Friday, 14 October 2016

Harambechosis... a perfectly legitimate psycological complaint... or not.

BOOM! First post of 2016! I'm on fire!

I haven't written in some time, but as I said, I won't be writing for the sake of it, and I've been mega busy fighting the forces of evil, deck scrubbing, fruit chopping my way to nirvana & etc.. anyway forcing posts is pointless and that's never what this blog was about.

Please excuse the lack of hilarious pictures, no time to candy coat a post today, just boring old words, sorry.

OK, Just one... here's a baby tapir, take 10 seconds of cute and move on... there will be no more.

However, yesterday I heard of an otherwise routine sounding gorilla escape and the usual unresearched media overreaction which is to be expected in these post blackfish days. In fact the one notable fact about the articles I read was the fact that there were in fact, very few actual facts. In fact 90% of the sensational content was made out of teenagers twitter responses rather than any respectable information. Don't get me wrong, the facts were there, but rolled up in a thick blanket of social media dribble, as if that actually means anything. Also that's enough "facts" for one paragraph.

The reality is that we are never going to escape the predictable, sensational nature of the media but it did bring me back to something more subtle that I have thought before often, even if not in this context.

I'm only going to touch on this as I was not involved with either of the incidents and have no place to comment, but they do illustrate my point.

The Internet has been engulfed in Harambe hysteria and whilst it is of course always heartbreaking when situations crop up where there is no other alternative but to shoot an animal for public safety (a liberty the public will no doubt never be thankful for) we need to put it into perspective and remember how many gorillas die regularly due to poaching and habitat destruction, those nameless animals whisping off into obscurity without a murmur.

Some of the comments made are gut wrenching, they are either idle, tasteless, satire of the worst order, or the people writing them are deficient in some way. I'll put forward one and let you run it by yourself.

"Gorilla on the loose, they are starting an uprising for Harambe."

This comment and many others made shows an absolute misunderstanding of animal welfare and behaviour in general. The reality is that the gorilla in question probably never breached a safe zone and was no doubt content to be back with his group once the drama was over. The idea that gorillas might have watched the news of Harambe's death on their internal ESP tv's is even more worrying. That said, the reasoning behind these sorts of statements is irrelevant because it only reflects a wider cultural attitude in society about captivity and animal welfare propagated to the benefit of animal rights fanatics, so for me the next obvious question was how do we start to fix this?

Here's the thing, this is the thing which is going to go down like a lead balloon, but to pretend it doesn't exist would be foolish.

As zoo collections, we have excellent education facilities and resources, education underpins one of the main reasons for the continued existence of zoos and given the level of social awareness on conservation issues that has risen in part due to the change in the structure and mission of zoos since the Durrell era, it stands to reason that we have a fair bit of educational clout.

Why is it though, that the public in general still remain so in the dark about animal welfare and behaviour? some otherwise benign zoo processes are carried out in such a quiet and almost clandestine nature that it almost incites suspicion and ignorance straight off the bat. Why has the understanding of real animal welfare (and I'm taking science here, not the curvature of an animals mouth equalling it's level of contentment) not been a priority in most zoos? It's an integral part of the management of animals in captivity and a subject which in this era needs a real push in many areas. Let's talk about welfare, let's talk about behaviour, stuff it, let's even get human psychology involved to give a few good human examples!

I know it's a tall order as the sciences of animal welfare are subjective and can never be 100% concrete, but it doesn't mean we should shy away from them. The other option is we leave the public to take their cues from Disney movies and animal rights activists.

It's not a dig at zoos at all, as you know I'm first in line to defend good collections, but it is a real thought, why can't we teach people (and the media) more about how animals work on the inside? It's not like we don't know how to. Maybe we are becoming victims of our own educational apathy toward this subject.

I'll leave that with you to think about, have a cracking day, may your hose never kink.


Zoo outsider.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

So um... well.

Hi guys, I honestly feel a bit of a tool. Sure I've left this blog to gather dust, it started with the best intentions, but in the months that passed other blogs started to crop up just like this one and it suddenly felt that maybe the world didn't need the ZOO OUTSIDER as much as I had imagined. It lost priority in the grand scheme of things, but was perhaps the noblest thing I could have done at the time. I have also felt a great deal of despondence in the past year at the zoo industry as the problems which looked to be rectifying themself suddenly took a turn and seemed to overwhelm to zoo world. The longleat Lions surplus scandal, Marius the Giraffe, the dreaded Blackfish and more recently the Cecil the lion media parade. It felt like the fire might have died.

