an organization that may be well-intentioned, but currently has no detailed standards or method of enforcing them.
If the sanctuaries in question want to prove the quality and stability of their animal care programs, then I would encourage them to apply for AZA accreditation. Zoos are the only places where some very rare species can be observed and photographed by average person who hold an interest.
Also, many people have no resources for intensive travel to remote parts of our planet. As an example I find that more interesting than sitting around feeders (were animals hardly show 'natural' behaviors) and photograph common species perching around.
Specimens in zoo can be a great place to get a portrait study of some interesting but hard to get photos from wild. If labeled correctly (as zoo specimen) they have a place in documentation nature photography.
Insects can be observed and photographed in the backyard, and they will behave natural.
Because many people have different opinion at this subject finding a universal definition is quite hard.
I wouldn't consider a polar bear, tiger or other large carnivores as pets. Zoos offer their own challenges, such as trying to get a pleasing image without chain link fencing as a backdrop, or someone's head in the foreground.
There was a time when a zoo was something of a “freak show” but nowadays many have conservation at the forefront of what they do. With the way this planet and the flora and fauna thereon is being treated the role of a (genuine) zoo will become ever more beneficial.
No need to educate anyone and create some false satisfaction of having “preserved” a few examples of a species. In this money driven global economy, the luxury of human beings comes first.
A typical zoo needs extra money from outside source such as city or coin(r)thank you funding. It is not the run for profit it is a wrong and outdated idea of keeping animals for the curiosity of city people.
This is camouflaged by false pretenses to keep the biodiversity and breed endangered species. If one wanted to breed and protect animals one would keep them as far away from any zoo at all cost ^^.
To dismiss the efforts of conservation organizations worldwide as a waste of time is an attitude of defeatism that I have not reached even in my bleakest moments. To dismiss the efforts of conservation organizations worldwide as a waste of time is an attitude of defeatism that I have not reached even in my bleakest moments.
Most captive subject living in artificial habitats scenarios are already grouped in divisions with names when it comes to competitions in nature photography. Zoos, garden, backyard are most popular so often included as separate categories.
Rehab centers are visited by photographers and because of it purpose are treated 'above' the zoo in status when in fact as far as photograph goes there is no difference (except fewer difficulties in keeping human made object out of frame). Again from practical standpoint we do not have names for all this places as a category but rather living a judgment to photographer and his/her ethics.
Pets, domestic and farm animals are usually excluded from nature photos competitions. But I noticed that many people frequently refer their horse photos as nature.
But many contests to avoid problems are just banning entering those king of photographs allowing at the best photos only from accredited zoos who are part of accepted programs by animal protection organizations. Again with so many personal opinions and feelings it is much better to adopt definition from one of the leading nature photo contests and start from there.
This also pertains to other captive subjects, such as game farms and rehab birds or animals. I've done quite a bit of work with rehab birds and label these images as captive subjects, or with a (c) following the title if there's not enough room where I'm posting it.
I think of zoo or game farm images as documents of the appearance of a captive or controlled individual of a species, but not wildlife photography. Because it is implied that wildlife photographs depict animals behavior under wild circumstances.
I am sick of photos of fill-flashed overweight mountain lions licking their lips after eating a treat, or wolves shot with an 80-200 zoom from fifteen feet away and passed off as “wild.” Pictures like these purely serve the egos of the people who make them, and miss the point of photographing animals that by their very nature avoid contact with humans.