Posts Tagged With: zoos

A tragedy larger than Harambe

harambe zinci zoo

Harambe, Cincinnati Zoo

A silverback gorilla, a toddler, and a decision to be made. The untimely demise of Harambe is stirring debate across the country.

Forced to act quickly, the zoo’s response team was in an unenviable position. Animal behavior is unpredictable, they’re wild. But so are people.

In 1996 at the Brookfield Zoo a toddler fell into the gorilla exhibit, in 1999 a man was found dead with a killer whale at Sea World, in 2009 a woman jumped into the polar bear enclosure at the Berlin Zoo, in 2012 a toddler fell into an African Wild Dog enclosure; the list goes on.

It makes you wonder, should enclosures be made to keep animals in? Or to keep people out?

Since 1990, animals died during escapes or attacks 42 times in U.S. zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, 15 zoo incidents resulted in the loss of human life, and 110 resulted in injury according to Born Free, USA.

gugu panda

Gugu the Panda @Beijing Zoo

People entering enclosures range from “accidental” like the toddler in the Brookfield Zoo and the current case with Harambe, to suicidal, and downright deranged. The Beijing Zoo has had multiple occasions of people entering  Gugu the Panda’s exhibit to “hug” him. He’s bitten them every time, but it hasn’t seemed to stop the incidents.

So what is the point in zoos? Do they contribute to conservation? Spark appreciation? Or are they outdated and unnecessary?

When bringing my son to the zoo, we would meander from one exhibit to another, observing the animals; discussing each one, explaining their habits, their likes and quirks. We bonded over our love for animals. He learned appreciation, respect, and the connections all of us as living beings have in the world.

In the age of cell phones, selfies, and convenience, are zoos an insignificant place where the awe and wonder of animals are taken for granted? Is conservation just a trend on twitter? What is more endangered, the animals or our empathy and connection with our world?

phily zoo 1874

The oldest zoo in America is the Philadelphia zoo, opened in 1874. The first animal was a raven.





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The Great Zoo Debate

Zoos have been in existence since 3500BC, the oldest being discovered in Egypt, as an exotic collection for a king. What began as small menageries that symbolized power and wealth, morphed into a display for educational benefit by the early 19th century.

They’ve come a long way since, with currently over 1,000 zoos in existence worldwide. They exist as  zoological “gardens”, “animal theme parks”, “safari parks”, and “aquariums”.

Tiergarten Schönbrunn in Vienna is the oldest running zoo, est in 1752

Tiergarten Schönbrunn in Vienna is the oldest running zoo, est in 1752

The question is – Are zoos a necessity? In 2014, is there a place for them?

At Their Finest

Some animals, like the Sumatran rhino, are difficult to study in the wild. With a consistent environment and the ability to closely monitor and study their habits, preferences and behavior, scientists are able to put conservation efforts in place, through breeding programs.

With organized communication outlets like the AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums), they are able to monitor joint efforts through a listing of all initiatives, findings, and management of all zoo species.

The Cincinnati Zoo is well-known for their aid in the conservation of the Sumatran Rhino. Through close scientific study and the use of endocrinology and ultrasonography, they were able to help produce the first captive born Sumatran in 2001. As part of their role in attempting to sustain the Sumatran population, the zoo is partnered with the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Indonesia and support Rhino Protection Units (RPUs) to prevent poaching.

harry and emi at cincy

Emi and Harapan photo: Cincinnati Zoo

The Chester Zoo in the UK, plays an active role in fundraising for conservation, with its Aid for Wildlife campaign. So far, they have managed to raise money and awareness for eight wildlife projects from China to Nigeria.

Zoos have evolved over the last century and the modern zoo’s mission is biodiversity conservation. To achieve this we must work inside and outside of the zoo—protecting species and habitats directly in the field,” said Catherine Barton, Assistant Conservation Officer with Chester Zoo

At Their Worst

The Surabaya Zoo, also known as the “Zoo of Death”, has gained notoriety for animal neglect and premature deaths. Just five days ago, a Komodo dragon perished, the second one within the last 3 months. 100 animals have perished since last summer, including a lion who hung himself in his enclosure from an errant piece of metal, and a giraffe who had consumed 40 lbs of plastic. The remaining animals suffer from lack of food and nutrients,  skin conditions, tumors, joint problems, and depression.

