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Monday, May 23, 2016

Children's Book Introduces Animal Rights and Animal Conservation Issues

Among 13 of us at the discussion, 11 had read and liked The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate and Patricia Castelao.

Lydia nominated the book but was out of town on the day of our meeting, so she sent her discussion notes to Pam, who led the discussion, asking questions from Lydia's notes and adding some of her own. The discussion moved from specific details about the story to broader issues about animal conservation, animal rights, zoos, and habitat scarcity.

The first question Lydia listed was, "Why did the Big Top Mall sign show Ivan as angry and fierce?" Answers:  I (Claudia) was taking notes on my new tablet computer, so I figured that while everything was working, I would contribute an answer; so I said that the fierce gorilla was a stereotype that travelers would want to see. Jay said the sign was to attract attention. Pam said that the sign depicted the opposite of what travelers would see at most roadside zoos, which is usually a petting zoo with opportunities for family photos among the friendly animals.

Another question was, "What are the contradictions in Mack's character?" Mack, the owner of the mall zoo, seemed to care about the animals, having literally traded his marriage for keeping the young Ivan at his home; but he did not call a veterinarian quickly enough to cure Stella from an obvious infection, and he was cruel to the new baby elephant, Ruby. Angie noticed a contradiction when Mack showed anger about Ruby refusing to perform, even though Mack had been patient with the animals in the past. Carol said that Mack was under pressure to bring in more customers and more money, which was why he was impatient with Ruby's refusing to learn tricks quickly. Patty suggested that Stella's death because of Mack's neglecting to call a vet might have been a mistake Mack made, but that it was indirectly caused by Mack's financial difficulty. Mack's likely regret and frustration at losing Stella might have contributed to his displacing anger toward Ruby, though there was also the potential contradiction of Mack reasoning that Ruby would eat less than Stella and thus cost less to keep alive.

The discussion moved away from the details of the story toward roadside zoos. According to Pam's research, there are currently 3000 roadside zoos in 43 states. Local Austin-area animals include a wildlife preserve Pam mentioned in Pflugerville, which she thinks could be raising the animals to send to places that have customers pay to hunt the animals. Frank reminded us of Coxville Zoo in North Austin (off Lamar) (1939-1969) which Pam had visited quite a few times as a child. Frank said it was a roadside zoo, apparently as part of a gas station. While Pam had considered this a zoo, Frank recalled it as a nasty place with animals crammed in small cages. Video of Abandoned Coxville Zoo Frank also mentioned a roadside zoo off of 2222 in Austin that had a lot of snakes. He said there was an old gas station on North Lamar that was seedy and creepy and had a roadside monkey house.

The evolution of zoos has moved alongside the evolution of wildlife preserves. For many years, good zoos have been creating habitat to mimic the natural habitat of the animals. When I was in college, I had the opportunity to work one summer with 6 other young women from my college as zoo guides at the Bronx Zoo. We had an entire week of training, learning how the animals were cared for and how the enclosures and outdoor habitats were created and maintained to serve the animals. After seeing these beginnings in the rethinking and redesign of zoos, I noticed that the Central Park Zoo in New York City, just a few subway stops away from the Bronx Zoo, was mostly made of small cages with hard surfaces and dirty water. The Central Park Zoo was renovated about 10 years later. It's quite lovely now.

Laura grew up near the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus's winter home in Florida. Last November, the big top came down. This was partly because of publicity and complaints about treatment of the animals. The circus had to quit having elephant acts, their main attraction. Laura said she never thought the animals were treated cruelly. She suggests that we can help animals in small ways by supporting zoos and donating useful items to local animal shelters.

You can watch a video about the current home of the Ringling circus animals: http://www.cnn.com/2016/05/01/us/ringling-bros-elephants-last-show/  If you continue watching, the next video is about Hanako, an elephant who is 69 years old; although life  expectancy of zoo elephants is 40 years. She is a killer elephant so has to be alone. The next video after that is about some acreage in Cambodia for endangered species. There is plenty of information about animals on the Internet!

Patty gave us a good report about the San Diego Zoo, which teaches children and families and everyone about animals, including some extinct or endangered ones and allows many children to participate in field trips. One of the zoo's purposes is to bring more awareness about animals to the public. Patty feels that the animals in good zoo environments are protected better then they would be in the wild.

