Monday, 13 June 2016
The time has come again to have a rant, mainly because I was denied it yesterday morning. So, yesterday at the Cheltenham Science Festival, which I spoke at last year, there was a one hour talk/discussion/forum in the BBC tent (with, I have to say, a lot of somewhat tedious noise from next door) covering the horizon programme about whether or not we should  close our Zoos.

Mauritius Kestrel saved by Captive Breeding
As you can imagine as someone who runs a zoo, I am in favour of WELL run zoos. I should say at this point that I do strongly believe that the Zoo Licensing Act desperately needs reforming and updating as it is very old and no longer fit for purpose. I also know that the zoo inspectors need reforming as well as some are demonstrably bad and few are specialist enough to be of use in my field. But that aside, good zoos are in my opinion very valuable for a number of reasons.

However like any of these TV programmes they are in essence biased before they even start to make them.

There were a number of issues brought up and I was late because I got the time wrong and the parking was a nightmare, so I ignored the sign that said we could not come in and did anyway. Liz Bonnin fronted the programme and the debate at the festival. The pictures up behind her were of her with the last of one of the Rhino species behind a huge set of bars, and apart from when we saw excerpts from her programme this stayed up all the way through, giving in my opinion a flavour of her and two of the people on the panel's opinions before we even started.

Two of the panel were for zoos, Kirsten from BIAZA and Sharon Redrobe the Director of Twycross Zoo, I don't know who the two anti zoos people were and at one point one of them denied being anti zoos, which if he was telling the truth I am blowed if I would want him on my side for anything!! The other was a bearded older chap wearing shorts, with somewhat unattractive legs I have to say, who was most definitely anti zoos.

California Condor saved by Captive Breeding
The first topic was large animals - Polar Bears, Elephant and so on, stereotypical behaviour and the housing of such animals, plus their longevity in captivity and their health problems. Sharon pointed out that most GOOD zoos and I do stress the word good as I know there are some very poor ones, particularly in my field, understand stereotyptic behaviour and work hard to make it some thing that we can manage. I nearly died of amazement when the bearded chap said that humans show the same behaviour when put in institutions and if we let them all out so they could make their own decisions about life they would become normal...................... really!!!

They then talked about the health and longevity of animals in zoos, they very obviously do not look at many other species because often many zoo animals live a great deal longer in captivity than they do in the wild. Whether or not this is a good thing is debatable, I knew many older humans who would have liked to have died earlier rather than hanging on for years. But one wonders did this group not know how unhealthy many of the wild populations of Tigers and Elephants are?? TB is rife in many wild specimens. Do they really think that all wild populations are well and healthy, because if they do, they need to do a little research.

Oriental White backed Vulture, kept going by Captive Breeding

They went on to discuss the 'Ark' philosophy, that is that zoos are keeping safe species that are not doing well in the wild, and various captive breeding programmes that have not fulfilled their objectives. As my field is birds of prey, I was particularly interested in what they said (and virtually blamed zoos) about the California Condor project, which I know very well. They basically blamed the failure of the programme on the fact that captive breeding programmes don't work anyway. And the bloke who did not have a beard said that it should have been done by addressing the problem at the same time. Idiot!!! We did not know what the underlying cause of their decline was!! There were only 22 individuals left at the end and that is far too small a population to be able to understand the reasons for them declining. It was not until a good number had been released that we finally were able to know that it was Lead Poisoning. And that as we all know is very difficult to solve because the shooting groups around the world refuse to believe that lead is toxic, no matter how much scientific proof there is to the contrary. So the NRA in the US which is a particularly powerful lobby will not allow the banning of a substance (lead) that is not only poisoning their wildlife - but also their children!!! One does wonder at their brain power, the only excuse they have of course is that they have been consuming lead for years! However were it not for that, the California Condor programme would be a huge success.

Then we had the education bit, and the anti brigade stated that zoos do no conservation education. They stated that there was no scientific proof that zoos are educating people to change their behaviour. Well first and foremost that is not the only aspect of education, there are many aspects that zoos do very well, I know we do. I aim for every visitor to leave my centre with a greater understanding of birds of prey, where they fit into our environment and how important they are.

Hooded Vulture now critically endangered
One member of the audience then stated that no zoo that she had taken her school do did any education, she felt that there was no one to assist her school and they were all useless. She has obviously never been here and is in my opinion going to the wrong zoos. Every school that comes here has a free guided tour, we work with what ever aspect of the curriculum they need and we try very hard to make sure that they have what they need.

 But let me just point this out to our teacher friend. She as a school teacher has the children under her care and influence for five days a week, 36 weeks of the year. We as a zoo have them for at the very most a day, and more likely two to three hours, so who exactly is better placed to change attitudes?  Yet when EVERY school party visits us the first thing I ask the children before their guided tour, is do they know the meaning of the word conservation or the meaning of the word habitat. 99% of the children do not know! Now who's responsibility is that? Mine as a zoo or the school as the institution that has more time with  these children than probably even than their parents?

Conservation education in zoos is not only done very well by all good zoos, but a great deal is done insitu - i.e. in the countries where the various zoos are working on conservation projects, so don't come out with the rubbish that you stated at the discussion, just look a little wider and don't expect zoos to change the behaviour of people, that is not easily within their remit, much as they would like to be able to do it.

