Thursday, June 02, 2016

Dance like a monkey!

Right from when I was a kid, I loved elephants.  And then there is that vague memory of having watched the movie Maya, of which the only thing that I remember is that the plot had something about a white elephant.

As much as I loved those massive but somehow gentle animals, I always, always, felt bad that they were under a mahout's control and that they were not free.

It was also why I have never enjoyed going to zoos.  An animal locked up in a space, away from its natural habitat, bothers me a great deal.  A few years ago, when I was in Washington, DC, for a conference (and to also interview for the journal editor position, which I finally did not get) I walked into the National Zoo.  But, I quickly exited--I could not handle watching the caged big cats.

Which is why when it flashed in my news-feed that a gorilla was shot dead in a zoo after a kid fell into the enclosure, I was less interested in the details of the incident, but was bugged by one question: Why the hell do we have these zoos that cage in the animals?

There is at least one person who knows something about animals who has taken up that very question.  In this essay at the Scientific American, a professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology asks,  "Why Was Harambe the Gorilla in a Zoo in the First Place?"
Harambe was in the zoo because he was captive born, and breeding animals who are going to live out the rest of their lives in cages raises numerous issues. However, that is precisely why Harambe was living in the Cincinnati Zoo. Being a zoo-ed animal, Harmabe lost all of his freedoms – the freedoms to make choices about how he was to live, what he would eat, when he would sleep and go to the bathroom, where he would roam, and if he were to become a father. While some might say Harmabe had a “good life” in the zoo, it doesn’t come close to the life he would have had as a wild gorilla, with all its attendant risks. Indeed, one might argue that the animal people were seeing was not really a true western lowland gorilla, surely not an ambassador for his species.
A gorilla was bred in captivity so that we humans will have gorillas to keep in zoos.  How awful!  Why do we have to do this?  Are we not content with photos and videos of gorillas in the mist?  Is the US founded on an idea of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and a gorilla for every zoo?
For people who want to know more about what was going on in Harmabe’s head and heart, think about your companion dog, for example. How do they respond when someone trespasses into where they feel safe? I like to ask people to use their companion animals to close the empathy gap because people get incredibly upset when a dog is harmed because they see dogs as sentient, feeling beings. So too, was Harambe.
So, would you allow your dog to be put in a zoo? If not, then why Harambe and millions of other individuals who languish behind bars?
Exactly.  This is seriously messed up.
A gorilla's life was traded off because a human child was in danger.
As simple as that.  If the kid had fallen into a cheetah enclosure, we would have killed the cheetah.  We would have killed any animal in the zoo.  Those animals had no choice on whether they wanted to be there in the first place!
Captive breeding by zoos to produce individuals who are going to live out their lives in cages, in the name of entertainment and possibly in the name of education and conservation, raises many challenging questions. Did people who saw Harambe learn anything about what the life of a male western lowland gorilla is really like? ... Did they learn something about these fascinating animals that would help Harambe or his wild relatives?  ... Did people learn something about these gorillas that would help wild relatives?
The answers to those questions range from definitely not to most likely not.  We put those animals in cages because it is entertainment for us.  As simple as that.  An entertainment that says "fuck you" to those animals who deserve much, much better treatment.  We humans are being beastly! :(

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