From Lydia's notes: Animal welfare has been in the news recently.  Just a few weeks ago, Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey circuses announced they were retiring their elephants.  This is after legislation outlawing bullhooks and animal performances.  SeaWorld Orlando’s revenues were damaged by a 2013 documentary called “Blackfish”, calling for the end of keeping orcas in captivity.  Last week they announced the retirement of their performing killer whales.  On a lighter note, Inky the Octopus, formerly of New Zealand’s National Aquarium became a global celebrity via the Internet when he slipped through a gap at the of his enclosure, squeezed into a small drain and made his way back into the Pacific Ocean.

The gorilla in the story we read, Ivan, was real. His story was adapted for young people to read, but the book wasn't far from the truth. Ivan did have trouble getting used to his new home among gorillas, but think about how his life had been for 27 years and whether he was actually better off in his new social habitat at the Atlanta Zoo. He lived there until dying at the age of 50 in approximately 2011. See more information and photos and video of Ivan here: Ivan at Atlanta Zoo 

Poaching is a big killer of animals. When our Book Club discussed In the Heart of the Sea, we talked about the killing of whales for their oil and ambergris. We learned that whale killing continues but because of publicity, a lot of people have lost interest in killing whales, especially for food. Poaching of elephants and rhinos in Africa is a problem. Many animals are killed for their tusks or teeth or horns. Recently, in the news, President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya set fire to 105 tons of elephant ivory that has been seized from poachers, to show how important it is to stop poaching and to make a statement against trade in ivory. This president burned $100 million worth of animal parts that had been poached. For the story, click here: http://www.dw.com/en/kenya-lights-worlds-biggest-ivory-bonfire/a-19226823

From Lydia's notes: According to the World Wildlife Fund, there are fewer than 900 gorillas left in the wild. 35,000 elephants were killed last year, up from 25,000 the previous year.  Lions have lost 85% of their habitat, so now live closer to humans, prey on their livestock and are killed by farmers.  At current poaching rates, elephants, rhinos and gorillas may be gone within our lifetime. It seems zoos are the only hope to save endangered species. Money, of course, is the root of the poaching and also plays a large part in conservation.  A visit to Austin Zoo costs $11 for an adult and $8 for a child. Atlanta Zoo, where Ivan spent the rest of his days, charges an adult $25 and a child $17. And San Diego Zoo costs an adult $50 and a child $40 – they have pandas. The Austin Zoo is rescue zoo, containing only rescued animals.

The spread of humans has decimated the animal habitat all over the world. The consensus at our meeting was that reputable zoos and preserves are many animals' only chance of long-term survival except, as Dennis pointed out, the complete annihilation of humans.

Movie mentioned at the meeting: Madagascar. Another cartoon about animal abuse: Tarzan.

1 comment:

Pam Fuchs said...

Regarding "Coxville Zoo", the internet says it was located at the intersection of Yeager** Lane and Lamar on the south west corner of the intersection along Lamar, although I thought it was further north than that. As Claudia said, it closed in 1969 but was there many decades. The seedy place Frank recalled with a gas station and roadside monkeys in cages - WAS Coxville Zoo. Growing up in Pflugerville, we drove down Lamar MANY times (IH 35 in Austin didn't open until I was 9 years old). I recall Coxville Zoo fondly, although it was the only "zoo" I had been to so nothing to compare to; I was probably just excited to see animals in the flesh that I had only seen in books. **In the old days what is now Yager Lane was YEAGER Lane, much like Parmer and Palmer, but as a local, don't get me started....

Regarding the exotic animal acreage I mentioned Northeast of Pflugerville, it is at the SW corner of the intersection of Rowe and Hodde Lanes. The last few times I drove by it I did not see any animals. Previously it held some exotic animals. I googled quite a bit but didn't find anything out about it.

What is the difference between a zoo/aquarium that is USDA regulated and one that is not? One of the main differences is that Zoos regulated by the USDA do not allow members of the public to handle or feed infant exotic cats like tigers, lions, cheetahs, jaguars or leopards; conversely roadside zoos ENCOURAGE and PROMOTE the public's handling of any and all animals (photo ops).

Finally, LYDIA if you are reading this, the big question that everyone seemed to want to hear from you on was why did you pick this particular children's book to nominate. Don't get me wrong, as Claudia said, 100% of those of us who read it, liked it, but we were curious why it was one of the 3 you nominated.
Pam