Monday, February 10, 2003


Who's Minding the L.A. Zoo?
Animal Welfare vs. The Bottom Line
By Kerri Hikida
"Zoos are intrinsically wrong. They are against everything America stands for, which is freedom. We have to work towards freeing animals, not towards keeping them captive in cages. It's the American thing to do."

So says Los Angeles Zoo animal keeper and union shop steward David Reames. Despite his incisive words, Reames is not a zoo abolitionist-he feels zoos still have a role to play in the modern world. But most zoos, he says, L.A.'s included, are making the entertainment of humans, as opposed to the welfare of animals, their primary focus....

Slowly but surely, L.A. Zoo facilities have improved over the years in terms of new exhibits, Reames acknowledges. New exhibits include an improved chimpanzee area, a new orangutan exhibit, and a children's zoo, and many more, such as a gorilla reserve and a "Rain Forest of the Americas," are under construction. However, that doesn't eliminate the pervasive problems that persist-the zoo needs to reverse its movement towards running its facilities like an amusement park, and do more on educating the public regarding how habitat loss and environmental degradation affects animals, Reames says....

What you don't hear about is the opposite-over-breeding. Because of the limited space zoos have for any given species, when animals are reproducing too much, not everyone gets to stay.

So where does the "excess" go? When the L.A. Zoo chimp population reached surplus levels, they began selling them for entertainment purposes (where do you think Michael Jackson got his chimp?). Other animals are traded to other zoos or have to stay in inadequate holding facilities. At some zoos, though the L.A. Zoo has moved away from this practice, animals are sold to hunting ranches or animal research facilities. (The L.A. Zoo created a law several years ago that mandates zoo officials not cooperate with hunting ranches.)

"'Animal Surplus' is the four-letter word of the zoo business; it's the secret no one wants to get out," Reames says....