Zoos without elephants would be a lesson in compassion for the children of L.A.
Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology Program
Gay Bradshaw, Ph.D., Ph.D.
Randy Malamud, Ph.D.
Department of English
In his recent article entitled “Zoos without elephants would be a loss for the children of
Despite his youth, Billy already shows signs of aging and hardship. Beyond suffering from tail abscesses and other infections, hehas developed a stereotypy – a repetitive head tic that is indicative of severe duress commonly found in confined animals and humans. This is not unexpected.
Mr. Tobar is aware of all this evidence for trauma and suffering on the part of this animal, which makes his response nothing short of stunningly callous. He seems to think that people have a right to see and do whatever they want, even if it means great harm to another individual, in this case, an elephant. We are sure Mr. Tobar would not concede that this is his viewpoint but he appears oblivious to his own insensitivity. His argument is a chilling example of how our institutions of captivity (i.e. zoos and marine parks) have been successful at “breaking us in”, that is, conditioning us to think in ways that culminated in such attitudes.
Tobar claims he is concerned about the impact of losing the elephant exhibit on children. In doing so he attempts to frame the issue as “elephants versus children”. He knows better than that. He knows that there are many things that his and other children will never experience. Most children do not grow up to pet a dinosaur (indeed none do!), climb Mt. Everest, or dance in the American Ballet Theater. And Mr. Tobar knows that no child suffers because of lack of these experiences. They will grow up to lead happy meaningful lives without these experiences. The same is true of seeing elephants in zoos.
We argue that, in fact, seeing suffering animals held in confinement in zoos has a negative impact on children. They come to learn that other animals are commodities, to be controlled and exploited. They come to learn that we need not be concerned about suffering as long as we are entertained. Yet we expect these children to become ethical caring adults. It is irrational to do so.
We agree with Mr. Tobar on one point. Zoos without elephants would indeed have an impact on children. It would be a lesson in compassion.
Signatories (in alphabetical order):
Marc Bekoff, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the
Ron Broglio, Ph.D., Asst. Professor,
Brenda McCowan, Ph.D., Assoc. Professor, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California, Davis
Franklin D. McMillan, DVM, Director of Well-Being Studies, Best Friends Animal Society
Henry Melvyn Richardson, DVM, Former Zoo Veterinarian
Carrie Packwood Freeman, Ph.D., Asst. Professor of Communication,
Kenneth Shapiro, PhD, ABPP, Executive Director. Animals & Society Institute