Answers to Common Zoo Misconceptions
The subject of animal rights and welfare is highly complex. Just like any other topic that members of the public may debate about, there are many different degrees of opinion. Most members of the public that are concerned about zoos are typically people concerned about animal welfare.
By clearing up misconceptions about how Reptilia’s animals are acquired and cared for, as well as why we have the animals in the first place, we can alleviate many of the concerns which may arise from members of the public concerned with the welfare of our animals.
Below are typical concerns raised by those that feel strongly about animal welfare or rights, and where Reptilia stands on each.
The Concern with Removing Animals from the Wild
Removing animals from the wild does not only potentially negatively impact their populations from a conservation standpoint, but it also is a ‘loss of freedom’ to the individual animal, which is typically seen in a more negative light than an animal that has been born and raised in captivity.
Reptilia does not purposely remove animals from the wild for its animal collection. Reptilia carefully considers the number of animals we can provide an excellent standard of care for, and what species are needed to forward our mandate of education and conservation. Animal sources include:
- Taking in unwanted pets from members of the public
- Taking in animals that were confiscated from the public by organizations such as the police, animal services, OSPCA, MNRF, and Environment Canada
- Controlled and regulated breeding of species that forward our mandate that is unlikely to come in as donations or confiscations. Breeding of common species is avoided altogether in the interest of giving homes to animals in need first
- Taking in animals that were donated to or bred by other accredited zoo facilities if they are species that forward the company’s mandate
- Note: Since we are rescuing animals from various sources, it does mean that some of the animals may have initially been wild caught, but Reptilia does not actively seek or remove animals from the wild, it simply rescues animals in need that could not be returned to the wild
The Concern with Not Releasing Animals to the Wild
Some Guests believe that any animal, even if it was bred in captivity, should be released into the wild. The wild is considered ‘better’ than captivity, mostly due to the animal having freedom of choice in its actions and fate, even if captivity may appear like a more cushioned alternative, some do not believe this to be a morally adequate reason to keep animals in captivity.
There are many reasons why releasing animals in the wild is not an acceptable course of action.
- Many animals may be genetic hybrids, or the geographic subspecies may not be properly identified, and the animal will not be capable of thriving in the particular range it is placed in
- Captive animals can spread novel diseases into the wild population
- Reptiles typically have small, well-recognized home ranges. If their home is changed (from captivity to the wild, or even a relocation of a couple of kilometers), they will spend a significant amount of time searching for their old home range. During this period they will be exposed to predators and not focused on other necessities of survival such as feeding. If they manage to survive the first few weeks they may be able to establish themselves, but it is a challenge for them to last that long
- Overall, releasing animals into the wild is typically detrimental for both the individual animals who often suffer and die, as well as possible negative effects on the rest of the population
The Concern with Animal Welfare in Captivity
Some guests may believe that captive reptiles do not receive adequate care. Either because caretakers WILL NOT provide it, or CANNOT provide it. Although there are certainly individuals and organizations that may not offer the animals the best means they can, many facilities, including Reptilia, have many regulations to ensure top level care is provided, including following a high level of care standards (CAZA, etc.) and members in the organization dedicated to staying up to date with current information and bettering practices and procedures over time as new knowledge is gained.
However, this does not necessarily solve the latter issue, that no matter how much an organization tries, they cannot fully replicate the job done by nature. Although there is no perfect answer to this issue, the best we can do is stated previously, to provide the absolute best care for the animal based on known best practices.
The Concern with Allowing Public to Interact with the Animals Directly
Often this issue is presented as a health risk to humans, however, the issue is multifaceted and includes other elements as well. One is that the act of touching the animals is intrinsically stressful for the animal, and also that allowing kids to touch animals causes them to disrespect the animal and may also lead to other behaviors such as picking up wild animals.
There has been very little research in the stress levels of reptiles in captive conditions. Reptilia’s goal is to minimize stress. This is done by giving animals specifically on and off use periods, having monitoring systems in place for health, setting and following policies on animal handling and interaction and assessing any visible signs of stress. We have to use common sense to judge if the animal appears stressed. This includes long term factors like loss of body condition, illness and anorexia, and short term factors like restlessness and aggression.
Although there will always be a chance that some people misinterpret the messages we attempt to convey, Reptilia’s goal is the conservation of species, and we do not promote that guests interfere directly with wildlife. Further Reptilia promotes empathy and respect towards the animals by expressing that they can be injured or distressed if we do not treat them kindly.
The Concern with Promotion of Reptiles as Pets
The primary concern here is that members of the public cannot provide the necessary quality of life that these animals would need. Additionally is that ‘exotic’ pets are not the same as ‘domesticated’ pets, and are intrinsically less well suited for a life in captivity. Lastly is the sentiment that animals should not be kept in captivity under any circumstance.