Melani, a sumatran tiger fed meat tainted with formaldehyde at the Surabaya Zoo, has since been rescued.

Melani, a sumatran tiger at the Surabaya Zoo, was fed meat tainted with formaldehyde. She has since been rescued.

Critics worldwide have been calling for the closure of this zoo. See: Petition to close the Surabaya Zoo

Earlier this year, the Copenhagen Zoo also generated global outrage.  They not only euthanized an adolescent giraffe as a means to population control within the zoo, but fed the carcass to its lions within public view.

The San Diego Zoo is the most frequented zoo in the US, receiving over 3 million annual visitors.

The San Diego Zoo is the most frequented zoo in the US, receiving over 3 million annual visitors.

Zoos like Cincinnati serve as ambassadors for conservation. They bridge the gap by showcasing the animal kingdom, a world many would never see outside of tv or computers. For some, it is their first introduction to animals. Education and conservation is critical.  But are animal welfare and education prioritized or animals simply being “put on display” in a monotonous lifetime of confinement?

In an Interview with David Hancocks, zoo architect and retired zoo director, he makes observations about the dilemna with the modern zoo.

If zoos started their planning and design processes by asking such questions how they could illustrate and celebrate bio-diversity, or help people understand the interconnectedness of all living things, or demonstrate interdependence, or help people understand how healthy eco-systems operate and are maintained, instead of just asking such simplistic questions as “where shall we build the new bear exhibit?” then we could begin to see some important developments in zoos. (see more in A Critical Look at the Future of Zoos)






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Darkest Before the Dawn

It is all too easy to get lost in frustration and despair in the war for rhinos. Each life means so much, and each death weighs heavy in the heart, BUT each victory is just as significant.

My gift to all of you this holiday season: HOPE.

mama and little one rhinoThere is reason to believe we can bring the rhino back from the threat of extinction. We can stabilize the population, control the poaching.

#1-Thanks to programs that transform poachers to rangers like what  AfricanParks  has done in the Congo,  minds are changing. (see: Second Chances: Success in the Congo)

#2-Community incentives that give people a reason to be invested in their own wildlife and rewarded for that investment, like in Zimbabwe (see: Zimbabwe Leads the Way)

#3-Zoos have a new role in conservation, through in-depth scientific analysis (of rhino dung) they have learned more successful methods of breeding rhinos including use of artificial insemination. (see: Rhino Dung Research)

#4-There is a plethora of technology being integrated into the war on poaching (drones, microchips, poison injections into the horn,etc.)

#5-Awareness is spreading! The elephant poaching billboard in times square was a huge endeavor (see: The Elephant in Times Square). Ad campaigns in China and Vietnam, and education in Africa are helping. There has also been increased celebrity involvement (Leonardo Dicaprio, Prince William, Yao Ming,  Jackie Chan,etc. )

#6-The US is increasing involvement in wildlife trafficking with President Obama taking a stand, pledging funds to anti-poaching efforts in Africa and creating the anti-poaching Task Force.

#7-There is now military involvement in Kenya from the British paratroopers, helping to train rangers. (see: British Paratroopers Train..)

#8-South Africa has stepped up military involvement in the parks. (see: War on Poachers Intensifies)

#9-All of the people on the ground who work tirelessly from the rangers at the parks working to protect the rhino,  to the the Rhino Orphanage and other groups who rehabilitate the orphans after a poaching,  to the veterinary staff and the behind the scenes organizations who work to fund all of it.

With numbers as low as 50 left in the wild in the early 1900s, the southern white rhino has now increased to over 20,000 and has become the most populous of all the rhino species.

Large-scale poaching of the now critically endangered black rhino resulted in a dramatic 96% decline from 65,000 individuals in 1970 to just 2,300 in 1993. Thanks to the persistent efforts of conservation programs across Africa black rhino numbers have risen since the early 1990s to a current population of 5,055.

We CAN do this.

Dr William Fowlds, DVM in South Africa is seeing a difference.

The international momentum against wildlife trafficking is starting to rattle some sabers. I can’t say the same for our corrupt systems and poor political competence. However, there is a groundswell of positives even in SA and we have to simply keep going. If we put ourselves on the line, we will turn this tragedy around.”

So please don’t give up! Fight for them!
You can join the fight and help greatly by donating to Fight for Rhinos.

