Friday, May 28, 2010

Try an ‘animals au naturel’ program!

It began last spring with elephants, and now includes penguins and sea lions too. The animals do all sorts of endearing, memorable things, like paint on canvas so visitors can take home a memento to hang. Or, they might twirl in water like aquatic dancers, or cuddle in visitors’ arms.

“These are not skills and talents they use in the wild,” understated an “educator” at the place where these things happen -- the Indianapolis Zoo. (The story, “Taking an animalistic view of art,” first appeared in the Washington Post, then in a Trenton Times travel section.)

You read it right. It’s all part of the zoo’s plan to get people interested in and caring about their captive animals – whatever it takes to do so – so those people can then be fed sugar- coated information about what the animals are really like and why they should live.

Cause wild animals to do something they would not ordinarily do . . . so that they can continue to live . . . at such neat places as zoos, where they can keep doing unnatural things? Do I have it straight?

It seems comparable to a circus rep saying, “Let the tigers leap through rings of fire to prove their species is worth saving.” But in both zoo and circus, the animals made to do unnatural or demeaning things are captives – removed from some or all such basics as family, habitat, climate, their real lives and behaviors.

“It’s great enrichment for the animals,” said that same zoo “educator.” As if, deep down, every elephant or penguin aspires to paint; every sea lion, to dance.

Come on, Indianapolis Zoo. You could quit the convoluted reasoning by simply freeing the animals. And don’t worry: they’d know just what to do.

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