Conservation is a non-caged world – what does that mean?
During the research of The Zanzibar Moon I found the realities of today’s conservation efforts don’t reflect those of years gone by (say about 30 years). And that’s a good thing. We really didn’t understand the harm we were doing, particularly with circuses and zoos (instead of sanctuaries with lots of space and natural habitat).
When I was young it was a treat to go to a circus, though I must admit I was never comfortable seeing caged lions and elephants shackled and swaying. I loved animals, and always have, so I wanted to see them, but I knew something wasn’t right. They didn’t look happy and even as a young child I sensed this. I guess watching many African and Australian wildlife shows imprinted in me the need for wildlife to have wide open spaces, wilderness and freedom. Many councils, including Gold Coast City Council banned circuses from having exotic animals on their land but this only started as recent as 2009.
I was about six-years old (1970) when my family visited Bullens Animal World or African Lion Safari. I remember wanting to get out of the car to pat the lions. Dad of course said, “No way.” That’s how glamorised wild animals were then. Why would I think such a thing was possible? Look what happened to a lady recently who did that (I was going to link the video but no one needs to see that). For instance in 1975 five lionesses escaped Bullens, terrifying the area. One killed a dog, but it could have been much worse, what if it was a child. And then that poor lioness (who killed the dog) was shot. Later a bear was shot after also escaping. It seems that with these escapes, either the animals weren’t happy or the park was mismanaged (probably both).
Anyway, I remember the animals roaming wild and I loved that memory, but it’s bittersweet now. I do not know how well the animals were treated, but let’s face it, these were African animals, not Australian, so should they have ever been sent here? Stafford Bullen, the founder (ironic because my maiden name is Stafford) also ran circuses (and we now know how badly some of those animals were treated). I’ll never forget the bucket loads of tears I shed watching Water for Elephants. That horrible metal hook was beyond cruel.
There was probably big money in keeping exotic animals and I wonder now why we ever thought that was humane. I ponder those beautiful animals today and if they lead a tortured life. I believe some of their carers probably had their hearts in the right place but we knew so little then about animal well-being. Now we know better and should strive to treat them better.
I visited a Zoo in my late teens and realising that, this particular zoo, was cruel and the animals neglected (and in tiny cages). The impact of caged animals is worse than if we were caged (and we wouldn’t like that either). We’re used to rooms and smaller spaces, wild animals are not. They also need to socialise naturally, hunt, breed, look after their young and do so in their authentic environment.
At least now with new conservation in mind Taronga Western Plains Zoo has the same concept of wild plains similar to the animal’s natural environment. They are trying to help endangered species survive. The education programs go a long way in ensuring that endangered species do not become extinct. I was discussing this with a friend recently, who pointed out, “If we don’t see animals in zoos or such, how do we form a love for them?” That’s a good point.
I think if we support the right establishments by researching their animal care and environmental message before we visit them. It’s the same with eco-tourism and sustainable tourism. If you want to support a worthy cause make sure you know that any volunteerism is for the benefit of the wildlife and environment not the organisers. Ask questions like:
Do they have sustainability programs?
Have they won any responsible tourism awards?
Are they educating the locals and tourists to better understand sustainability?
Do they care about the footprint impact of the tourist on keeping things green?
Are they ensuring that water is not wasted?
Do they keep the animals in the wild, or provide a proper sanctuary for those recovering from poaching and other harm?
Are they reducing poverty ?
Are they using environmental initiatives that are working?
Are they a reputable organisation who has integrity?
I hope that if you choose to enjoy and eco-friendly holiday that you keep these things in mind and help our beautiful planet as you enjoy the experience. If you want to volunteer with animals here’s one worth looking into Wildlife Act.