There was then a discussion about whether or not zoos should only keep endangered species - again this showed enormous lack of understanding by the presenter and her allies against zoos. We at ICBP have not increased our species or made any significant changes in the last four years and yet by doing nothing we have increased our number of Red List species by five!!! The vulture crisis in South Asia is a classic case, closely followed by what is happening in Africa. Species that were thought of as common and nothing to be concerned about, are now Critically Endangered. It is nothing short of madness to wait until a species is on the Red List before doing something about it!! The risks are huge, once a species gets to low numbers the gene pool is compromised, the pressure is on for the poor unfortunate people who have the joy of trying to save the species and the costs go through the roof. Don't Wait, it is not a good idea.

Griffon Vulture, numbers hugely increased by zoo breeding
There were statements that zoos should put all the funds that they spend on good housing for their wildlife into conservation projects in other countries that need it. Just where do you think the funds would come from if a zoo had no animals?? You can hardly complain that zoo animals are not looked after well or housed appropriately and then tell zoos they should not be spending funds on doing so. That is, as were many of your statements hypocritical in the extreme. Humans have different interests, concerns or aspects of life that interest and emotionally hold them. Mine happens to be birds of prey, my sister is a doctor and looks after human health, I have no interest in human health, I think humans deserve every problem they face as they made them in the first place. I would not give funds to save people, I would and do give funds to save wildlife and the planet. I was dying to ask what the presenter and the two other anti's gave on a yearly basis towards conservation out of their wages!!

The final insult to me, apart from the guy in shorts stating that zoos were only there to entertain the public - how dare he come out with a statement like that!! He does not have an inkling of why we are here or what we do. He has never visited and has no right to make such a statement and I strongly refute it and can prove it on a daily basis. But worse he then got out one of the cardboard visual reality head sets that you can wear over your eyes, bung in your smart phone and hey presto, you can be in a forest with gorillas experiencing where they are and what they do. This he stated is the future of zoos and should be. WRONG wrong wrong. Smart Phones and virtual reality are giving young people completely the wrong ideas, they get to the point that virtual reality becomes the real thing. They are no longer interested or even believe in real reality.

We used to have good conversations when all the staff came down for coffee and toast each morning before we open. Now probably 60% of them are tapping away with their thumbs on their phones and the conversation and more importantly communication has gone. Someone said that in the next 100 years the only thing that will evolve in humans is their thumbs!!! Virtual reality is not and never will be a replacement for a real experience, and nor should it be. The only two advantages I can see with it is that once you are wearing that huge face mask you don't have to worry about wearing eye makeup as no one will see it. Better still because people may well in the future be out and about wearing the masks, as people are with headphones these days, with luck huge numbers of people will get run over by cars because they are not looking where they are going and that will reduce the population which is a really good thing in terms of conservation.


Kate Evelyn Smith said...

What a shame you couldn't join in the discussion Jemima - it must have been agonisingly frustrating to listen to so much crap without the chance to straighten them up with a few facts. I admire the ICBP and although as a member I have been many times, it's rare to leave without learning something new at each visit. I have also visited Twycross Zoo recently and with regard to the educational side, there is tons of information given - if you choose to read the notices - but I observed very few parents reading out the signs to their children. You can take a family to a zoo, but you can't make them learn anything if they're not open to gaining knowledge.

cockerlass said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Monteen said...

Excellent rant, my friend!

Sharon Page said...

Well said Mima, very disappointing to hear you weren't given chance to contribute to what was meant to be a debate.
Where are the parents in all this education of children, education starts at home. More and more people are growing up with no comprehension of their place in the world's environment and the impacts their choices have. They are also showing less respect to others, and I don't mean other people I mean other living things.

With you on the comment about where your donations go too!

Anonymous said...

When we moved onto this inner city housing estate 35 years ago all of the houses, from the terraces to the starched hadfront and back gardens, which were treasured and planted. Fast forward 30+ years and 85% (I've counted them all) of the new incoming owners/ tenants have paved or concreted front and back all over so that they can park two of their three cars easily. Our new, young, next-door neighbour has just had the mature back garden 'removed' and plastic Astro turf laid down - because it's cleaner!! Yesterday she was watching the bumble bees and a very few butterflies visiting my aquilegias and roses and said to me, "you don't see many butterflies these days do you, but I don't know why they say bees are rare, there are loads in your garden."
Absolutely no understanding of WHY we're facing an environmental crisis.
I do enjoy your weblog, today's rant touched a raw nerve with me. I seldom comment, but felt obliged to do so today.

Anonymous said...

Apologies. It should read "from the terraces to the larger detached houses, which all had front and back gardens"
Obviously I don't spend enough time pressing buttons, or proof reading!

Karen Carroll said...

I also wished you could have commented. Here in the US is a movement called: "The Children and Nature". Started by the book by Richard Louv: "The Last Child in the Woods": Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder. This movement is supposed to be growing internationally as well. I have embraced the concept. I also feel that zoos provide a valuable resource as others have stated. Check it our.

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I have to say that keeping a weblog can at times become compulsive and at other times a chore. Sometimes I am berrated for not keeping it up and sometimes I get wonderful comments from people who follow the news of the Centre.

It is fun to share the daily goings on here, some good and some bad, some funny and some sad, but all a part of our daily lives.
And as I said before its a pretty cool to be here and it is a great place to visit, you should try coming and watching the birds and meeting the staff and of course the dogs.

An interesting video on Lead

An interesting video on Lead

I find it staggering that people who want to hunt don't see the value in changing their ammunition from lead to a safer product. We have stopped using lead in petrol, in paint, in our water pipes, but they still want to use lead - ah well, apparently eating it not only kills birds but leads to reduced intelligence in humans......................

NO ONE is asking you to stop legal and genuine hunting, they are just asking you to change your ammunition!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


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