No question, there are problems with zoos today, even those that are accredited and even more so with "roadside zoos." However, most zoos have made changes in the last 30-50 years with respect to the display and housing of the animals. The Detroit Zoo, my "local" zoo, is a case in point.
I recently came across â��Chimp Trainerâ��s Daughterâ��, a blog that chronicles the very personal and very compelling story of Dawn Forsythe, whose father trained the chimpanzees who performed at the Detroit Zoo in the 1950s. In that era, the chimps performed three one-half hour shows daily, making their appearance in cowboy costumes and sailor suits, or even, with unintended irony, in prison stripes (image below left).
Her father sometimes brought chimps home, if they needed special attention or if it was a holiday. In a sense, they became part of the family.
As so often happens with companion animals like cats or dogs, the animal members of a dysfunctional family also are victimized. In Dawnâ��s case, her father was troubled with a violent streak which was directed against his wife and five children. He killed himself in front of her when she was 15 years old. She suspects that the mischievous young chimps also bore the brunt of his anger and temper. In fact, she reports that he was fired when someone saw him throw a young chimpanzee against a wall.
Itâ��s well established that there is a cycle between animal abuse and other violent behavior. In the Brown household when Dawn was growing up, a baby chicken met a mysterious demise and a kitten â��disappeared.â�� Years later, her sister told Dawn that their father had killed the kitten. Dawn saw her father kill a snapping turtle when the family was on an outing.
In the early 1980s, the Detroit Zoo ended 50 years of chimpanzee shows (example of a zoo program from the 1940s below right) with the appointment of a new director. Explaining the decision, the director acknowledged that â��the Detroit Zoo was built on the back of chimpanzees." He noted as well that "chimps are not imperfect human beings. They are perfect chimps [and] we have to get as far away as possible from chimps in tutus and chimps riding motorcycles.â�� (This director was not without controversy as he â��euthanizedâ�� surplus animals after refusing to sell them to dealers).
In 2003, the Zooâ��s 75th anniversary publication minced no words in describing the shows as â��a practice that today we would consider cruel ... The animals succumbed out of fear...Too many of the animals in the Detroit Zoo's shows, it is now believed, were intimidated, prodded, even beaten."
Today the Detroit Zoo has no animal acts. The animals are not given names. Habitats are designed with care (here's a recent video "Community of Chimps.") In 2004, as an example of walking the walk as well as talking the talk, current director Ron Kagan announced that Wanda and Winky, Asian elephants who were among the zoo's most popular animals, would be transferred to the Performing Animal Welfare Society near Sacramento, CA. The reason was simple: elephants should not be made to live in a northern climate such as Detroitâ��s.
Several years ago, the zoo established the Center for Zoo Animal Welfare which focuses not on the â��conservationâ�� of animals or the â��educationâ�� of humans who come to see them, but rather on the welfare of individual animals. Ken Shapiro, our Executive Director, serves on its advisory committee.
Just this past weekend, Dawn Forsythe returned to the Detroit Zoo for only the second time since her fatherâ��s death in 1967. She provides a unique perspective on the institution today:
The old chimpanzee performance area and ape house are goneâ�¦the chimps and the gorillas have massive, airy indoor living areas, and wide open outdoor areas... The zoo doesnâ��t shy away from its history. Signage at the chimp area explains to visitors how the chimps of yesteryears 'were dressed in human clothes and presented to the public as clowns.' â�¦No captive situation can replicate the wild but, for this chimp trainerâ��s daughter, it was a joy to see Detroitâ��s chimps acting like chimps.
The important take-away from her visit? "I was so struck by the free and proud stances of the Detroit Zoo chimps today."
Bee Friedlander, 6/7/2011
Published by firstname.lastname@example.org on 06/07/2011 12:22:00
Modified by email@example.com on 06/08/2011 10:37:48