RhinoLargeDONATE  $20 usd in someone’s name for the holidays and we will send them a certificate congratulating them for their contribution to the survival of the rhinos.

Hope is like a road in the country; there was never a road, but when many people walk on it, the road comes into existence.  ~Lin Yutang

Categories: Good News, Making a Difference, Rhino Ramblings | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Charlie the Beloved Rhino of Vancouver

By: Joe O’Connor/National Post

Zoo 574[1].jpg

Charlie knew what he liked. Maynard, for example, was something he liked, a tiny, orange tabby-cat, who would weave in and out of Charlie’s feet by day and fall asleep on his chest at night.

Pedicures were another pleasure. Mud baths. Getting a back rub with a stiff-bristled brush. Having his ears and belly scratched. Charlie was no introvert. He was all about the personal touch. And he had personality. The people who knew him best get all choked up talking about him now, describing him as a “kind soul” — as big as a house and as gentle as a mouse.

But Charlie, gentle Charlie, wasn’t a mouse. He was a Southern White Rhinoceros at the Greater Vancouver Zoo in Aldergrove, B.C. Charlie died this week, at age 46, euthanized by his long-time veterinarian, Dr. Bruce Burton, after he had stopped eating and drinking.

Old Charlie’s teeth, as old rhino teeth will, had completely worn away. Dentures were not an option. So while his mind remained active and his belly remained happy to be scratched, Charlie’s biological clock had decided it was time for him to move on to that great big rhino enclosure in the sky.

“It is with an extremely heavy heart that I say goodbye to my very dear friend, Charlie,” Dr. Burton said in a statement. “I feel immensely privileged to have known you for the past decade and a half, and feel profoundly depressed that so few will ever experience the same intense relationship we had.

“My words seem grossly inadequate and, perhaps, a little self-centred, so permit me to modify a similar sentiment once articulated by [American ecologist] Aldo Leopold.

“For those who have had such a relationship, no explanation is necessary. For those who haven’t, no explanation is possible. Rest at peace my old friend.”


Charlie’s passing has left a rhino-sized hole at the zoo. He was the star, but more than that, he was a source of wonder. Children have been tacking handmade cards and handwritten letters to the side of his barn since his death. The barn sits empty. There are no plans to fill it anytime soon.

Peaceful and loved though he was, Charlie was still a rhino. And a rhino without a sharpened horn is like a big-game hunter without a high-powered rifle. Charlie sharpened his horn on logs. He didn’t have other rhinos at hand to prove his manhood to. So he focused his ire on the birds that occasionally happened into his enclosure. Peacocks, with their showy tail feathers, were a particularly unwelcome sight.

“I would see him charge peacocks,” says Menita Prasad, the zoo’s animal care manager. “But in his later years, not so much.”

Charlie, she says, knew his name. He was locked in his barn at night. To get him into his fluffed straw bed all zookeepers had to do was call for him. In his youth he came running. As he aged, however, he stopped running, and his journey to bed became an extended lumber; a few steps, a pause, a few steps more, another pause. At each pause his big ears would flop about, as though savouring a passing breeze, as though waiting for his name to be called, again, by the sound of a human voice.

“Charlie knew exactly what you were asking him to do at night but, in my view, he just wanted you there, with him, he just wanted your attention — of getting him that 20 steps to his barn — because he knew if he stopped in a certain spot that he would get his back rubbed or the soft part behind his ears scratched,” Ms. Prasad says.

“It is very hard to get a rhino to hurry. But then, how often are you going to get a rhino asking for your attention?”


Contrast Charlie to Sweetie, the zoo’s elderly Siberian tiger. Sweetie is one anti-social cat, a creature that inspires, well, cautious respect among the zoo’s staff while Charlie inspired starry-eyed love.

Ms. Prasad’s voice isn’t far from tears throughout our conversation about him.

Charlie’s rhino-ness barrelled through in other ways, besides charging at peacocks. Everything he did was big, and loud. When he peed it was like a fire hose. When he passed wind it was like a trombone solo, blared at maximum volume, drawn out for minutes on end.

Maynard the tabby cat passed away a few years before his rhino pal did. Ms. Prasad can picture the two of them now, wherever they are, enjoying a reunion, snuggling close at night.

