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Strange bedfellows

After a 27-year career in the zoo field at three different zoos, one would think I had seen everything regarding the ever-evolving changes and challenges zoos face on a yearly basis. Never in my career would I have imagined the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) even remotely agreeing on anything, even on what to eat for lunch, much less partnering up. Yet it might happen.

I'm reminded of the idiom "when the camel gets its nose under the tent," meaning once that happens, it's impossible to prevent the rest of the camel from entering.

I'm astonished that AZA has invited CEO Wayne Pacelle of HSUS to present a talk at its annual conference coming in September to Indianapolis. It appears HSUS wants a foothold now in dictating policy to AZA, which, if HSUS' anti-animal-in-captivity beliefs take hold, could possibly cause the demise of zoos as we know them.

Pacelle has been quoted numerous times as saying, "I don't have a hands-on fondness for animals. I did not grow up bonded to any particular nonhuman animal." And "If I had my personal view, perhaps that might take hold. In fact, I don't want to see another dog or cat born." And "One generation and out."

Pacelle is founder of the Humane Society Legislative Fund, a 501(c)(4) social welfare organization that lobbies for animal welfare legislation and works to elect humane-minded candidates to public office. AZA now seemingly appears to endorse the radical and unethical statements and actions listed above by associating and allowing HSUS leaders and representatives to present their anti-animal-in-captivity views to its members at the annual AZA meeting.

Since the announcement from the AZA that Pacelle is a keynote speaker at the conference, I polled zoo directors, CEOs of zoos, animal curators and animal keepers that I know working at AZA-accredited zoos across the country. Of all zoo personnel I queried, not one was pleased with Pacelle addressing AZA member zoos in any capacity.

Not. One.

Let's not confuse your local Humane Society with HSUS. This organization does not run our local animal shelters. HSUS is a nonprofit founded in 1954 to address animal cruelty and animal welfare. HSUS has targeted puppy mills, regulation of experimentation of animals, slaughter of animals, the food industry, etc. It is a powerful lobbying force with deep pockets and is not afraid to wield that power to get its way. Money doesn't talk, it swears.

HSUS opposes the slaughter of animals for food and the hunting of wild animals. It promotes a vegan diet. HSUS has partnered with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) years ago and shares its beliefs in shuttering zoos.

HSUS' policy regarding traveling circuses, roadside animal attractions, and zoos is well documented. Its official position on zoos is that it believes that under most circumstances "wild animals should ideally be permitted to exist undisturbed in their natural environments. Zoos are, however, a currently established part of our society and a fact of life."

Yes, zoos are a fact of life, and have been since 1752. I cannot imagine zoos disappearing in our future and I would certainly miss the wonderment of children's visits and experiences that I have witnessed many times when visiting a zoological park.

There are 232 (as of last count) AZA-accredited zoos in the U.S. AZA has adopted the position as standard bearer of policing zoos' animal care, all the while promoting education and conservation practices. It is considered the "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval" of zoo facilities worldwide. And with good reason, because of its policies.

But please, AZA, step back, take a deep breath, and consider the negative ramifications you will endure by partnering HSUS into your stable. I have sent my concerns to Barbara Pueschel, board and committee liaison for AZA, as the email address of Dan Ashe, CEO/president of AZA, is not published on the official AZA website. Pueschel assured me she would relay my concerns and get back to me. As of press time, I have not received a reply.

In my email correspondence with Little Rock Zoo director Susan Altrui, she seemed amenable to Pacelle being allowed to make his pitch. Perhaps she's agreeable due to fairness, or she is not fully aware of HSUS' history or beliefs against zoos. I suspect the latter, because she was originally hired as the director of marketing and development at the zoo by the former zoo director and had no previous zoological experience.

In order for AZA to remain relevant and respected, it should dis-invite Pacelle from expressing his anti-animal-in-captivity beliefs at its annual conference.

Randal Berry retired from the Little Rock Zoo in 2016.

Editorial on 08/13/2017

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