In the words of George Harrison...

"Try to realise it's all within yourself no-one else can make you change
And to see you're really only very small
And life flows on within you and without you"

Sounds obscure right? I suddenly started to feel very small and insignificant for some time and that's where I was wrong, so maybe it's time for an update on the world of the ZOO OUTSIDER.

The first thing that made me realise that reasonable observation can influence others and make a change in an almost immutable industry was that on re-visiting a collection I had blogged on before, one year ago -

Without trying to single out any individual collection, I used my visit there to highlight the obscure double standards seen in zoo collections when it comes to products sold in outlets. Much to my absolute delight, on visiting the same gift shop featured in the first item, now every single reference to white lions and tigers is gone, not a one to be found, no cuddly toys, plastic figures or t shirts. I can only hope then, that my post reached the right eyes and minds to make a change, furthermore there may be collections that have also followed this idea that I am not yet aware of.

Seeing this I logged back into my dusty old account to find that there were still hundreds of people visiting the blog pages to read the posts and although I have little feedback, the world is still interested in the blog.

In this time of the everyman animal rights activist, who is a self proclaimed expert on animal welfare and celebrities using any chance they can to gain traffic on their social media channels, maybe there is still room in the world for the ZOO OUTSIDER.

I might create some new material for the page, but as ever, I won't be posting for posting's sake, if there's something to be said or looked at, I will certainly thrash it out here.

Sorry again for the year long void, we all have to learn, grow and change. I guess I needed that time.

I'm always happy to answer any comments or questions people might have, please do get involved.

Lets look forward to some interesting new posts, any ideas please ping them my way, as long as there are people wanting to listen, I will continue to speak.



Saturday, 26 July 2014

BIAZA issue clear statement on inbreeding for recessive alleles

This can be short and sweet as the statement speaks for itself.

I felt it very important that this should be shared, It's long overdue that an influential zoo organisation should issue a firm statement like this. It sends a clear message to those who chose to glorify the likes of white tigers and lions for the sake of profit over welfare, not only within Britain and Ireland but beyond, across the world. Doing the right things are not always the easiest, you certainly can't make the best omelet without breaking any eggs.

Bravo to BIAZA for making such a bold and clear move, policy in zoos NEEDS to be driven exclusively by good animal welfare, to produce and encourage and animal which has it's welfare compromised from birth due to intentional inbreeding is a failure to observe welfare from the offset.

I can only hope that BIAZA upholds this statement with every ounce of it's influence. Better late than never.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Anti-anti-zoo PROPAGANDA. (Graphic)

A short post, for once I'm going to spare you all the epic saga!

Just to warn those who'd rather hide in the sand than face the reality of the wild, this post contains graphic images!!

When we look at the zoo anti circles, their use of manipulative propaganda is ever present. Seeing it for what it is, it bears little relevance to me, but for a laugh I thought I'd have a go myself at creating an anthropomorphic sob story via the wonderful media of modern photography.

It seems you can take any photo and turn it monochrome to get a sad point home, so here's my attempt.

The first obvious misconception of people who dislike zoos is that somehow they suffer LESS in the wild, honestly? really? having to work to feed yourself and your offspring every day and hope you don't get killed in your sleep is somehow less stressful than having security and food on tap. I know where I'd rather be.

The second is the ideal that the wild is a safe place to be at the moment, which for many species it is most certainly not. Unless these individuals wish to see zoo populations euthanized I can only presume they wish to send rhinos back to this barrel of freedom and security.

If an animal gets sick or injured in captivity, it is dealt with straight away to reduce as much as possible, it's suffering. Wild animals do not receive such privilege. Are you thankful for the NHS?? So are they.

It is just as sad for a zookeeper to see one of our closest cousins needing to be protected in captivity, but that is the reality for many of these species. Some zoos are now heavily involved with in situ research and re-introduction of gorillas in certain safeguarded areas. What pray tell, are the anti zoo lobby doing to assist here??

