Updated: Apr 30
“An antelope broke its neck.”
“A caretaker was injured by a tiger during feeding time.”
“The habitat did not seem to be big enough to house all animals.”
These are recent headlines from some of the most prestigious Zoos in the United States. It hit a nerve. I have avoided going to Zoos for many years. I do visit and support animal rescue facilities where abandoned, tortured, or retired animals find a soft place to land.
However, Zoos are, for the most part, torture for me. Because I can’t unsee and unfeel. Watching two elephants in an enclosure smaller than a soccer field, moving their heads left to right, trunks swaying. In horse terms, it would be called weaving, in human terms dissociation. The elephants' eyes glazed over, it was obvious that any good spirit had left years ago.
The proud Eagle stuck in an aviary the size of your living room. He was calm and sullen, unresponsive to my reaching out. I think I heard him “It just is ...”
And how about the tiger pacing behind bars. Rainer Maria Rilke described it so poignantly in his poem “The Panther”
In the Jardin des Plantes, Paris His gaze has been so worn by the procession Of bars that it no longer makes a bond. Around, a thousand bars seem to be flashing, And in their flashing show no world beyond.
Translated by Walter Arndt
And so I wonder, what are we thinking? What are we doing? And most importantly, are we feeling?
The public relations person of one famous Zoo expressed that she was at a loss. She explained, “We took great measures to make sure the animals were transitioned into their new habitat according to the regulations.” And “We provide ample space for our animals to provide them with the best care.”
But the reality is, thinking we’re doing the right thing does not make it right.
Because if we did it right, why would Orca kill her trainer? Why did the tiger attack, Siegfried? Or was it Roy? Because we ask tigers to be pussycats. Because we ask the biggest mammal in the world to perform the same routine over and over in a pool the size of a kitchen sink. And, because we cram flight animals like antelopes into small enclosures that are located a few hundred yards from lions that are frustrated and aggressive due to boredom.
I understand, the purpose of Zoos once was to bring the wild to the people when a picture wouldn’t suffice. With 3D movies, National Geographic, and adventure travel those arguments are outdated. Another marketable argument is that Zoos help animals close to extinction to survive. That seems so noble, except, why do we destroy their natural habitats and hunt them down so that they are near extinction? Why do we think that we can make a wrong right by bringing a few of those animals to the Zoo so they can survive?
When you can’t hunt, can’t run, can’t fly, can’t swim like you were born to do, you don’t survive, you hang in. You wait for food. You get irritated. You snap. And then you are the felon. And you might get killed, or banned.
Listen to the news, kindred spirits: the animals are telling us, it is time for us to take a closer look. Let’s look into their eyes, and, more importantly, through their eyes. When we do, we see the despair, feel the loneliness, and the defeat. And, we will understand their behavior and start working toward a more mindful approach. We will give them more space, more time, more companionship, and more exciting environments. Let’s get engaged from the heart.
NICOLE BIRKHOLZER is a relationship coach for animals + their humans. Nicole is the founder of Mindful Connections™ and the host of "Let's Have A Chat!" a podcast where she shares the secret of communicating with animals successfully. Nicole is pioneering a new approach to animal communication where horses + pets are honored as soul-companions + partners in our human search for happiness, fulfillment + wholeness.
Discover the timeless wisdom of animals — and the unbridled intuition in every human heart — at Mindful-Connections.com. And connect with Nicole on Facebook + Twitter at @NBirkholzer.