Posts Tagged ‘Animal Welfare’

Stepping Through ZAM: Day 8, Savannah Module

by | May 3rd, 2012

Franette Armstrong is sharing her journey through Zoo Ambassador Training in this blog series.

 

 

 

A backstage tour of the Elephant barns is a privilege only a few volunteers ever get and our entire ZAM class got it today. It was a thrill.

I mentioned last time that Colleen Kinzley, Director of Animal Care, Conservation, and Research, was a major force in changing the way Elephants are treated in zoos. That’s because she was the second in the country to begin using a management technique called Protected Contact. We saw this in operation today.

Keeper Jeff Kinzley gives this foot on this Elephant a pedicure every single workday. We have four full-time Elephant Keepers and four Elephants, so each Keeper does the same foot on each Elephant daily to be sure there are no cracks, thorns or other problems. The feet need to hold up 4-5 tons of Elephant.

 

 

 

Trainers Have Choices

But let’s go back: today about half the zoos and all the circuses use Free Contact as a way of training and disciplining animals. With this method the trainer attempts to control the Elephant by inspiring fear with physical threats and aversion training techniques.

Want an elephant to lift her foot? Well, just jab her on her ankle with a pointed steel stick. She’ll jerk her foot away from the jab in self defense.

OR, you can simply invite the elephant to lift her foot by making it worth her while. With techniques like target training, the elephant associates making a certain move with getting a reward—food or attention—and so she wants to do it.

Keeper Gina Kinzley is taking our Elephant through a series of exercises for mental stimulation and to practice moves that might be needed for her medical care, like showing her foot. All she had to say was “switch” to get the other foot up. Note the strong barriers between her and the Elephant.)

 

Now imagine you’re an elephant and you have to do a bunch of things every day. If you are in a zoo, you need to go in and out of your barn, get your feet cared for, have a bath, get mineral oil rubbed on your skin and maybe have your ears, eyes or teeth checked. If you’re in a circus, you’re going to have to walk on your back legs, balance on a ball, let some woman ride on your back.

All these things, every day, can either be pleasant or unpleasant. You can either get rewarded for doing them, or punished if you don’t. Now ask yourself, in which of these conditions would you like to live your very long life?

That’s why, in 1992, Colleen instituted Protected Contact at the Oakland Zoo, making our Zoo the second in the nation to try it. It’s been working for 20

Cheri Matthews, a long-time Animal Management volunteer, helps with another Elephant's training by delivering the treats on cue as Gina explains the process

years and now, finally, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) is mandating that all accredited zoos begin using these techniques by September of 2014. From the Elephants’ point of view, it can’t happen soon enough.

 

What are some of the hallmarks of Protected Contact?

First, there is an Elephant-proof barrier between the Keepers and the Elephants at all times or,  out in the exhibit, the Keepers maintain a distance of at least 20 feet. Our barriers are as high as the Elephants’ shoulders. Bathing and other longer procedures are done in a chute so the Keepers can move around the animal while staying protected.

 

“I’m done? Don’t be done!” This Elephant enjoyed her training exercises so much she didn’t want them to end.

 

Keepers use padded “target poles” and verbal cues to direct the Elephants to move. So, if they need to look at an Elephant’s eye, they might hold the pole near the side of the Elephant’s face so she can touch the pole. She’s rewarded with a whistle “bridge” and a little treat while the examination is conducted. Remember, the Keeper stays on the other of the fence.

Elephants get to decide what they do and when. Since the Keepers only ask them to do what’s in their best interest and  make it worth their while with treats, they generally decide to go along with the program. In fact, while I was watching one Elephant go through some mental stimulation activities, the others waltzed up and nudged into the space, wanting attention too.

 

Elephants are are never chained unless they are having a complicated medical procedure. In circuses and amusement parks, Elephants are tethered by chains around their legs nearly 100% of the time they aren’t performing. Imagine spending most of your life never being able to walk more than a few feet in any direction. Imagine how that would affect your health and mental attitude.

At the end of the day our Elephants return to their barns for a snack and 3-5 hours of taking the weight off. Jeff Kinzley shows us all the features of the new HUGE barn that is now the night-time home of our male Elephant.

This is the new barn for our male Elephant that's nearly 1200 square feet. There are three large skylights, and two steel doors, one hydraulic, the other manual. The floor is about four feet of sand, with one corner of the stall sloped to about six feet. Sand is much easier on their feet, and having a slope makes it easier for an elephant to get up and down.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why don’t all trainers use Protected Contact?

Well, for one thing, it takes time and Elephants are expensive to feed. So if you want to make a profit off them, you’re not going to mess around with humane training techniques. And if you want to make sure (or try to make sure) that your performers and trainers can work closely with the Elephants, you might think they need to be afraid of you.

In fact, keepers, trainers and circus performers are killed every year by Elephants during Free Contact. Sometimes it’s just pure rage and revenge and sometimes it’s an accident. In either case, the Elephant is usually the one that is punished.

If you need proof of what an angry Elephant can do, watch this shocking video we were assigned in class, but warning: it is  disturbing and very sad. http://www.spike.com/video-clips/ur3qj9/most-dangerous-animals-elephant-attack

 

What Can We Do?

One way to stop the for-profit entertainment industry from abusing animals is to stop buying tickets to circuses and places where people can ride on Elephants all day long. We can go to events like Cirque du Soleil and the Pickle Family Circus which don’t rely on animals for entertainment. And we can teach our friends and family that it’s not OK to bully wild animals into performing. Maybe by the time they grow up, this will all be history. Greece recently banned animals from circuses, so there’s hope for the Western World.

