YOUR "AT THE ZOO" ARTICLE IN THE
June 17 issue was interesting reading. I find it hard to believe that zoo employees don't understand why the animals, when given the chance, would kill the hand that feeds them. It's painfully obvious to any zoo visitor that no matter how enjoyable it is to see the animals up close and personal, it is still a prison and they are being held against their will.
The Nation's Zoo needs to set an example in humane treatment. Space allotment per animal is inadequate. The Great Ape House is as alien an environment as Mars for these magnificent animals. Gorillas belong outdoors, not behind glass in artificial light. It's time to take a good look at our aging zoo -- 163 acres is too small for the current population. It's time to remodel, upgrade and scale back the number of inhabitants. Quality of life shouldn't apply only to humans.
I READ PETER CARLSON'S DELIGHTFUL
article on the National Zoo with a great deal of pleasure, not only because of the excellence of his writing but also because of the warm memories it evoked.
As a fledgling reporter for the Washington Daily News in the mid-'60s, I was assigned to the zoo beat. After I had arranged for a daylong orientation tour, City Editor Stan Felder called me aside. "Find 'Petey,' " he whispered urgently. "I know he's there somewhere."
Petey was a talking myna bird who had developed a reputation for language that would make a sailor blush. After complaints from visitors, the zoo's director, Theodore Reed, had taken Petey home, where he was monitored for two weeks, passed his probation without a single rude remark and returned to public display. Alas, not a week passed before Petey returned to his old ways, and he vanished shortly thereafter. Petey's fate became something of a cause celebre of Stan's.
The guided tour was fascinating, but Petey was never far from my thoughts. Finally we reached the avian house, and I carefully scrutinized every cage. No Petey. My guide then took me to the basement, where sick and injured birds were nursed back to health, and, just as we were about to leave, from a cage in a remote corner a voice so eerily human as to make me doubt my ears called out urgently, "Help! Help! I'm a prisoner!"
That still ranks among my most satisfying investigative reporting successes.
NORMAN R. BEEBE
NATIONAL ZOO DIRECTOR MICHAEL Robinson claims that zoos are justified because the animals' natural world is "a battlefield," a world of "competition, predation, privation and social pressure of the most horrendous kind." I couldn't help noticing that Robinson has quite accurately described the human world I experience every day. And yet I'd much rather have the freedom to experience it than to be "protected" from it, as women were for centuries.
The claim that we are controlling others for their own good seems invariably a lie, whether in reference to oppressed humans or to other-than-human beings. While doing an adequate job feeding and housing animals, zoos deprive animals of the satisfaction they'd experience performing these very activities for themselves.
AFTER READING PETER CARLSON'S "AT
the Zoo," I found it especially distressing to learn that baby chicks are gassed with carbon dioxide so they may be fed to the crocodiles and wolves.
I also found it very interesting that zoo employee Dale Marcellini stated, "Our visitors may not be interested in the exhibits" and "people say they visit zoos primarily to be with family and friends."
Perhaps more disturbing findings will be uncovered in the future about the reality of zoos, and this will discourage the public from supporting them altogether.
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