The golden pinioning argument. Seeing some birds pinioned is soul destroying and for certain species, no zoo could ever condone such a procedure, but for birds such as pelicans and flamingo, the advantages of being pinioned massively outweigh the disadvantages. A pinioned bird (bear in mind these are birds which in the wild spend most of their time on water) can have access to a much larger body of water and get the kind of exercise it needs. Putting such species in aviaries would be crueler by far. Would you rather see such birds hunted to an absolute brutal extinction (look up the bird massacres in the middle east right now) than living a safer life with a little compromise as a safety net population?

A zoo animal never needs to go hungry, it also receives food that far exceeds the quality it could expect in the wild, granted not all captive diets are perfect YET. Given time the ongoing work with captive individuals, in future this research will contribute even more to the nutritional and veterinary understanding of these species.

Even the ocean is not the ideal cuddly universe they would have you think. Fair play, I too agree that many aquariums have a hell of a long way to come and sustainable populations MUST become a reality sooner rather than too late. But seriously?? A shark living in an aquarium offends you more than a wild shark getting finned and left to die. Work out who the real villains are here and do something constructive. We are all pushing in the same direction, lets start pushing against the real issues that threaten our species rather than pushing against each other and wasting time barking up the wrong tree.

Zoo Outsider.

Monday, 2 June 2014

The mutant cat debate from a different perspective.

OK, so I could go on about the white tiger/lion debate forever and a day, but a situation that occured some time ago got me thinking quite deeply about this issue from an entirely different perspective. 

Bear with me...

For me , environmental eduaction is the most useful realistic function a zoo has, and by extension the most powerful tool for change that any good keeper can wield against an ever growing sea of animal based ignorance. It then stands to reason that I feel an increased responsibility to my younger relatives to share that with them in the hope that at least they will be well equipped to preserve the earth and it's remaining treasures into the next generation.

Here's how I got to this. My young nephew a few years back was watching "power rangers" a program in which one of the characters is a white tiger robot transformer thingy, he's an inquisitive lad, so questions about real white tigers ensued and he took to the idea of white tigers being a bad thing much easier than I thought he might. He now delights in educating his friends and other children about the problems with white tigers and how "orange ones are the real ones". GREAT! you might say, and that it is indeed, but this has over the years since exposed to me a whole level of the white tiger/lion issue that I'd never thought of before my nephew pointed it out to me.

I'm nearly getting to the point (honest!). 

On top of that, when I take my family out on trips to zoos and the like, we support the ones that in our view, are doing the best by their animals and by conservation, my nephew has absolutely no desire to see a white tiger and would probably reject the idea if you were to suggest it. A large number of zoos we visit have very educational signage around their normally coloured tigers which explain the origins of the white animals and why encouraging them is harming our remaining species. SUPER! I hear you cry, and my nephew would agree. but here's where the inconsistency comes.

Let me explain further, on a day out to an unnamed zoo (the name doesn't matter) once we reached the gift shop at the end of the day, as all kids do, he tore off to rumage about amongst the wall to wall toys and nic-naks. Suddenly he stopped (which for him was unusual) and pointed up slightly to shelves of plastic figures that are not uncommon in zoo shops and said "WHY is that in here? I thought they didn't like white tigers either??".... he was pointing at a white tiger figure and it was this that made me first realise how inconsistent some zoos are with the messages they are delivering. It was only after about a year of actually paying attention to these little things that I also realised that the idea we come away with as adults is far removed from the idea children come away with, even from respectable zoos that DO NOT support keeping or breeding of such animals.

I'm not going to name anyone here as the problem seems to be quite common and to single anyone out would be pretty unhelpful. Point is, since then I have visited at least 5 major UK zoos which openly oppose mutant cats but still stock their shelves full of gifts and toys that glorify such animals in the minds of the younger visitors, potentially the ones who need sensible guidance the most.

That aside, I recently thought I'd do an experiment to find out more, so I took a trip to one of my favourite zoos which does not and never has kept or supported mutant cats. I have massive respect for the collection and that is why I have such a hard time with this idea. Anyway, from a child's perspective I photographed every product that represented a mutant big cat in the hopes of getting an idea of what a child might see in the zoo gift shop, and what I found was surprising, not just one or two items but many of varying types. 