“Charlie was all about love,” she says. “Everything he did was monumental.”

Categories: Rhino Ramblings, Rhino Spotlight | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Caution: Wide Load

What does it take to move a 1-2 ton animal?

Conservation efforts often mean translocation. It is sometimes in the best interest of re-population and survival to move animals into better locations. For example in Assam, India, the India Rhino Vision 2020 program aims to attain a wildlife population of at least 3,000 greater one-horned rhinos in the state of Assam by the year 2020.  This goal will be achieved by translocating rhinos from areas of high population density to new habitats, where effective protection programs can be put in place.translocating sedation

Each situation is different, varying in length of travel time to number of rhino, but the usual mode of operation consists of:
*sedating them with the help of a veterinary crew,rhinos into truck
*moving them into position onto a truck,
*driving to said location, then off loading them into a temporarily built boma (enclosure) in the new location;
*followed up with waking them, and careful monitoring of their health thereafter.translocation boma

Logistics, practical preparations, bureaucracy, transport and funding have to run simultaneously with preparation of the rhino to undertake the journey. It is a huge and delicate undertaking, and can take considerable time to put together.

Then there is the health of the animal to consider. Whenever any animal is sedated there is a health risk from the anesthetic, there is possibility of injury in transport, and the stress alone is a danger. Rhinos have died from the move.

Of course there have been less than typical moves as well.  In 2009 three black rhinos were moved from a Czech Republic Zoo to a Mkomazi sanctuary. It took 2 years of planning and a  Martinair 747 aircraft to make the 6,400 mile move.

flying rhino 2Perhaps one of the most misunderstood photos: the’ flying rhinos’, is yet another method the WWF has  taken in moving the second largest land mammal. The tranquilized  rhinos are suspended from their ankles for a short journey by helicopter to an awaiting vehicle. This is a quick and efficent way to remove them from inaccessible areas.

Any way it needs to be done-desperate times call for desperate measures. After all, there are only so many ways to move a 1-2 ton animal.

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Baby Boom?

Breeding rhinos in captivity has been a challenge to say the least. With the demise of the rhino in the wild, the role of zoos and sanctuaries has become primarily conservation, i.e breeding.  But scientists may now have the solution: dung.

New scientific methodology allows researchers to study individuals’ genetics as well as their reproductive cycles from the hormones in the dung.  This allows them to more accurately pinpoint the best times to breed them.

At the Chester Zoo in the UK, the zoo had gone 10 years without a rhino birth until beginning the research. Now they boast 4 births in the last 4 years; a phenomenal feat!chester zoo rhino4

Although this success comes from the unglamorous job of analyzing and weighing dung, day in and day out, it seems it has paid off tenfold. Dr. Sue Walker, from the Black Rhino Endocrinology Program, says “These populations are vital as an insurance policy against further declines in the wild, and the more successful the population, both in terms of growth rates and maintaining the genetic diversity by making sure all individuals breed, the better that insurance policy can be.”

The news could not have come at a more pivotal time, with 394 rhino already poached in 2013, and the projection at over 800 when the year is up. The techniques are being shared and applied at zoos throughout the world.

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Thandora: Beautiful Release

After a lifetime in the same enclosure, with the same routine, Thandora the elephant is getting a taste of freedom. Thandora lived behind bars for 18 years at South Africa’s Bloemfontein Zoo with one companion. When her companion died, it was decided to “retire” her to the wild.

She is becoming acclimated to her new home at Gondwana Game Reserve  in Cape Town. Having spent the first few weeks in a specially thandora with jeep 2designed boma to get her used to her new surroundings, she is now confidant enough to venture beyond it. She has taken to the team at the reserve, and follows them in their Land Rover. But day by day, the distance between her and the vehicle is increasing, leaving the team confidant she is getting ready to be on her own.

There are two other elephants at the Reserve who have made it clear they welcome Thandora. It is hopeful she will join up with them and be part of the herd.

The change from captivity to the wild is enormous. It is imperative for the elephant to have the appropriate location, care and companions. The mental and physical health of the animal is also watched carefully; they must be able to build up strength to sustain them in the wilderness, alter their diet by learning how to forage, and have the confidence to successfully venture forth into the wilderness.

But it is clear that nature is taking over, Thandora’s instincts are strong and she is on the track to success.

thandora 4

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