Living in Lockdown Is a Lifelong Thing for Zoo Animals

Lonely, bored, feeling disconnected from the world during the pandemic? Imagine living your whole life feeling that way. Zoo animals do.

Even the most well-intentioned zoos are nothing more than animal prisons. Captive animals are often prevented from doing most of the things that are natural and important to them, like running, roaming, flying, climbing, foraging, choosing a partner, and being with others of their own kind. Zoos teach people that it is acceptable to interfere with animals and keep them locked up in captivity, where they are bored, cramped, lonely, deprived of all control over their lives, and far from their natural homes.

Zoos vary in size and quality—from drive-through parks to small roadside menageries with concrete slabs and iron bars. Millions of people visit zoos annually, but most zoos operate at a loss and must find ways to cut costs or add gimmicks that will attract visitors. Precious funds that should be used to provide more humane conditions for animals are often squandered on cosmetic improvements—such as landscaping, refreshment stands, and gift shops—in order to draw visitors.

Ultimately, animals—and sometimes visitors—are the ones who pay the price. A gorilla named Jabari tried to escape from the Dallas Zoo by jumping over walls and moats and evading electrified wires, only to be fatally shot by police; a witness later reported that teenagers were taunting the animal with rocks prior to his escape. At the Virginia Zoo, ten prairie dogs died when their tunnel collapsed, a rhinoceros drowned in the moat of her exhibit, and a zebra lost her life when she bolted from a holding pen, struck a fence, and broke her neck. Gus, a polar bear living at the Central Park Zoo in New York, made international headlines when he exhibited signs of severe depression after losing his mate of more than 20 years. Gus died two years later of a thyroid tumor, but one could say he was already dying of a broken heart.

Most zoo enclosures are very small, and rather than promoting respect for or understanding of animals, signs often provide little more information than an animal’s species, diet, and natural range. Animals’ normal behavior is seldom discussed, much less observed, because their natural needs are rarely met. Birds’ wings may be clipped so that they cannot fly, aquatic animals often go without adequate water, and many animals who naturally live in large herds or family groups are kept alone or, at most, in pairs. Natural hunting and mating behaviors are virtually eliminated by regulated feeding and breeding regimens. Animals are closely confined, lack privacy, and have little opportunity for mental stimulation or physical exercise. These conditions often result in abnormal and self-destructive behavior, known as “zoochosis.” Zoo animals can often be seen pacing, walking in tight circles, swaying or rolling their heads, and showing other signs of psychological distress. This behavior is symptomatic of not just boredom but also profound despondency.

Zoos claim a mission of protecting species from extinction, but zoo officials usually favor exotic or popular animals—who draw crowds and publicity—rather than threatened or endangered local wildlife. The Chinese government, for example, “rents” pandas to zoos worldwide for fees of more than one million dollars per year, but there is some question whether the profits are being directed, as they claim, toward panda-conservation efforts. Most animals housed in zoos are not endangered, and those which are will likely never be released into their natural habitats. Endangered species will only be saved by preserving habitats and combating the reasons these animals are being killed by human hunters and poachers.

Zoos will also tell you they are places for research; however, the purpose of most zoos’ research is to find ways to breed and maintain more animals in captivity. It’s a corrupt and endless cycle.

With informative television programming, educational opportunities on the Internet, and the relative ease of travel, learning about or viewing animals in their natural habitats is possible no matter where you live or what your circumstances. The idea of keeping animals cruelly confined behind bars or plexi-glass for human entertainment is thoroughly obsolete.


A Matter of Love

Valentine’s Day is a celebration of love: love of a spouse or significant other, love of a parents or child, love of friends. There are all kinds of love.

There are few among us who haven’t loved an animal. Maybe it was a dog or a cat a rabbit or a bird, and no doubt you believed your animal companion loved you, too. But do animals really love?

Of course they do. When it comes to the ability to feel emotion, non-human animals are no different than human animals. We all experience happiness, sadness, fear, loneliness, anger, and the bonds of companionship. We all feel love, too. You need only observe animals to know that this is true. Nearly all animals care for their children, share mutual bonds with mates (many species mate for life), show strong attachments to companions, demonstrate compassion for the suffering or wounded of their kind (and often of other kinds), exhibit anxiety and sadness when separated, and joy when reunited, and grieve when a child, mate, or companion dies. It is arrogance to suggest that human love is different, or better, or more “real,” than the love animals feel. Whether you’re a human, a monkey, a whale, or a penguin, love is love.

I’ve had many domestic animal companions and I loved them all. They, in turn, showed me love. Never could I have eaten them or hurt or exploited them in any way. How, then, could I eat, hurt, or exploit other animals just because I don’t know them? That’s why I am vegan.  I cannot be complicit in the suffering, torture and abuse of non-human animals. It’s a matter of compassion, and of love.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Humans Have No Monopoly on Motherly Love

Mother’s Day is this weekend, and I can’t think of a better time to remember that humans don’t have a monopoly on loving and caring for their children, or on the anguish and grief of losing a child.

For cows and their calves, the first minutes after birth are spent developing a bond that will last a lifetime. Throughout life, mother and child maintain social contact and regularly enjoy each other’s companionship. Pity, then, the poor dairy cow, kept pregnant and lactating so humans can steal the milk meant for her baby. Pity, too, mother and child when that baby is male. He is taken, umbilical cord still attached, from his mother before even his first taste of his mother’s milk and loaded onto a truck bound for a short and painful life in a veal crate. Both mother cow and calf cry out for each other for days, and mother cows have been known to escape their enclosures to run after trucks taking their babies away.

Mother seals can pick out their pups in a sea of hundreds using their uncanny powers of vocal recognition. How painful it is for them to hear their pups cry as they are clubbed and axed on the Arctic ice by seal killers who skin the pups for sealskin gloves and fashion accessories? The mother seals cry, too, and desperately try to save their pups from slaughter, but the seal killers hold them at bay with spears and other weapons.

Among the world’s most intelligent animals, dolphins are known for graceful synchronized swimming, but dolphin mothers and their babies also synchronize their breathing for the first few weeks following the babies’ birth. These dedicated moms may nurse their young for up to ten years and will also mentor less experienced females by allowing them to babysit as practice for when they have babies of their own. If only they could teach them to avoid the nets and long lines of commercial fishing boats, who consider the dolphins nothing more than “by-catch.”

Nurturing begins in the nest for chicken moms. Mother hens will turn their eggs as many as five times an hour and cluck softly to their chicks, who chirp back to her from inside their shells! Once chicks hatch, devoted moms use their wings to shield their babies from predators and have been known to refuse to leave their nests during a fire if they have newly hatched chicks. Chickens on an egg farm, though, have no opportunity to raise their babies, and male chicks, deemed “useless” by the egg industry, are often tossed into a grinding machine while they are still alive.

Fur-bearing mothers, like foxes, rabbits, and minks, make sure their children are warm and protected in their dens before they leave to search for food. Many never come home, their legs crushed and shattered in steel-jawed traps set by fur trappers. Many will chew their own leg off to get back to their babies. Sadly, it isn’t long before shock, blood loss, or infection kills the mother, and her children, waiting in vain at home, die, too, of starvation.

Human children taken from their mothers often headlines the news, but the fact that animal babies are stolen from their mothers every day isn’t considered newsworthy. But listen to a mother cow crying for her stolen calf, or the wail of a mother seal over her murdered and skinned child and understand that grief and pain are not just something human mothers feel.

This Mother’s Day, please take a moment to recognize the unique bond between mothers and children of all species. To support all moms, go vegan, wear vegan fashion, use cruelty-free products, and never exploit animals in any other way.