We, who visit places that host captive wildlife, can switch our attitude from one of a passive consumer to one of active empathy and compassion so that we actively help them.
That enclosure does not look quite right? That animal does not seem quite ‘well’? Then engage in discussions with the staff. Dare to take that picture, document its context and share it widely. Doing it right helps both the animals and the hosting institutions and here is why…
Often the reality of places that host captive animals is very different than the one that we convey through our pictures to our friends and family. As soon as we are uncomfortable with what we see –maybe feeling that an enclosure is not ‘right’– we have the tendency to keep from taking pictures and even from to refrain from asking questions. It could be that we act this way out of concern that we would make the hosts or owners uncomfortable. It could be that it is out of a subconscious guilt, or perhaps it is a way to cope with what we see. It is also conceivable that we don’t snap that pic out of conformism –as more than often the pictures posted on social media are the pics of what we think the others will respond to or like.
Whatever the reasons are for omitting or avoiding to document accurately what we see, we then miss the chance to engage in an important discussion with the staff of the facility, and to understand what we see.
There are multiple reasons why an enclosure is the way it is. None are good enough but some are understandable including the lack of space and resources or the lack of funding. Some are more problematic such as the lack of knowledge or understanding of what the species needs. Other reasons –such as an obvious lack of care- are simply unacceptable.
By not documenting faithfully (and always with providing context), and when only showing the pretty (even if in some cases it is totally fabricated), we also miss the possibility to raise awareness. Developing and spreading an awareness about bad welfare conditions, the plight of the pet trade and exotic animal ownership, the consequence of human foolishness is critical and something we can all do. Sharing the reality of sad and bad enclosures and their inhabitants, allowing others to see and understand the facility hosting conditions –the way they really are– might help this facility and the animals they are in charge of. These animals should not be there for sure. But if they are here in this place to stay –rescued maybe but living a ghost life of what they would be in the Wild– then maybe we can help by recognizing that this should never have happened in the first place. And maybe we can improve their captive conditions by giving some of our time and money (after checking that this center is indeed an ethical place to help), and with sharing widely about what we do, learn and know…
And then there are those fairly common cases of conditions that simply exhibit animal abuse and that should be reported immediately. Of course sometimes we can’t be sure of what we’re looking at, and in these cases it is worth documenting regardless (providing as many details as possible) and sending this to organizations which work is to investigate and identify such issues and who will identify if there is a potential problem and then act on it (see: Reporting Animal Welfare Abuse Cases).
So wherever you are, whichever country, even when you have just a faint uneasy feeling and if the explanations provided to you don’t feel right, just trust your instincts. Be courteous but take that picture (unless your safety is at risk of course). Then share that picture and provide context, explaining what you saw to others and for emulating changes. And if you’re not quite sure simply defer to experts. It’s not hard at all and it will help those unfortunates in different ways.
Take the time to check our the EwA Zoo Evaluation Essentials, which apply to any facility hosting animals. Practice seeing so that we can all help improve the welfare conditions of captive animals.
We all can be actors of changes. That is the least we can do for the millions of animals that live in human institutions throughout the world.
An example of stress behavior exhibited by a zoo-ed snow leopard we know
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◊ Our tips are regularly revised and improved. This article was first published in July 2017 (latest revision: July 2018).