Recently the Washington Post described the life and death of a 100 year old Aldabra tortoise at the National Zoo who had spent nearly a lifetime as an ambassador for tortoises, teaching visitors from around the world about this amazing species. This reminded me of how impactful zoological gardens are to their visitors, providing education about the importance of the preservation of species, often facilitated by these institutions.
I was an extern at the National Zoo while I was a senior in veterinary school, after completing an externship at the Toronto Zoo and working with veterinarians at the San Diego Zoo, Oklahoma City Zoo and Royal Rotterdam Zoo. One of the biggest differences between zoo animal medicine and traditional veterinary practice is the inability to examine and perform routine procedures on many zoo animals without sedating or anesthetizing them.
However, there are some exceptions, depicted here:
Eventually, I decided to pursue a career in large animal ambulatory medicine, where I practiced theriogenology (reproduction), a field of veterinary medicine I loved.
As a result of my experience with multiple species, I was able to work with owners of all types of animals, including llama, deer, pot belly pigs, and emu in addition to traditional livestock species. I consulted for a few zoological parks and have retained my interest in zoo and exotic animals.
As an attorney, I represent animal owners, veterinarians, all types of animal related businesses (e.g., pharmaceutical companies, farmers, breeders, zoos, aquaria, pet stores), universities, trade associations, processing plants and food-related businesses. These businesses are often the targets of animal activists who want to eliminate animal ownership entirely.
As Stacey Ludlum, the Director of Zoo and Aquarium Planning and Design at PGAV Destinations in St. Louis, wrote:
In conversations with zoos and aquariums in recent years, it seems the (excuse me for this) elephant in the room has been the focused, laser-like attention on our community from anti-marine and zoological park activists. (See The power of partnership: could animal rights organisations and zoos/aquariums join forces).
Ms. Ludlum advocated for a partnership between animal rights organizations and those involved with zoos and aquaria to “unite over a common cause: working to protect the remaining non-captive animal populations from extinction,” certainly a laudable goal. However, for those people and organizations who believe animals should never be owned by humans, the gap is simply too broad to bridge such a partnership.
I believe that people can continue to own, breed, raise, and sell animals, as companion animals, food-producing animals, service animals, in biomedical research, zoos and aquaria, as long as the animals are treated humanely. We may argue about what standards of care are humane, but the standards should be based on objective, validated scientific research. And we should expect those standards to change and evolve as animal scientists continue to study animal welfare. See, i.e., Purdue’s Center for Animal Welfare Science, currently directed by Candace Croney, PhD.