It is an unfortunate reality of the current world that there is a large disparity in the level of care people give their pets. In many cases, it may be less than the animals should have to thrive, or maintain a high level of wellbeing. It is also a reality of the current world that the public have ready access to animals and there are very little checks in place to control how well they actually provide for the animal.
Due to these truths, Reptilia’s standpoint is that people can and will get animals regardless of whether we agree they should have them or not. Therefore the company positions itself as an expert, promoting responsible pet ownership, including selecting an appropriate species, understanding that animal’s needs, and providing the tools the public needs to be able to provide to those needs to ensure the best quality of life for animals that are kept in captivity.
This also includes promoting a greater level of care than the industry standard (habitat size, variety of diet, etc.), discouraging members of the public to breed their pets, and encouraging adoption and avoidance of wild caught species.
Reptilia does not agree that reptiles are intrinsically poor pets because they are not ‘domesticated’. There are many reasons in which appropriate reptile species make good pets, and for some people, likely better pets than a more traditional dog, cat or bird would be.
The Concern that Reptilia’s Claims of Education and Conservation are Unjustified
Some believe that the use of live animals is completely unnecessary for educational and conservation-based programming and that media such as video and photos will have the same level of impact as the use of actual animals. Additionally many believe that people should go out into the world and ‘learn from nature’, instead of having animals held captive for the same purpose.
The main reason Reptilia uses live animals in our programs is that direct exposure and interaction encourages empathy towards the animals and serves to increase the retention of the information passed along to the public through presentations and visual media. With reptiles in particular that are often actively feared, disgusted and persecuted, this is only truer.
Building positive experiences with reptiles in young children or changing the negative opinions of older adults is one of the most important conservation steps that can be made with this group of animals. Furthermore, direct interaction with animals has tremendous benefits with special needs groups such as those on the autism spectrum, with mental health issues such as depression and anxiety as well as therapy animals with groups such as seniors.
Having the animals in a facility like Reptilia and performing outreach programs to the surrounding area makes the exposure and knowledge much more accessible to the public, many of which may not have the chance to travel and experience these creatures in their natural habitats. Ecotourism itself is actually detrimental to the environment, resulting in actual damage to the habitat through the activities of the visiting humans as well as an increase in negative activities such as poaching.
The Concerns that Animals are Being Exploited for Money
Although most members of the public would see the value in a Reptilia curriculum program or a visit to the zoo, it is harder for them to see the positive connection in programs like birthday parties and the photo booth, which may be viewed as directly exploiting the animals for money in ways that only offer entertainment, not education.
Reptilia considers a birthday party to be an extension of our education programming. The animals we use are intrinsically fascinating and interesting, meaning guests can have fun while learning and appreciating the species at the same time. A Reptilia party is held up to the same standards regarding quality of information given and conservation messaging as any other program we offer.
Even the photo booth helps to further Reptilia’s mission. One way is by getting our guests to appreciate and decrease fear of reptiles by having the chance to interact with them, which is essential for having guests willing to conserve these species in the first place. Secondly, the photos taken at the photo booth are a strong marketing tool that is posted to social media, raise awareness for the company and encourage more gusts to visit. The better reach the company has, the more guests we have the opportunity to education and therefore the stronger our mission of conservation and education goes.
Animals used for all programs are treated with the same level of care, respect, and regard for their general wellbeing. If one program is more stressful for the animals, then it will be modified, or the animals withdrawn.
The Concern that Company Cannot Be Truly Altruistic if it is For Profit
Those that feel strongly about animal welfare usually feel that a for-profit company cannot truly have the interests of the animals in mind, and must therefore only exist for their exploitation.
Nonprofit companies are typically a lot less stable than those for profit. They subsist primarily off of donations and government support, which may be sparse and unpredictable. This ends up both being a risk to the animal collection we are responsible for if the company does not garner enough support to meet their needs. Being for profit also means that the company can build resources to constantly better the facility and expand. The larger the company is, the more public we meet and advance our mission.
The Concern with Having Animals in Captivity Under Any Circumstance
This is the standpoint that there is no good excuse, no greater good which can justify holding animals of any species in captivity. Those that do feel this way will be unlikely to accept any argument offered.
At Reptilia, we are committed to the highest standard of care towards our reptile family for no other reason except this: we truly love our reptiles, they are our family. When one of them gets sick or hurt, it pains us and we diligently nurse them back to health. When one of our reptiles passes away from old age it’s like losing a loved one.
We understand that there will always be people that do not agree, for a multitude of reasons, but we will continue to do what we know is good and best for our reptile family.
For more information on Animal Welfare Regulations and Policy, as well as how Canada’s Accredited Zoos and Aquariums maintains standards of excellence in animal care please visit https://caza.ca/