Zoo vs. Sanctuary: The AZA Position

I have often wondered why PAWS continues to be a target for the perpetuation of myths versus facts by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) regarding sanctuaries. Why us? It is even more perplexing when one considers their silence when blatant animal abuse and neglect is exposed at one of their AZA-accredited or AZA-affiliated facilities like Have Trunk Will Travel.
When the Milwaukee County Zoo, an AZA-accredited facility, donated Lota, an Asian elephant, to a circus corporation, the transfer was negotiated with the full approval of AZA. Lota contracted TB while travelling with various circuses and was ultimately mandated by USDA to be sent to the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, a transfer protested by AZA who preferred having Lota perform in a circus to life in a sanctuary. Why?

Annie, a former Milwaukee Zoo elephant, now lives at ARK 2000.

The transfer of Tammy and Annie, Lota’s two elephant companions, to the PAWS sanctuary in Galt, was also vigorously protested by AZA. Milwaukee County executives mandated the transfer after the “training” of Tammy and Annie was exposed on video tapes showing the cruel, daily sessions where the two elephants were roped and beaten repeatedly. AZA did not find this treatment objectionable, although they were opposed to sending the elephants to PAWS. Why?
The list continued as years passed, with AZA threatening Detroit, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Alaska zoos with the loss of accreditation for sending elephants to PAWS. Why? Possible answers to this question, are as follows:
On October 19, 2004, PAWS distributed a press release expressing outrage over the death of Tatima, a 35-year-old African elephant at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago. The press release, which was published in our book, Everything You Should Know About Elephants, in 2009, expressed my opinion that, “This elephant’s death is the direct result of the Association of Zoos and Aquarium’s (AZA) stubborn refusal to make decisions in the best interest of individual animal welfare.” You can read that press release, here.
I also wrote an article in response to the 2004 paper, “Zoo vs. Sanctuary: An Ethical Consideration”, written by Dr. Michael Hutchins, Director and William Conway Chair, AZA Department of Conservation and Science. That article is also included in Everything You Shnould Know About Elephants. Dr. Hutchins’ article is once again being circulated on the Web, and at the risk of becoming redundant, readers who may wish to hear the rest of the story can read my response to that article, here.
The 27+ year history of PAWS is one of which Ed and I are inordinately proud. Our mission has been simple — to enhance the quality of life for all captive wildlife and to provide sanctuary to abused, abandoned or retired wildlife. Some AZA-accredited zoos have supported our mission and collaborated with us to expose abuse and neglect in facilities that house captive wildlife. They are frequently castigated for their support of PAWS.
Why does AZA continue to condone the actions of animal trainers and zoos that use bullhooks and other “tools of the trade” in their management programs, or ones that advocate separating bonded pairs of elephants in the name of conservation which violates the research of scientists who have devoted years to the study of wild populations of animals?
Some of the most renowned and respected scientists — Cynthia Moss, Joyce Poole, Winnie Kiiru, Keith Lindsay and Dr. Jane Goodall — have recommended the PAWS ARK 2000 sanctuary to Toronto Zoo as a retirement home for the three African elephants, Thika, Toka and Iringa. Why does AZA consider their years of experience as unimportant, and continue to threaten Toronto Zoo with the horrors of lack of accreditation?

Maggie, a former resident of the Alaska Zoo.

Further answers are contained in the November issue of the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquarium’s (CAZA) in-house magazine, published after a workshop was held at Toronto Zoo. In a paper titled, “Collection Sustainability Initiative”, CAZA presented some very frightening ideas on “managing” species, and some very cogent reasons for zoo associations’ support of “industry” facilities and trainers — over sanctuaries and animal welfare advocates.
In the early ’70s, zoos referred to their “collections” and often employed Curators of Collections to import popular species captured by exotic animal dealers like Fred Zeehandelaar, who brought Toka and Iringa to the Toronto Zoo after trapping them in the wild.
Animal dealers were considered an invaluable resource to zoos and their breeding programs. When a surplus of animals, mostly males, occurred as a result of successful breeding, the dealers would travel to zoos to collect the surplus animals and deliver them to animal auctions and hunting ranches.
There were no ethical concerns about acquisition or disposition of the collections. The welfare of individual animals was considered to be unimportant compared to the greater good of Species Survival Plans (SSP).
As an animal trainer working in films and television, I was appalled at this system which traded animals like baseball cards, and the resultant suffering and neglect was so horrifying, it compelled me to write my first book, “The Lady and Her Tiger.” I became one of the first “animal activists” before the term was coined.
When “Animal Activists” emerged in the early ’80s, Ed and I were honored to join their ranks as they battled industry cruelty. We educated our colleagues on the cruelties inherent in the use of wildlife in entertainment and started campaigns to change laws that allowed the importation of wildlife from range countries. We were also responsible for stricter enforcement of existing laws and public scrutiny of animal auctions and hunting ranches.
The exposure of the practice by AZA-accredited zoos to send surplus animals to hunting ranches was the beginning of the controversy between PAWS and AZA.

“Animal Activists” and ” Animal Rights Advocates” are identified by CAZA as “advocating for animals to be given rights similar to those of humans.” They state that, “It is anticipated that over the next number of years there will be a ‘hearts and minds’ battle between the zoo and aquarium profession and these groups for support from the general public, various levels of government and potential donors and sponsors.”

