Are Zookeepers Happy

Daniel Brown
• Wednesday, 09 December, 2020
• 7 min read

A recent and short debate about zoos between Will Travels of the Born Free Foundation and conservation biologist Andrew Marshal l of the University of York in the UK brings many of the main issues to light. Dr. Marshall points out that many animals need help and that zoos are good for them.

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(Source: tailandfur.com)


There also aren't any data that show that zoos are “bad” for education or conservation although some people worry that they send the wrong message that it's okay to keep animals in cages for our own entertainment. However, there are data that show that the way animals are (MIS)represented in media, in this case endangered chimpanzees, can make people think they're doing just fine and really don't need our help.

This distortion can hinder conservation efforts and we really also need to learn if zoos play a role in perpetuating this misinformation. Travels argues that there really is no justification for keeping millions of animals in the approximately 10,000 zoos worldwide for which the budgets total billions of dollars.

For example, to get this “reintroduction” process going, in June 2012 Damian Spinal, who took over two wildlife parks founded by his father more than 50 years ago in the Kent countryside in England, began making plans to release some animals back into the wild, beginning with 40 individuals of various species, including languors, gibbons, and black rhinos. While Travels and Marshall disagree on different points they both agree that much more time, effort, and money must be put into conserving animals in their natural habitats and for protecting their homes.

I found this debate to be a very useful and concise summary of the important issues surrounding the questions of why should zoos exist and what do they really do. Indeed, there are plenty of data that show that zoos compromise the lives of their inhabitants in terms of promoting unnatural behavior patterns such as stereotyped pacing, self-mutilation, high levels of stress, obesity, and reductions in longevity.

But, of course, claiming that animals are happy is also being anthropomorphic so the charge of anthropomorphism is vacuous. We must do all we can to make their compromised lives as good as they can be as we work to phase out zoos.

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Jamie Yuccas takes a look at how the pandemic has changed the environment for these animals and the people who care for them. Some of you may have visited Che haw during our Native American Festival and passed by the conservation booth set up by the zookeepers.

Every cent made from selling those items went straight to conservation programs for Cheetahs, Black Rhinos, and Guatemalan Beaded Lizards. The zookeepers who sacrificed their time, money, and labor received nothing in return other than the satisfaction of knowing that they helped make a difference in the battle against extinction.

Another strong stereotype against zoos is based on the belief that animals can't possibly be happy being “locked up” rather than being in the wild. I assure you that I have never seen as much joy in any living thing as I have seen in Bogart the Bactrian camel when he runs and bounds around his exhibit after seeing his keeper's golf cart pull up.

The happiness seen in Roswell and Ellie, our two cheetahs, when they are rolling around in their lush exhibit grass on a sunny day is unmistakable. When our Black Bears (Daisy, Rosie, Theodore, and DJ) receive surprise enrichment, they can certainly be seen enjoying themselves.

They simply enjoy the good life that is being fed every day and living in a safe environment where predation and poaching are not a threat. The best zoos are extensive, focused on not only giving the crowd a show and some education, but with rehabilitation, breeding, and raising awareness of endangered species.

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There are even a few specific animals who have a reputation as escape artists, like San Diego’s orangutan Ken Allen, aka the Hairy Houdini. Even potentially dangerous animals like bobcats have been known to disappear for a day or two… but they are usually brought back with no one outside the zoo employees any wiser.

Especially in breeding zoos, keepers will often have many of the youngest animals behind closed doors so that they can be properly (and privately) cared for. However, even the best zoos are keeping their creatures in spaces much smaller than they would inhabit in the wild, and this can have a serious effect on their mental health.

While some may scoff at these as just a way to make them cuter for visitors, this is actually part of an important program at reputable zoos known as ‘enrichment’. Animals will get toys, games, and even scents in order to keep them stimulated and happy, and avoid psychosis at all costs.

Zookeepers themselves pour a lot of time and energy into creating these, too, to keep their charges as happy and healthy as possible. The obvious forms of ‘enrichment’ aren’t the only ways that zookeepers keep their creatures mentally healthy and stimulated, either.

Predator animals are meant to be hunters in the wild, and so zookeepers do their best to make feeding time as interesting as possible. As well as toys, games and fake hunts, many zoo animals take part in shows and displays where their keepers will have them perform ‘tricks’ for an audience.

