I’ll admit to being vexed by the animal captivity issue.
On the one hand, these exhibitions of captive animals — zoos, aviaries, aquariums — are for many people the only exposure they will ever have to ‘exotic’ creatures, with the possibility that visitors — especially children — will somehow through the experience develop a sense of appreciation, awe, respect, even reverence for our fellow species.
On the other hand, these same exhibitions — even when operated to the highest standards — signify humans in control, at the top of nature’s animal kingdom, with all other species existing for our entertainment or service.
And of course, when they’re not well operated, these places are downright immoral, sad, cruel and obnoxious.
Which brings me to a press release I’m just reading from the Hastings District Council, titled: “Concept plans underway for Cornwall Park aviary upgrade”.
The release more or less reads like the hapless birds got together one day, sent a petition to HDC asking for better living conditions, and the Council dutifully responded in its benevolence … ‘Why didn’t you ask sooner?!’
Says the release:
“Community consultation on the preparation of this plan showed that the aviary was valued by the community, who wanted to retain it at the park, but also wanted it to be upgraded for the birds that live there.
“With the health and welfare of the birds being the prime consideration, council agreed to enlarge and improve the cages, with the two large parrots’ cages being the first priority.”
It’s a matter of contention as to whether these two were in poor shape and were removed only after official complaint, or whether Council awoke to their plight as a result of prudent bird husbandry!
“The two large parrots, a Corella called Stevie Nicks and a Cockatoo called Mate, have been temporarily re-homed,” says the release.
The release indicates that the revered SPCA is fully on board the up-grade, with a spokesperson quoted thusly: “What’s proposed will provide a significantly enhanced enclosure that will better meet the needs of the large birds in particular.” I’m not sure whether that comment is just a case of the SPCA conceding that anything would be better than the existing abode … from Economy to Business Economy to use a flying metaphor.
Here is their official Position Statement on Captive Birds … they don’t sound very keen on it.
But leaving aside the specific fate of Stevie Nicks and Mate, for whom I have enormous sympathy, my question here is the larger one they represent …
What is the place of animal captivity and exhibition in today’s world?
I’ll confess to having spent many hours with my children at the Washington Zoo (just watching the pandas alone) and Baltimore Aquarium. I believe — even as adults — they all respect animals and abhor animal cruelty. Is that the result of viewing — enjoying — captive animals? If so, maybe the poor captured ones can be viewed as heroes, sacrificing (although not by choice) for the greater benefit of their freedom-enjoyed (if endangered) mates.
Or should we just shut the whole lot down?! Starting at Cornwall Park?
Your views please.