Thoughts with Richard Bleil
Today (as of the writing of this post about a week ago if all goes as planned) I decided to celebrate my resurrection from the operating table to give me a triple bypass to visit the local zoo here in Omaha. The zoo has a Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom pavilion, which you may (or may not) recognize from the ‘70’s era nature show.
When I went to purchase a membership, I asked how the prices were. As the agent told me about the prices for the lonely and pathetic, I replied, “Yes, but how much for a Siberian Tiger?”
Maybe it was the anniversary that I was celebrating, or maybe it was the beautiful day, but I was in a very silly mood indeed. I made it a point to come up in a staff meeting and made dumb jokes all day long to any of the staff that would listen. I just imagine somebody saying, “this guy asked me how much a Siberian Tiger costs,” only to have somebody else chime in and say, “oh, I know who you’re talking about. He asked me if we have a plan to open all of the enclosures, so the animals have a chance in the event of a zombie apocalypse!” (Yes, I asked that, too.)
They had some Takin there (pronounced “Tock-in”). I asked if any of them were named J-j-j-jive. Nobody remembered disco. I’m so old.
Near the Antelopes, I asked if they had any Prolopes. I mean, it’s only logical that if there are antelopes, there must be prolopes somewhere.
Walking past the elephant enclosure, I started to think about the plight of the animals in the zoo. There is a lot of concern about animals in captivity and circuses. I certainly understand these concerns, and yet I’m not sure how founded they are in reality. Let me state right here that I am not referring to those animals in captivity that are mistreated. Trainers should never be allowed to cause pain to get animals to perform, period. But on the other hand, I believe these kinds of techniques are now illegal (as they should be), and even techniques that look cruel are often for show. For example, the whip in the tiger cage is actually never used on the tigers themselves. The “crack” of the whip is actually used as an auditory cue for the tigers. Indeed, I’m not convinced that tigers would put up with any actual abuse.
Looking at the elephant in the enclosure, it occurred to me that we have a habit of attributing human needs and emotions to animals. Would the animal enjoy its freedom? I’m not sure. In the enclosure, it gets regular food, water, baths and even toys. It has a safe and secure place to sleep, and I’m guessing it has companionship although I didn’t see any other elephants outside. Should it be free? Maybe. Maybe not. Could it survive if it were freed today? Would it survive poachers, predators (the ones willing to take on elephants), droughts? Would it be happier if free, or, indeed, does it really understand the concept of happiness?
Some animals simply cannot be set free. When in human care they can lose the ability to take care of themselves in the wild, and some of the animals are rescues with injuries that would make it difficult or impossible to survive in the wild. So, is it cruel to keep them in the zoo?
As a recent example, in Omaha (as I understand it), a rhinoceros escaped its enclosure. Apparently, a gate was left open, and it wandered out. Apparently, it was attracted to the grass that was growing just on the other side of the gate as he never wandered past it. As he sat grazing, the zoo personnel surrounded it (in a non-menacing manner) with zoo vehicles to create a temporary emergency enclosure. Although the Rhinoceros could have easily obliterated one of the vehicles and gone on a rampage, he calmly ate his grass as the zoo personnel put a few tons of fresh fruit just inside the enclosure. When he was ready for dessert, he moseyed back inside, and they calmly closed the gate behind him. Clearly, he didn’t have a problem with his enclosure.
Some zoos, like the Cincinnati Zoo used to (and probably still does), will even release baby animals back into the wild. Living in the outskirts of Cincinnati in a small suburb called Batavia, I remember seeing a bald eagle on my drive home back in the mid ‘80’s. Back then, the American Bald Eagle was an endangered species, and I certainly never expected to see any in the outskirts of Cincinnati. As it turns out, the zoo used to release baby Bald Eagles, when they were old enough, and did so not far from the city itself. Today, the Bald Eagle is protected, but no longer considered endangered thanks, in no small part, to the efforts of zoos like the one in Cincinnati.
It was a little bit (just a little) disappointing today. A power failure earlier on caused some of the buildings and all of the rides to be shut down, but it was a lovely walk even if it did get to be too warm towards the end. And I purchased a season pass (twelve months from the point of purchase), so no doubt I will return.