Category Archives: zoos

Tigers Being Bred for Trade in China

So tiger parts sell for more money than you’ve ever seen, but it’s hard to find them in the wild any more for some reason.  What’s an enterprising businessman to do?  Why, build a tiger farm, of course.  Grab a few tigers, start a “conservation” operation or a “zoo”, and once you get 500 animals you can get a permit to sell your surplus to make “tiger bone” wine:

[Alas, this excellent article on the Asian tiger trade will not embed here.  Please visit it in person (it’s free to view).]

Wildlife traffickers don’t even have to actually breed tigers.  They can just set up a location where it looks like they are captive-breeding tigers, then poach tigers from the wild and sell the parts as though they were from captive bred animals.  This apparently works for any species, not just tigers.

Although it does certainly appear that people are breeding captive tigers to sell for parts (in what way does this significantly differ from modern cattle operations?), I have been unable to verify whether or not the farms are also, specifically, starving tigers to death to satisfy nebulous legal issues requiring that the animal have died of “natural causes” for its parts to be sold, as in the following image I found floating around today.  The image appears to be a scan of this news article, sourced from this blog entry from the TigerTime web site, which appears to reference a paper called the Straits-Times but was written by a TigerTime employee with no readily apparent source.

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This image was what originally made me look into this subject.  It just seems too awful to be completely true, and it isn’t.  The report quoted above does not mention any requirement in Chinese law stating that animals which have died naturally are specifically legal (it just requires that the parts be “legally obtained”), and research suggests that the starving tigers are a different, though quasi-related, event: the tigers in question appear to have been starved (actually, fed “cheap cuts of chicken”, leading to malnourishment) when the facilities handling them “went into financial difficulties”.  Not that it’s much of a relief, especially to the tigers, but it does not look like they were starved specifically so their parts could be sold legally (although I suspect the facility owners did not object to the “happy” appearance of an “extra” carcass or two).  It just looks like that’s a “normal byproduct” of their “farming” operation.  (Why does that distinction matter to me?  Is “inconceivably terrible husbandry practices” better in some way than “deliberately starving animals to death”?  Is it even different?)

Just another place where minor curiosity (“Hmmm, that headline looks a mite sensationalistic”) leads to a major facepalm moment: even “wildlife” is being factory farmedEverything is being factory farmed, somewhere — and factory farming is never pretty.  (Check out that National Geographic photo gallery for a picture of what it looks like when humans “captive breed” snakes for the pet trade, if you’re interested.)

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Suspicious Origins

Today I was looking at a web site which sold leather belts — the kind for Real Men.  You know the kind: big, hefty belts made to hold guns, not just pants.

One type of belt was touted as being made of “bull” leather, not just “cow” leather, marketing this as being “better” because the bull is full of testosterone, which (according to the web site, but not any other source I can find online) makes for better leather.  I had a question here: one cannot keep mass amounts of bulls easily.  They fight, and they are dangerous.  Where is the store behind this web site getting a bunch of bull skins to make these belts?  Who is keeping bulls to maturity and then skinning them?  And what are they going to do with all that testosterone-tainted meat afterwards?  (Testosterone makes the meat darker and less desirable.)

Perhaps they are just using regular leather — even castrated steers are regularly treated with synthetic testosterone to improve meat yield.

The same company also makes “elephant belts”, which to my horror are made from actual elephant skin.  The site insists they deal only with “legal importers” of elephant hide, which led me to wonder: Where do you find a “legal importer” of parts of an animal it is illegal to kill?  This one surprised me: it appears to be legal to hunt elephants, provided you have the right permits, at least in some parts of Africa, and in theory the “tourism” trade that’s generating is good for the locals and even, possibly, in some roundabout way, the elephants.  Um, that’s great…maybe…but I’m still not buying a belt made of elephant skin.

On a related note, the other day I was at a zoo which had a “touch tank” full of dogfish sharks, and it occurred to me that the zoo probably did not have its own dog shark breeding operation.  Where might be the easiest place for a facility to get large quantities of a shark bred for “animal fodder, fertilizer, and research”?

I’ve walked past “touch tanks” for more than thirty years.  Only now am I wondering where they get all these animals (and it seems likely they have high turnover in those tanks).   A facility at which I worked once (against their own better judgement) bought display animals from a fur farm.  Where is your local zoo getting their critters, and sending their surplus?  Where is your “legal supplier” of elephant skin getting their material?  It’s just an important question to keep in mind: what other industry may I be indirectly supporting by purchasing this product?

Context is Needed

chimp and tigerThis photograph, from this article (and many others), has been wandering around the net for a bit recently.  The animals are billed as being from the Samut Prakan Crocodile Farm and Zoo near Bangkok, Thailand.