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In fact, San Diego’s HR department will routinely receive hundreds of applications for any job that opens up, so getting into this field usually takes degrees in a related subject and plenty of volunteer hours to even have a shot at a position. Most salary comparison sites make it clear that zookeepers don’t tend to earn above the $30,000 mark, unless they are highly specialized, senior, or are zoo veterinarians.

You might think that zoo veterinarians would earn more than their associates who deal primarily with household pets… but that isn’t the case. Penguins are absolutely adorable, and can be one of the most popular zoo exhibits, especially after animated films like Happy Feet showcase these cute little cold weather critters.

Turns out, just because animals are big and exotic, that doesn’t mean they don’t want pets, toys, and medicine to be wrapped in something tasty. And that’s if they survive happily; if not, China will fine the zoo around $400,000 if something happens due to human error.

Add in animal nutritionists and the push to standardize diets for breeding program transfers, and it gets a lot more complicated than most guests might think. Working the bat enclosure definitely means washing your hair at the end of your shift (EW) … and even worse, there have even been reports of bats who fall on the floor being accidentally stepped on in the dark, and that’s an even worse way to end the day than a head covered in droppings.

Marine life especially is known for not getting the hang of it, and swimming at high speeds directly into the glass itself, or leap out of the exhibit… with understandably tragic results for the poor fish in question! From expecting creatures to act like their favorite pop culture counterparts to annoyance that they aren’t constantly running around doing things, zookeepers deal with a lot of complaints… but one of the most common (and ridiculous) revolves around animals during mating season getting “excited”.

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(Source: www.huffingtonpost.co.uk)

Because so many cannot be released back into the wild, and they are so expensive to keep, zoos may find that they don’t have the money or space, and there is nowhere else for an animal to go. After all, a zoo enclosure might be smaller than the wild, but it also doesn’t have any of the same dangers, and there is always a vet close at hand to cope with illness or injury.

Zookeepers stomp on Happy’s rights by refusing to release her to a proper animal sanctuary, lawyer Steven Wise of the Nonhuman Rights Project argued Monday in Bronx Supreme Court. “Indian elephants don’t belong in New York City,” said Wise, who is also the Nonhuman Rights Project’s founder and president.

Wise’s group filed a lawsuit in 2018 demanding recognition of Happy’s “legal personhood.” It calls Happy one of its “clients,” and says its mission is to “secure fundamental rights for nonhuman animals through litigation, legislation, and education.” Bronx Judge Alison Y. Tooth will determine whether Happy should be regarded as a person, entitled to liberty and freedom under the law.

The zoo is pushing back hard against animal rights’ advocates claims that it mistreats Happy. “If NRP were truly concerned about the health or well-being of Happy they would not be exploiting her to keep their agenda of extending legal personhood to animals in the news,” said zoo spokeswoman Mary Dixon.

Hercules and Leo, chimpanzees that were used as experiment subjects at SUN Stony Brook on Long Island, were freed in 2018 amidst similar arguments brought by NRP. Brett is a writer from Georgia living in New York with a knack for all things' music, film, and Internet.

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(Source: www.timeout.com)

In particular, they’ve taught their polar bear Lee little things like sitting and shaking his head, and he earns a little extra food for a job well done. While these may be small and, luckily, harmless things, they help keep their animals’ mind stimulated and motivated while building a close relationship with their keepers.

As a great way to spend the day with the family, the Denver Zoo also hopes to educate the masses about how important it is to preserve endangered and threatened species like the polar bear.

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2 www.tripadvisor.com - https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g255057-d618962-Reviews-National_Zoo_and_Aquarium-Canberra_Australian_Capital_Territory.html
3 en.wikipedia.org - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Zoo_%26_Aquarium
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5 visitcanberra.com.au - https://visitcanberra.com.au/attractions/56b23afad270154b4553bd83/national-zoo-and-aquarium
6 nationalzoo.rezdy.com - https://nationalzoo.rezdy.com/74403/general-admission
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8 jamalawildlifelodge.com.au - https://jamalawildlifelodge.com.au/accommodation/
9 cairnszoom.com.au - https://cairnszoom.com.au/book-now/
10 www.canberrafishos.com - https://www.canberrafishos.com/
11 www.sydney.com.au - https://www.sydney.com.au/zoo.htm