As children and even adults, we all loved to go to the zoo. Seeing the animals we wouldn’t usually see otherwise was amazing. You felt a real sense of power being around some of them. You realized Humans were not at the top of the food chain. For many, it inspired a love for animals. But do we ever stop to think about what we are doing? As crazy as it may sound, we never truly stop to think about the impact we are having by visiting zoos. I’ve been to zoos and aquariums all along the east coast. From the Philadelphia Zoo to the Cape May Zoo to the Adventure Aquarium and Gatorland. Many have even been to the ever popular but ever controversial SeaWorld. We have all been to them and other facilities at some point or another. Some are really good places that work to conserve animals in the wild. Some are just breeding facilities full of unhappy, abused animals. Some are accredited by the AZA (the good ones) and others are accredited by the ZAA (the bad ones). But no one ever stops to think what the animals are going through. I had no idea of the suffering of captive animals until 2 years ago. And it is even more apparent as I do more research into facilities with Big Cats (and nine times out of ten other animals too) all across the United States, state by state. Some of the conditions I see are heartbreaking. Places like SeaWorld and Wildlife in Need, who market themselves as being good but are really terrible, give people a distorted view of how animals should be in captivity. The conditions in some places, some of which must remain nameless, make me want to cry for the poor animals being exploited there. Many times I have to remember everything I have learned to keep from losing my head. But even the good zoos like the Philadelphia Zoo and the great sanctuaries like Big Cat Rescue and the Popcorn Park Wildlife Refuge can never be as good as the wild. In the wild, animals such as Orcas and Tigers have hundreds upon thousands of miles to roam. In some of the worst facilities, 2 Jaguars can be kept in an area as big as a parking space. That is like locking you in your bathroom for your entire life. All the USDA regulations require is that the animals be able to make normal postural movements. Basically, that means it has to be able to stand up and turn around. This causes animals to develop zoochosis, meaning, in simple terms, that they go crazy. Is that really the way it should be?
But is there a way to change that? After all, people still want to see animals. Not everyone can afford to make trips to see Tigers in the wild, or Macaws in the wild. And as usual, there is no guarantee you will see them at all, especially Tigers as there are less than 4,000 in the wild (compared to 10,000+ in captivity). And many of these zoos have been so deeply embedded in the areas they are in. The Philadelphia Zoo was America’s first zoo. T.I.G.E.R.S. in Myrtle Beach, SC (which is on my animal abuse blacklist as one of the biggest exploiters) is a zoo that hasn’t been around for as long as some places but has proven itself to be a very dangerous and abusive place. People don’t want to see them go, and I don’t either. Zoos are great ways to inspire a love of animals in people. Zoos were part of the reason I love animals. The other part was through Facebook. Whenever zoos close (even the bad ones) the townspeople as well as people who have been there from other areas are often heartbroken. So what can be done to avoid the zoo having to close but also stop animals from having to be bred for life in cages? Carole Baskin, the Founder and CEO of Big Cat Rescue, has a solution and is making strides towards trying to prove it to others. Her solution is a virtual reality zoo. It is, in my opinion, a genius idea! A zoo without animals. I emailed Carole to ask her for something I can put in here from her and she sent me a wonderful quote. She said:
“Some people say Big Cat Rescue is against zoos, and that’s not true. Big Cat Rescue is against the practice of keeping wild animals in cages. We think zoos can be a leading platform for learning, engagement and activism if they replace real animal exhibits with virtual reality experiences that thrill, entertain and educate. Zoos have the audience and the infrastructure needed to further 360 VR technology but they need the push from their patrons to change the status quo. Big Cat Rescue is gathering footage of our cats and working with developers in the virtual and augmented reality worlds to kickstart the change from holding animals hostage to engaging people with how magnificent they are and ways to save them in the wild, where they belong.” – Carole Baskin
Zoos have this awesome ability to educate the public about animals. They should do that without having to cause any suffering to them. People accept zoos as the animal experts so when zoos speak up and say animals need to remain in the wild, people will listen. And virtual zoos are the way to do it. With all of the advancements in technology, and the advancements that are still in the making, zoos can recreate every exhibit digitally and even improve them. Then, as Carole said, we can push that message that animals need to be conserved in the wild.
Along with her quote, Carole also sent me a heartwarming message she received from one of Big Cat Rescue’s PAWesome fans. Here is that message. Try to read this without developing a smile. It’s impossible!!!
This came from one of our fans (name withheld to protect the minor):
I just wanted to tell you about something I observed today in my granddaughters that make a case for your virtual reality and 360 videos in place of zoos in the future.I had my iPad out and my granddaughters (ages 6 & 2.5) were scrolling thru my fb feed and of course most of my feed is cats 😉.They came to the 360 of the servals and the oldest stopped and started watching. I showed her how to swipe her finger around on the screen to see in 360. She was so excited about it! They both watched it multiple times. I found other 360s you have done for them to watch.The 6 year old ( who has been to a zoo) said “ mamaw this is better than going to a zoo! I can almost touch these cats and can see them so much closer!” She stopped and started the videos multiple times so she could get a closer look at the cat and it didn’t take but me showing her one time how to make 360 work.She asked her momma, my daughter, to email her teacher with the BCR fb info so the teacher can see it. My granddaughter said they watch animal videos sometimes at recess when it is raining and she wants her kindergarten class to see the 360 she saw today. I gave my daughter more info of how to find the videos and the YouTube channels.I was amazed and so happy that they enjoyed watching the 360s!! We may not be able to change the minds of our generation but with enough work and exposure to this new technology I think we can make an impact on future generations!Just thought this might make you smile and know that your work is not going unnoticed! – even by 6 year olds 😉
This is the video on Facebook. It got 88,000 views and was just 4 clips of servals that I quickly pasted together.
First of all, I want to thank the grandmother for sharing Big Cat Rescue with them. After all, the newer generation of animal lovers is who will take over the fight after the current advocates are gone. We need to start at the root to make sure animals are protected well into the future. Second, I want to thank the girl and her teacher for sharing it with the rest of the class. Hopefully, this will inspire a love of Big Cats in them so that as they get older they can learn even more and fight for animals too. But it just goes to show that for everyone who says virtual zoos will never work, there are people big and small who want to see it happen. Be sure to watch the video the girls saw. It is a wonderful video that shows what could take the place of real animals.
I just love stories like that! I could go on about them forever. But, I don’t have that option since this post has to end at some point, otherwise the message gets lost. The final message is that animals don’t belong in cages. Everyday, I see public opinion turning towards that conclusion too. And with the wonderful technological advancements we have now, we can make it so animals no longer have to be there. We just have to get everyone behind the idea, and we can achieve it.
I do want to stress that the zoos would keep their animals until they die, but they would stop breeding them. That way they aren’t having to be sent to other facilities.
And a ROARING thank you to Carole for allowing me to add those two quotes into this post. Her work is what inspired this post. She is the best mind in the rescue world and inspires me to continue fighting for animals. Thank you Carole!!!!
For the Zoo Animals,
International Animal Welfare