The Zoo supports PAWS which helps animals in the entertainment industry. Both Colleen and Dr. Parrot, Executive Director of the Oakland Zoo, have testified in front of Congress to try to stop the abuses animals suffer as performers. Right now there’s a bill in front of Congress to stop the abuse of traveling animals. To learn how you can help get this important legislation passed, please go to http://www.pawsweb.org/animals_in_traveling_shows.html.

The Oakland Zoo’s Elephant care program has won the endorsement of PETA.

 

I’m so proud to be working in a Zoo that has such a long history of using civilized animal management techniques. And it’s not just with the Elephants, but with all our potentially dangerous animals. Keepers do bond with all their charges, but they never forget that they are working with wild animals—and they really don’t want to change them. They are perfect just as they are.

 

Next week, Birds and Reptiles on the African savannah.

Until then,

 

Volunteering, Zoo Ambassador Training, elephant, elephant barn, protected contact, target training, Colleen Kinzley, Jeff Kinzley, Gina Kinzley

Change the Channel for Chimps!

by | February 1st, 2012

Eddie, a former chimp "actor," who now resides at the Oakland Zoo.

In 2012 we are more enlightened by the plight of animal “actors” than ever before, at least we think we are. It turns out that some people still aren’t getting the message. This weekend is the biggest sporting event of the year, the Super Bowl! If you are anything like me, the commercials are sometimes even more exciting than the football game.

However, despite pleas from many well known animal welfare organizations, some companies, namely CareerBuilder.com, have once again produced advertisements using chimpanzee “actors.” This causes two major problems, the welfare (or lack of) for the individual “actor” and the more global problem of misrepresenting the status of chimps in the wild.

I’ve written about the problems of chimpanzee actors many times, but this is important and bears repeating. These animals are forcibly removed from their mothers as infants. They grow up living under dominance and constant threat of abuse. Chimpanzees need their mothers to teach them social skills so “actors” don’t learn normal chimp behavior. Finally their “career” is over by the time they reach 8-9 years old, not even teenagers, and then they are frequently discarded for the remaining 40-50 years of their lives often not able to be integrated with other chimps because they were not allowed to stay with their mothers long enough to learn how to interact with their own kind. For more information on what happens to chimpanzee “actors” click here.

Globally, seeing chimpanzees dressed up in human clothing and performing on TV and in films gives people the mistaken impression that chimps are not endangered. Two studies have confirmed this misconception in recent years and both were published in peer reviewed scientific journals. People simply don’t think that if an animal is on TV that it could be endangered.

So what can we do about it? Change the channel! I’m not suggesting that you don’t watch the Super Bowl, but I am suggesting that when you see a commercial with Chimpanzees in it, just change the channel for a few minutes, even if you are not one of the Nielsen Families. Share this strategy with your friends and family and encourage them to share it with their friends and families.  If we can get the word out to as many people as possible, it WILL show up on the Nielsen Ratings which will send a message loud and clear. To learn how Nielsen Ratings work, click here. In addition, don’t watch the commercials online. YouTube tracks how many views each clip gets, don’t let them think you are watching it.  Advertisers spend millions of dollars to create these commercials and millions more to get airtime during this event. Maybe if no one watches, they’ll get the picture!

Hairy People

by | March 8th, 2010

Chimpanzee, Photo Courtesy of Oakland Zoo

Why are chimpanzees so fascinating to us? Is it because they are so much like us, sharing 98 percent of our DNA? Does this cause people to minimize their wildness? Or is it the reason we forget entirely that they are inherently wild animals? Does our propensity to anthropomorphize diminish our respect for these majestic primates?
According to a 2008 study published in the journal Science, it does. The results of that study indicated that the frequency with which we see chimpanzees in movies, TV, and commercials leads the general public to believe that chimps are not endangered. In fact, they are listed as endangered by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) Red list. Chimpanzees are already extinct in 4 of the 25 countries in their natural range. Since the 20th century, the estimated chimpanzee population in the wild has been reduced by a staggering 70-80 percent.

Chimpanzees in captivity however, are another story. More than 2000 chimps live in captivity right here in the US. Half of those are in biomedical research and about a quarter of them live in sanctuaries. Only 12 percent of chimps living in the US live in AZA accredited zoos. That leaves nearly 250 chimps in unaccredited facilities or private ownership. In fact, there are over 100 chimps documented as private pets in the US.

How did we get to this point? While the IUCN may list chimps as endangered, it has no recourse for individual countries. Each country makes their own list of endangered species that are protected by their local laws. Chimps in the wild are threatened by habitat destruction and bush meat consumption, but it is all too easy to point the finger at a country halfway across the world. We can and should support these far away places. The Oakland Zoo has made a huge impact by supporting the Budongo Snare Removal Project.

Chimpanzee

However, there are still 2000 chimpanzees in the US, and they didn’t get here by accident. Chimpanzees are the only species that our own government has double listed in our endangered species laws. This is confusing because the United States government classifies WILD chimps as “endangered” and CAPTIVE chimps as “threatened.” This means captive chimps are not afforded the same protection under federal law that every other endangered species receives. Therefore, private breeders are selling chimps to unsuspecting families as pets. Chimps are dressed up in clothes for our entertainment in movies and TV.  Because chimpanzees are portrayed this way, many people lack the understanding and appreciation for one of the world’s most intelligent animals.

As an AZA accredited zoo, the Oakland Zoo participate s in the Chimpanzee Species Survival Plan (SSP). Recently, the chair of the Chimp SSP began an ambitious project to document ALL chimpanzees living in the US and educate the public about their plight, not only in the wild, but here in our own country. The website, www.chimpcare.org, is not only educational, but gives us, as consumers the power to make choices in our daily lives that will affect how chimps are treated here, in our own backyards. Chimpanzees are not just hairy people; they are majestic, magnificent animals that deserve dignity and respect.