Bottom line is that we are telling adults as good zoos, that white tigers and lions are of little if any value to the goal of the modern zoo and should be discouraged, but to the children we are holding them up with an almost god-like status without even realising. Is it time that zoos cleaned up their gift shops to reflect their values as a collection?? These toys are arguably as innapropriate in this context as toy guns or "my little poacher" sets might be.

Anyway, I'll let you have a look at what I found in just ONE small gift shop in ONE very good zoo, from a kid's perspective, are we sowing the seeds of the very ignorance we are trying to dispell??? You decide.








ALSO - On travels elsewhere this week, I discovered this delightful piece of literature which I'm certain just adds fuel to the misinformation fire in childrens minds!

Till next time, keep your eyes open when you're in gift shops and see what you find, this certainly isn't an isolated issue!!

As ever, comments and contributions are welcome folks...

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

THE ZOO OUTSIDER'S response to

Inside the Mind of an "Anti-Zoo Fundamentalist"

in turn a response to

What anti-zoo people taught me’

Which was actually a response to

Living A Lie: What The Zoo Taught Me

As ever, these are just my two pennies worth, or 200 as the case may be. I read this response and at first though I would not say anything at all, but then as time passed I felt it an injustice to those in my industry and the hard work they do to NOT stand up and speak out. You might want to grab a pot of tea or something, we might be here a while... Anyway, here goes...

1. All zoos are created equal.

Does the author think for one moment that human philosophy has any bearing to an animal, it's easily as irrelevant to them as emotion is.

Firstly lets look at the basic definition of philosophy.

“Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational argument.”

Secondly, lets then look at how in the preceding post we see continual neglect to acknowledge the many undeniably positive and constructive aspects of zoos, a systematic and rational approach indeed.

An opinion coming from such an unbalanced view can only be by extension, emotionally biased.

I'd be interested to see where the author and their cohort draw the line on what “captivity” actually is, In some zoos I've seen huge (and I mean huge) stimulating exhibits which border on the size of some of the smaller African game reserves I've visited and in some parts of Africa these reserves are about a “wild” as it gets. By that reasoning, if we build bigger enclosures in zoos add a few carnivores into the mix and stop feeding everything, they will feel more comfortable with the idea? Indeed if you were to feed a lot of animals in the wild, their natural ranges would significantly reduce as they rely upon that feeding, which is an entirely natural and voluntary response. There's a blackbird in my garden who barely leaves as he has everything he needs there, if I were to net over my garden, some might see him in captivity, but what would he see? Nothing, in fact his life would change very little if at all.

All zoos are Equal: Compare this to some east Asian zoos, I dare you to try.

2. Sanctuary = Amazeballs! Zoos = Internment Camp

Captivity is unacceptable according to the previous point, so sanctuaries should be a contradiction in themselves, if the author finds them acceptable because they rescue an individual from peril, why can they not find rescuing entire species from peril equally acceptable in a zoo setting? The individual had poor care where it was, it was removed for its own sake and cared for with the hopes of rectifying the problems. The exact same logic can be applied to a species as a whole, granted they are not being neglected or abused, but their supporting habitats are, and for this reason sustainable populations are necessary in the hopes that those issues can be resolved. In that respect sanctuaries and zoos are doing the same things, just on different levels.

3. What I feel is what the animal feels.

Stereotyping can often be open to interpretation as much as an animals facial expression can, some animals pace when they are anticipating food, in the same fashion that a dog jumps up excitedly when it is about to be fed, or a cat meows incessantly when anticipating feeding. It doesn't always equate to repetitive behaviours = ZOOCHOSIS. It would be foolish to try and suggest that stereotypes don't exist, but I can assure you that in the zoo industry they are considered just as concerning as they would be by any onlooker and can often be easily rectified by changes in schedule, enrichment or a multitude of other methods that good zoos work very hard to apply on a daily basis, this is done not to impress anyone, not to fight any corners, not to attract any guests or to make any money, it is purely for the animals sake and can often lead to massive discoveries and improvements in captive welfare.