Okay, this is adorable.  However, please think to look closer:

Look in the background of the pictures.  Look at the big cat cubs kept alone in small dog kennels.  There’s a pair of them playing unsupervised on the floor.  Look at the stacks of cheap dog kennels — does this look like a reputable zoo to you?  How reputable does this photo from their “elephant show” (taken from this web site) look?  Check out the reviews on TripAdvisor.com — apparently the primary moneymaker for this facility is selling crocodile skin.  It started life as a crocodile farm and seems to have picked up some random exotics for the extra cash.

Is this what you want to support?  Quit sharing this “cute” picture without the full context.  It encourages people to think you can keep chimps and tigers as pets (hint: bad idea), and it’s generating publicity for a facility which encourages tourists to pose feeding and holding baby exotics (I can only imagine they pay for the privilege), mishandles them in “shows” (more photos here, here, here, and here, and in piles from Google image search), and slaughters crocodiles for leather and meat, as well as encouraging other facilities to do the sameFacilities like this routinely mistreat their animals.  The previous example mentions China, but it happens everywhere, Thailand (and the US) included.  Don’t support this kind of thing.

You like tigers?  Go here and support them.  Love chimps?  Go here and support them.  Put your effort into places that deserve it.  Don’t lend your time or blog space to this facility, unless this is the kind of animal husbandry you wish to support.

The Monkeysphere

The online magazine Cracked, which is primarily known for cramming the maximum amount of four-letter words into the minimum amount of space but still occasionally tosses out some utter brilliance, in 2007 put out an article called “What is the Monkeysphere?”  The article presented the concept of Dunbar’s number, the theoretical maximum number of social relationships any given animal (including humans) can form and maintain at any given time.

The theory goes: Think about having a pet.  A dog, for example.  Your dog has a name (“Gozer the Magnificent”) and wears a funny hat and likes eating frozen rhubarb.  Now imagine you have five dogs.  Their names and personalities are a little harder to remember, but you can still keep them straight.  Now try to picture owning a hundred dogs.  Likely, you can’t even picture that many dogs, much less think of individual names or personalities for each.  The maximum number of dogs (or people, etc) with whom you can form caring social relationships is somewhere between five and one hundred.  That’s Dunbar’s number.  That’s the biggest social sphere we, as “monkeys”, can create.  That’s our monkeysphere.

Dunbar’s number varies from person to person and from species to species, but the basic principle is the same.  Where animal research, farming, zoos, and the pet industry — animal industry in general — goes wrong is about the point where the number of animals being cared for by any one person becomes greater than Dunbar’s number.

If a lab tech is told to care for ten mice, they all get names, personalities and individual identities.  A lab tech caring for a room full of 500 mouse cages, each containing between one and five mice, barely has time to count the mice as they blur past during each daily check.  A slaughter worker tasked with “stunning” four cows an hour can move slowly and patiently, properly aim the “stunning” device, and make sure each animal is dead before the rendering process begins.  A slaughter worker tasked with “stunning” one hundred cows an hour — as many currently are — is “processing” something like one cow every thirty seconds.  There is no time for patience or proper aim.  A zoo or wildlife park worker who cares for ten to fifteen animals has names for each one, and the animals are often treated as personal friends.  A zoo director, overseeing a collection of five hundred to two thousand animals, starts to see them as “units” rather than social companions.

Other factors — primarily money — come into it as well, but there is something about reaching Dunbar’s number that really damages the structure.  Once the humans can’t form social relationships with the individual animals anymore, they stop treating the animals as beings with which you might form social relationships — and that starts the whole downward spiral, where “what we should be doing” begins to look more and more different from “what we are actually doing”.

Just a thought.

Warning: Visitors May Be Eaten

Sooner or later, the Lujan Zoo in Argentina is going to get around to providing an excellent demonstration of how evolution works. This is not necessarily because the zoo does a good job of explaining the science behind it, but rather because they let people ride the animals.

Photo: Barcroft MediaGood luck with that

The full article is available here.  (via Lowering the Bar)

There’s a lot to say about this, but I think all the blithering is nicely summed up by:

Just because nothing has happened yet does not mean nothing will ever happen.

This sort of thing happens all over the place — although slightly less often here in Litigation Land — and it always, always ends in idiocy.  It’s just a matter of time.  It wouldn’t be half the tragedy it is if looney behavior like this:

  • didn’t reward the zoo management with money from eager (and often foolish) consumers,
  • didn’t encourage other facilities (and the general public) to repeat this kind of behavior,
  • didn’t inevitably end in some poor soul (often someone’s child) getting his/her face ripped off,
  • and didn’t inevitably result in the animal(s) involved being euthanized when that happens (they must be vicious!).

I worked with the public and hand-raised wolves for ten years, very carefully supervising a lot of wolf-human interaction, and this kind of thing makes my hair stand on end.  (It can be done safely, but not like this!)