Today’s blog post is being featured by a zoo keeper! Aisling has very kindly answered some questions I have on welfare in zoos. I am fascinated to understand their views on animal welfare.
Before diving into the interviews, I want to share some interesting facts with you guys about the general public’s view of welfare in zoos.
I asked a question …
I’m part of many Facebook travel groups, so I posted a question. I asked:
How many of you are cautious about zoos? Do you think about animal welfare before you go in? Or do you think about where your money goes? Do you feel worried / guilty when you see an animal being crowded?
I also received a lot of interesting comments:
I think it depends on location. Zoos are primarily concerned with animal conservation and ecological education where I am from, but that doesn’t necessarily equate to animal welfare in all cases: Seaworld will say the same thing but keeping orcas like they do is absolutely awful and shows they’re not concerned with animal welfare at all.
Some zoos are really good about making sure they have animal species who need their help to survive (endangered species etc) and who can live an enriched life in captivity.Anonymous
The comment above shows that all zoos vary in regards to animal welfare, and therefore it is all dependent. However, the comment below shows someone with a completely different view.
Zoos are a relic of a past where humans selfishly lord it over other beings in the guise of education. With the invention of the internet and technology, humans get to be educated on animals without having to take the animal from their natural habitat and isolating them. This lockdown has shown us a bit of how being locked up feels. Imagine living one’s entire life in a cage.Anonymous
Then I asked Aisling Ní Súileabháin…
1. How long have you been a zoo keeper for?
I was a zookeeper for over 8 years, in 3 different facilities. During that time, 6 years were spent as a lead keeper at two separate zoos.
On top of being a zookeeper though, I have over 14 years of experience in animal science, nutrition, behaviour, and welfare.
2. What made you decide to be a zoo keeper? What did you study in order to become one?
I actually accidentally fell into the field; I was studying animal science and nutrition, with the intent to go to veterinary school.
The university I was attending required me to do an internship. At the time, I had a visiting professor who was very well known in the animal behaviour field. When I was talking to him about it, he suggested that I look into zoos to get a different view on animal behaviour, and then, before I knew it, I was in the field for several years.
3. Did you ever think that zoos were bad before you started working at one?
I don’t believe in making blanket statements about things like zoos.
I knew that there were some places that weren’t very good, or that needed more work, but in general, I didn’t have an issue with zoos.
4. How many zoos have you worked for?
As mentioned in question 1, I have worked in 3 different facilities. 2 of which I was lead keeper.
5. What did you think of the state of the zoos you have worked for? Did you think they have good animal welfare?
All of the zoos I have worked for strived to have the highest level of animal welfare possible.
We met and exceeded requirements for enclosure size/design from the USDA, and we also exceeded the requirements from the accrediting bodies that accredited us (AZA and ZAA).
6. What work do zoos in general do that contribute to conservation and raising awareness?
It depends on the zoo. Most zoos do ex-situ conservation work, by being members of SSPs/EEPs (breeding), as well as allowing research to be done in the zoos for welfare and behaviour purposes.
Many zoos also do in-situ conservation, by sending supplies, staff, and veterinarians to do research and conservation work ‘in the wild.’
In addition, they also raise funds for in-situ conservation work with places such as the Red Panda Network or the Cheetah Conservation Fund, etc.
7. In regards to breeding programmes, do they truly have a positive impact as the offspring are still kept in zoos so the damage to losing them in the wild is still occurring?
Breeding animals in zoos allows us to maintain the species, while ensuring there is a great deal of genetic diversity worldwide.
These animals, while most aren’t released into native habitats, will provide a healthy genetic pool for the time, if it comes. When their native lands have been protected and preserved enough for the possibility of a reintroduction of species. These can include the California Condor, the Black-footed Ferret, and the Arabian Oryx.
8. Are there any zoos which you would recommend people should avoid?
Any zoo who is not transparent, offers inappropriate interactions with animals, does not have appropriate or responsible animal care/welfare standards. Ones that try to skirt around the laws and legislation, or ones that easily pop up in places.
Certain parts of the world have more lax legislation and they tend to be hotspots for inappropriate facilities.
9. Lastly, what do you want to say to people who are really against zoos?
It’s not a black and white issue. You can’t make a blanket statement over every facility because of what you have seen or been led to believe by others.
Please do your research, ask staff if you have any questions or concerns, and please, do not spread information that is not proven true by multiple, scientific, peer reviewed, published papers, and please, stop putting every facility under one umbrella.
There are many facilities world wide who do a fantastic job, and are really trying to ensure the survival of the species that they care for, and the planet in which we live. By denying them the chance to do the work, you’re also denying the opportunity for a successful future for these species.
Thank you Ailsing so much for answering my questions!
What do you guys think of zoos? Does hearing from a zoo keeper change your perspective on things? Please let me know!