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Given the inevitable risk to human safety, are there arguments that justify the existence of zoos?
This week’s killing of a zookeeper by a tiger was an horrific, tragic happening, and it is difficult to comment on the specifics because there is so much that is not known about exactly what happened. It seems to have been some sort of freak accident, so perhaps something jammed, or came loose, or there was some sort of mechanical failure. In time, no doubt, details of the sequence of events may be released.
The tiger may or may not be euthanased, but in general, the animal cannot be blamed for this type of incident: a tiger is a predator of medium sized mammals – that’s what they are born to do.
The incident does raise the issue of the wisdom / morality of zoos in the 21st century. Many people now believe that, despite arguments to the contrary, zoos are outdated and are simply places of entertainment. Around the world, zoos operate to varying standards of safety and security. The capture and breeding of large predators carries an unavoidable risk: perhaps we should ask ourselves if that risk is worth taking, just for human entertainment? There’s a strong argument that the animals would be better served by being left in their own environment, and that if our societies chose to support this, the countries of origin would benefit from the resulting eco-tourism.
I don’t like to be too critical of zoos: many zoos, including Dublin Zoo, are far better than they used to be. Twenty five years ago, I remember being horrified at the sight of the polar bear in Dublin pacing up and down in a stereotypical, demented type of manner: thankfully, this has now all changed. The inspection regime in Ireland is much better since it was outsourced it to a specialist group. But still, we should ask the question: can zoos be justified?
Zoo supporters claim justification from the conservation and education work that they do, so is there truth in this?
Only around a third of species currently held in zoos are endangered. Even the best zoos contribute less than 2% of their income to conservation programmes. Fewer still are involved in releasing captive bred animals to the wild and, unless natural habitats are preserved, they never will be. Also, the breeding programme for endangered species has more to do with keeping zoos stocked with endangered species: the majority of offspring are simply sold to other zoos.
Protecting animals in their natural habitat should be a priority, and while for many countries it isn’t, this still does not justify keeping wild animals in zoos. Instead, we should be trying to help other countries in whatever we can.
Some zoos are better than others, and while in wealthy countries many zoos have introduced high standards in recent years, the majority across the world still have poor standards and use questionable sourcing policies.
In Ireland there are two main zoos – Dublin and Fota, with Tayto Park up and coming as an animal attraction. There are also many smaller animal parks with various wild animals kept as visitor attractions. With these smaller places, there is no conceivable argument involving “conservation”.
Releasing captive bred animals such as tigers / lions back to the wild is problematic but it can be done: the Born Free Foundation has successfully released ex-zoo and circus lions in Africa. They have managed to do this far more successfully than any zoo.
Despite the hype and the adorable photos (we can all agree about that), some animal welfare people were disappointed that Dublin zoo allowed their elephants to breed again. Elephants are one of the species that we know don’t thrive in zoos although to the casual observer they look fine. In one recent study, all elephants in British zoos had welfare problems that would be absent in wild populations.
A few studies in recent years have shown clearly that, despite their best efforts, zoos fail to educate. Yes, there are information boards beside the cages, and valuable talks are often given, but do they actually work? Do most people remember anything other than the ice cream and a day out?
The EU Zoos Directive is currently under review and zoo policy may be changing again on a Europe-wide basis. Only last year Ireland finally introduced minimum standards for Irish zoos as required under the current EU Zoos Directive.
For more information about zoos, see the ISPCA policies on zoos and on entertainment at www.ispca.ie.
Taking pets overseas
Every Irish pet that is brought out of Ireland to another EU Member State or re-enters Ireland must have an EU Pet Passport. In Ireland this is issued by private vets directly to pet owners. The cost varies between €20 and €30 and is decided by individual vets.
If you wish to have your pet’s photograph on its passport (this is optional), you should bring a photograph with you to your vet. The photograph should be no bigger than 6 cm wide and 4 cm long, should feature the pet only and show its colour and markings clearly.
On receipt of the Pet Passport from your vet check all entries are legible and correct, as any errors could lead to your pet being detained at a border.
Since the 1st January 2012 there have been harmonised conditions for pet dogs, cats and ferrets that travel throughout the entire EU, including Ireland. Accompanied pets may leave Ireland for EU countries and come back to Ireland without quarantine as long as they meet the rules for travelling under the EU Pet Travel Scheme.
Pets entering Ireland need the following:
- Passport OR EU certificate showing microchip identification (microchip must be inserted before rabies vaccination)
- Subsequent rabies vaccination at least 21 days before entry.
- Specific tapeworm treatment for all dogs imported to Ireland (except for those coming from Finland, Malta, the UK or Norway). Tapeworm treatment is not required for cats.
- Movement of the pet animal must take place within five days of the owner.
- Maximum number of animals allowed to travel per person is 5.
For more details on travel with pets, visit the Department of Agriculture website.
Pet questions from listeners
- We are on holiday now in a boat with our dog. I have sailed to Ireland many times and discovered that dogs in Ireland are banned from trains, buses and taxis.This must stop! So many people love going on holiday with dogs in Ireland. UK is great: we’ve travelled on trains and buses with Archie for holidays. I’m so frustrated that Ireland transport is so anti dogs, I hope you can put pressure on to powers that be. At present I’m on train to Dublin on my own for a visit! My husband looking after dog on boat. Hilary
- We have a beautiful and beloved rescue Staffy but are going on holidays inJune and are struggling to find the best solution to housing him during our absence. He’s a wonderful dog but was abused before we got him, so he’s
tricky around other dogs and basically we have to keep him apart from them. Also he’s very attached to us and when he’s put in a conventional kennel, he pines. Do you have any suggestions? Would it be best for him to be looked after in
our house, even if it’s by strangers? Or do you know of any good kennels that might cater for a dog like him? We tried bringing him to France with us two years ago but it was too hot and the journey was too difficult for us all. Thanks for any pointers you might have, Judy
- Any suggestions on how to integrate a 12 year old cat with a 3 yr old rescue Jack Russell without skin & hair flying?Thank you, Melissa
- My cat (5yo) had a short seizure yesterday for the first time. He vomited beforehand and recovered pretty quickly afterwards. He’s generally a very happy cat, no health problems whatsoever. What could be the cause of his seizure and should we be taking any action?
- Our 1 year old female Maltese is a little dream. She was very easy to housetrain and she’s a great little dog around the house. My parents dog-sit whenever we’re away, and they also dog sit my sisters dog on the odd occasion too. However she’s starting to mark her territory at my parents house whenever she’s there. It’s only recently she’s started to do this and it’s making it awkward for me to ask my folks to dog-sit, as I’d hate to think of her widdling all over their mats and carpets. Elizabeth
- Our cat (neutered male) is approximately 6 years old. In February he went missing. We live in a rural area and have have recently found the cat a 5 minute drive away in a housing estate. However, he has become very nervous and we cannot get near him. I’ve spoken to people in the estate and he is being fed by some of them, but even they cannot get close to him. He also has become attached to another stray in the estate. I would love to bring him home to see if he would settle back. The kids love him but should we keep trying or has he forgotten us and moved on?
- How do you stop cats stop soiling in your flower bed?
- I have 2 jack Russell’s and I am just wondering if you recommend to have they’re teeth cleaned? They are both 2. And how often should this be done? Aine.
To find out the answers to the above queries, listen to the podcast below.