Real sterotypical behaviour in really appalling conditions, there's little comparison.

Just look at the level of scientific observation here, absoluteley no emotionally guided anthropomorphic judgements going on at all, not even one. Actually how does a fish look when it's sad? Do they all smile in the wild? do their eyes sparkle with delight? Answers on a postcard.

4. Changing a picture to black and white, cropping a picture so only a single animal is shown, and taking a picture during the winter are all fair and accurate portrayals of zoos.*Bonus if you can somehow have Sarah McLachlan music in the background*

The difference here is that a negative anti - photo insinuates something bad where there may not be anything via psychological manipulation of the viewer, where the positive one simply shows animals behaving nicely, unless you're trying to suggest the animals are being forced to behave normally, or maybe zoos are photoshopping the stimulation in there somehow.

5. Zookeepers are nothing more than glorified prison guards.

Simple propaganda and reverse psychology.
A clever attempt to try and get good keepers to sympathise with your views at the same time justifying them. Not much else to say there except the author would be happy to see all these good hard working professionals out of a job and away from the life they live and breathe in a heartbeat. Not aimed at anyone in particular no, just all of you. Forever.

6. Zoos are irrelevant because you can learn about animals in books and from the internet

The author has typically chosen topics which are impossible to witness in person. Seeing, hearing and witnessing are fundamental aspects of learning, stimuli taken in from live animals is the very core of what attracts us all to them. Space and dinosaurs are not in need of active conservation and a sense of collective responsibility in all who visit. Do all children interested in space and dinosaurs become astrophysicists and palaeontologists? If they could see dinosaurs or visit space, would it be right to deny them that experience? How might such an experience affect their respect for these topics? Seeing a Tyrannosaurus rex in a book = seeing a Tyrannosaurus rex in the flesh, I know which one might instil more respect.

Lack of evidence does NOT constitute a conclusion, it insinuates that further research needs to be done to come to a conclusion. A jehovah's witness can give out leaflets on a street corner, and have no evidence that any of those leaflets have been effective, it does not mean, however, that he has not had an effect on those people.

Why go to the length of building these when you could have just handed them a book?

7. It's okay to own a pet and be a hypocrite

Many domestic animals are still partly inappropriate as pets, a dog for example, still needs to be walked, still loves to run and roll in mud, dig, interact with other dogs and behave as if it were a wild animal and to some extent this behaviour is preferable to being in the artificial environment of the modern home. Domestication in the sense the author implies would mean that domestics should be completely happy with their lot within the home, but still, after thousands of years of line breeding, a majority of dogs still prefer to behave this way, not unlike a wild animal. The behavioural problems the author mentions could well be rooted in such a situation. On a philosophical level does domestication not represent a type of mental supression rather than a physical one?

The new guinea singing dog, like the dingo, once domesticated, now feral, returned quickly to its wild roots, indicating that domestication may not be quite as stable and long term as we think.

8. Animals in zoos would be better off if they were freed into the wild
9. Habitat destruction has halted AND fixed itself AND poachers no longer exist

To think that all species can be blanket covered by the “they wont survive in the wild” line is na├»ve, some species do very well as re-release species and on the flip-side some do terribly, but this does not mean they always will, release techniques have come a long way and will continue to do so, something that cannot be released now, may be releasable in future with more research. The problem here is that because anti-zoo people wish to see the end of zoos, they don not consider the positive future of zoos beyond the current moment and so wont see the future context. The author also fails to acknowledge the many species which have become extinct in the wild and have been returned successfully or at present remain extinct in the wild.

Mr. Oryx, zoos don't work!, I guess that kinda makes you extinct. Sorry about that one.

10. To help the animals we must boycott zoos!
To compare zoos to circuses is unfair (if not rather predictable) when did anyone last hear of a circus showing interest in the conservation status of wild animals? When have circuses contributed thousands of pounds to conservation projects or better still founded them?? Can't say I've heard of that happening. The evolution of zoos over the last 50+ years has come on leaps and bounds animals which used to not survive in captivity can now be kept very well and so much has been learned about these animals (if not out of a wild context) from a veterinary perspective especially, which can be directly applied to in-situ conservation efforts.

