Animal activists say S.F. tiger attack supports case against zoos
Saturday, December 29, 2007
The recent tiger attack in San Francisco has given a platform to animal rights activists, who say holding wild animals in captivity is cruel, for-profit entertainment and should be stopped.
Those who despise zoos - and not just PETA, though the group did join the chorus - say the attack proves that animals are unhappy and that zoos should be phased out.
"The major problem with zoos is they put the entertainment value at a higher priority than the welfare or well-being of the animals," said Elliot Katz, president of In Defense of Animals, a Mill Valley animal rights group. "Because elephants and tigers are big draws, the zoo creates dangerous situations."
Katz helped organize the effort to get the elephants removed from the San Francisco Zoo after obtaining medical records that showed they were being mistreated. He said that both elephants and tigers need much more space than the zoo provides.
Katz hopes the publicity from the Christmas Day mauling death of 17-year-old Carlos Sousa Jr. will result in the removal of the tiger exhibit.
Lisa Soldavini, a 50-year-old animal rights activist from Petaluma, said she believes animals should not be kept in zoos because zoos do not treat them well. She said many people wrongly believe that the animals are provided enough space and are happy.
"We are brought up in a culture that says zoos are fun, but we should really be angry that these animals are taken out of their natural habitat so that people can gawk at them," she said. "This is done for profit, not education, and it's frustrating that the public doesn't get that. People can learn about wild animals by watching the excellent documentaries available on Discovery, Animal Planet and 'Wild Kingdom.' "
Tom Harrison, a member of the San Francisco Recreation and Park Commission who heads the city's zoo oversight committee, said earlier this week that he disagrees with people who say zoos have no place in society.
"We have inner-city kids who have never been able to see an animal. If it wasn't for the zoo, you would never hear about the preservation of these animals," Harrison said. "It's just so sad to me that this has turned into something so negative."
The day after Sousa was killed, officials at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals sent a letter to the director of the zoo, asking that he give serious consideration to phasing out the tiger exhibit. They argued the animals would be better off in a sanctuary setting.
"We oppose all zoos for many reasons, and this attack is a prime example of things going wrong," said Lisa Wathne, a PETA spokeswoman. "No one should be surprised by this incident - that a wild animal would act on her instinct.
"There is not a zoo in this country that comes close to providing tigers with the space that they need. The San Francisco Zoo made the decision to put its elephants in a sanctuary," Wathne said, "and they should make the same decision for tigers."
In San Francisco, an estimated $7.5 million in taxpayer money will go to zoo operations and maintenance this year, according to the city controller.
"With all that money and the 1,000 acres that the zoo sits on, they could create a safe space for animals whose habitats are destroyed," Katz said. "Entertainment is intrusive. Sanctuaries are a better idea."
Animal sanctuaries offer large spaces for animals that are old, mistreated, sick or retired. They are usually not open to the public, and activists say they offer a peaceful and rehabilitative setting.
Activist Deniz Bolbol, who believes zoos could be more progressive and educational, has gone to the zoo to talk to visitors about what they are observing. Animals confined for entertainment begin to act unnatural: Giraffes lick, tigers pace, and elephants sway, she said, noting that visitors are often very receptive to her message.
"Those are behaviors that you would not see in the wild, and the vast majority of people don't even know that they are looking at behaviors that result from confinement," Bolbol said. "It's really sad to see parents and children only spend 30 seconds at an exhibit and basically make fun of the animals. They don't even know what they are looking at.
"It breaks my heart."
For The Tiger
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