Who knew? We thought zoos shared our concern for the welfare of all animals. Many do, but the industry unions, CAZA, AZA and EMA, are promoting some very different concepts in the name of conservation.

CAZA states its concerns regarding:

• The “increasing difficulty for CAZA members to participate in managed breeding programs due to government regulations restricting the movement of animals into and out of the USA.”

• “Sensitivity among staff, supporters and governing authorities on the application of species management processes such as euthanasia, surplusing of over-represented animals and culling (slaughter of large numbers of animals to control populations). It was felt that this has led to non-reproductive animals occupying scarce holding and display space and to a decline in the genetic diversity of the populations.”

• “Animal Activists. . . , in addition to targeting the public, will attempt to create or influence legislation to hamper the ability of zoos and aquariums to conduct their business.”

• “Public opinion is very volatile and can be influenced by media/activist groups. The public doesn’t always differentiate between accredited and non-accredited zoos.”

This philosophy is reflected in much of AZA’s literature and is a disturbing revelation that AZA and CAZA consider those who advocate for animal welfare a threat to the “conduct of their business.” Circuses, animal dealers and animal trainers are preferred colleagues who are allowed to use the perceived credibility of AZA, CAZA, EMA and other trade organizations to justify their activities.

A call to action for a return to the “Good Old Days” — when surplus animals could be euthanized, traded, sold or donated to circuses, animal trainers and backyard breeders; when laws would allow zoos to import or “rescue” (a new term for capture) exotic animals from the wild — is apparent.

Hopefully, the many ethical and humane zoo directors, keepers and docents will object to this return to archaic and insensitive policies that create controversy between them and their “animal activist” supporters.

I still believe most zoo professionals are bona fide animal activists with a strong desire to make life better for their animals — despite the insidious attempts of animal exploiters to infiltrate their world.


10 thoughts on “Zoo vs. Sanctuary: The AZA Position

  1. Pingback: Rumblings from PAWS- by Pat Derby | From Patty's Perch

  2. When wanting to understand the irrational actions of organization the best way to wrap your head around the problem is to follow the money. Where does the AZA get their revenue? I bet there are some surprises lurking. Maybe it’s time get to the root of the problem.

  3. I suspect it is easy to become concerned with the financial side of zoos and aquariums when you are never in contact with the animals. Zoos should be closed. Theme parks and circuses should be told they may no longer abuse and exploit animals.
    If Peru and Bolivia can start on this road, so can we.

  4. As a former docent of at Lincoln Park Zoo, I applaud your compassionate and well-considered comments. There were indeed many staff and docents at LPZ who truly loved and cared about the animals, but the management perspective was as you described: the animals were commodities whose individual needs were subordinate to their role as ambassadors for their species. We were even (absurdly) instructed not to tell visitors the animals’ names, lest they get too attached to individuals. We had a closely-bonded pair of elephants, one African and one Asian, who had spent their entire lives together until the zoo director decided he wanted the large mammal building to be an Africa-themed house, at which point he heartlessly sent the Asian elephant to a zoo in Texas.

    The situation with the zoo’s three last elephants, the ones from San Diego, was truly horrific.They All three were dead with a seven-month period. The last survivor was rushed out of the zoo with much less crate training than was customary, and died in transit. It was widely believed that the Zoo was trying to get rid of her before the Chicago City Council could enact an ordinance requiring substantially more exhibit space for elephants than the Zoo provided. (It didn’t pass). The Zoo’s chief veterinarian accompanied the elephant on her fatal trip, and it was thought in many quarters that her bad decisions and lack of control of the situation contributed to the elephant’s death, but no action was ever taken against her.

    The Zoo always told us to emphasize that we were an AZA-accredited institution. In 14 years, I never found a visitor who cared.

  5. I think the AZA is repeatedly establishing the fact that they are not interested in the welfare of the animal first. Your organization, on the other hand does. And you have the scientists’ professional opinion backing you us. Just keep plugging away at what you are doing. You already have credibility. The AZA is shooting themselves in the foot. Keep writing your blog, providing information, etc and eventually people realize that you know what you are doing and you are the real thing.

  6. Thank you Pat, for arming us with the facts we need to retort to those who do not understand how undermining these organizations have been to animal welfare. Another sad part is these organizations are able to brainwash their keepers, as is the case with the Toronto Zoo, that responsible sanctuaries are not the best alternatives for captive wildlife. In any case these organizations are able to see what is coming down the pike – continued success and popularity of sanctuaries like PAWS simply because the animals look happier, are happier and are better cared for. Seeing is believing.

    I’d also like to add that animal advocates are good researchers; they get to the truth and if sanctuaries are not doing their job, that knowledge is soon circulated. Because of the sad facts you have mentioned, and many more, advocates have long ago concluded that most animals live in slavery in both zoos and circuses where advocates have made the decision to help those animals, especially the larger exotics which flat out need space and where breeding only serves the need for more ticket buyers. At one time abolitionists of human slavery were thought radical; today it is the animal advocates of whom time will prove just as in the right.

  7. Pat, thank you for your experienced insight and passion, both now & for the upcoming generation of animal rescue/rehab sanctuary operators!

  8. Spot on! I never cease to be amazed that the AZA assumes that sanctuary standards have to be/must be, by default, lower and less rigorous than the AZA’s standards. It doesn’t even cross their minds that sanctuary standards might be higher and better.

  9. If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.
    St. Francis of Assisi

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s