I feel the authors last points highlight how skewed and biased the stance is, they present it cleverly to create the illusion of a rational equal approach to the subject, but in reality little has been considered outside of the authors own view and agenda and it shows. They have clearly taken a lot of time thinking about the downfall of zoos, which considering the contributions zoos make (which are huge compared to any of the tiny contributions we as individuals could hope to give) is quite sad, I feel such passion and effort could be better spent on fighting the real menaces to the animal world, the big corporations, underground poaching and trophy hunting to name a few. The zoo industry and the people within freely consider and evaluate the concerns of many people on a daily basis, looking at all available and reasonable options, that's how constant improvement has been made over the past decades and will continue to be made in the decades to come as the world moves further into an industrialised and rather bleak future for some species.

Maybe instead of going out to the zoo, they should stay in and read a book about animals or possibly try a theme park, enjoying a day of non-educational, unconnected fun and contribute absolutely nothing to any conservation effort anywhere and fill themselves up with fatty junk foods saturated with palm oil, a sure fire way to ensure a healthy respect for nature in our future generations.

Real shameful actual abuse, going on every day all over the world.

There are people out there right now doing hideous things to the species we ALL know and love, anti zoo people need to look at what we have in common rather than sitting back taking easy pot-shots at the zoos when in reality we all want the same things, Imagine if all the zoo antis put the same amount of time and effort into anti poaching, deforestation and conservation projects, we might all be getting where we want to be a lot quicker.
Just my 2 pennies,
Good day.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Lions and Tigers and Liligers, oh dear.

So yeah, provided you don't live in a zoological barn or under the general vale of scientific ignorance that seems to absolutely saturate some parts of the world, you'll be aware that just a few weeks back, more liligers were created (I use the term created because these creatures are not the product of a natural process anymore than a mongrel dog is).

Obviously there are the ludicrous individuals who push this sort of nonsense as "conservation" based on absolutely unproven and tenuous theories they probably came up with in the tub, which is obviously no basis at all.

More the point here is that I find it soul destroying that this kind of nonsense is still happening in the world. 1900's menageries with limited scientific understanding and a little unhealthy curiosity? YES, 100 years on when we have mapped entire genomes, lost several species/subspecies of big cat already and have a multitude of legal and practical tools at our disposal to help us conserve on many levels?? ABSOLUTELY NO!

Whats even worse is that whilst this takes place, well meaning people are literally having their minds polluted with nonsense, which in turn only continues to justify these peoples beliefs and actions.

 50% of the problem here is the perpetrators, the ones who breed mutations and create breeds (which isn't the end of the world providing you maintain welfare and don't pedal yourself as some sort of conservation hero) but what is the other 50% of the problem? What allows this kind of approach to get off the starting blocks in the first place??


The very term makes my skin crawl, because in an industry where compassion, conviction an spirit should be defining trait to drive forward our conservation efforts, many seem to be quite comfortably numb towards such detrimental behaviour. THIS SORT OF MISINFORMATION CORRUPTS, DISTORTS AND BACKPEDALS THE MESSAGE WE WORK HARD EVERY DAY T TRY AND TEACH! Our acceptance is contributing to these problems as much as the people who organize them, you and I have a responsibility as educated individuals in the same way that a doctor has a responsibility to highlight a disease risk to his patient. If we can stand by apathetically and do nothing then who will?

There are of course a few individuals inside and outside of the industry who do speak up, and credit to them for taking on their responsibility and embracing it with every fibre of their being, but sadly there are many who would happily stand by and make these people look like fools. Such names as "anti", "activist", "AR", "extremist", "purist" and a host of other labels have been rather harshly thrown at such people as if they were enemies, when in reality these individuals are keepers just like ourselves who want nothing more than progress based on reliable scientific research. To shun them is to shun the future.

If you are not already one of these people, ask yourself what you could do to help push such practices out of the spotlight of mainstream media and underground where they belong, better still out of existence. We don't live in the dark ages and these practices are a hazard to us and the public's future perception of us. SPEAK UP!

I have more to say on the topic and I'm sure I probably will at some point in future as these stories unfold further, but for now I'll leave it at this.

 “If the misery of the poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin.”
― Charles Darwin, Voyage of the Beagle 
For something absolutely cringeworthy -