Thursday, December 20, 2007

Activism Anyone?

Okay, I must admit that when I heard people on the radio saying that they only donate to animal rights organizations, I felt a little bit of ... well... anger would be too strong a word... maybe I had some misgivings? Why? Well, I love animals as much as the rest... furry ones, scaly ones, feathery ones, hard-to-identify ones, will-eat-you-if you-get-to-close ones... I mean, diversity is great, save the planet, don't let humans make thousands of species extinct by destroying their natural habitats, give me a nice protest sign with a trite saying and (if I don't have anything else on the agenda) I'll be there to wave my sign,
save the planet and make friends with the precious spider who is so venomous that if he bits me I die. Okay I get it. So why the misgivings to people who donate exclusively to save the rare bird, bug, bear, etc organizations? Well, because there are loads and loads of people who are dying in government condoned mass murders (Sudan) government attacking peaceful demonstrators (monks in Burma/ Myanmar) or just people who Momma Earth likes to push to the limit with floods and cyclones and such (Bangladesh). I mean; I could go on and on and on... When it comes done to save the animals or save the people- I'm with the people. I know... they're not so nice and fuzzy and cute and don't look good on t-shirts and aren’t indefensible and innocent. People can be horrible and awful and mean and usually why they have it so bad is well... other people. But again, human beings versus panda bears... well, the pandas are cute, but humans win hands down. I donate to organizations that do disaster relief, sustainable development and deal with human rights issues. The brown spotted owl, totally cute, totally deserves a place on this earth and I’m still more focused on the millions of refugees and internally displaced peoples.

However (okay, you knew there was a 'but' coming) ...once again Bangladesh has stirred up my emotions and caused me to reevaluate my priorities and well, at least be thankful for all those money-donating-animal-lovers world wide. (And before you think I'm too sentimental, I still totally kill all non human things in my apartment- ants, roaches, mosquitoes, bats- in my space, there goners. well almost all... I'm okay with the geckos)

A few days ago I went on a road trip to the Indian boarder to pick up my rather adventurous friends who had traveled through Bangladesh (on a bus) and into the Darjeeling region on India and around. While we (my driver and myself) were waiting for them at our rendezvous point in Rajshahi, he decided he would treat me to a visit to the zoo.

At the zoo, there were the required lions and tigers and bears (oh my!) birds and monkeys, a rather large snake and some kiddy rides. What struck me about this zoo was that the animals were in smallish cages made totally of concrete and metal and the visitors could walk right up too the cages and stick their fingers in, feed peanuts to the monkeys and taunt the large cats. (Yes, all this happened)

I was particularly sympathetic to the singleton Bengal tiger who paced back and forth incessantly and the two black bears in separate, far-away cages who sat bobbing their heads, one with tongue lolling and looking like the epitome of insanity due to boredom and lack of socialization. I was incensed at the people who got joy at throwing peanuts to the monkeys and watching them scramble for them. I wanted to yell "knock it off!" to the guy hissing at some of the large cats, trying successfully to get a rise out of them. And I also stood there staring at the cageless crows thinking, Damn! You got it made! Lucky you’re not much to look at. All the while I was trying to seem to enjoy this sad promenade between concrete and wire because my driver was quite happy he could treat me to something so wonderful as a visit to the zoo. (Given it was only 7 taka (10 cents) each) but still, it's a gesture... also I found it kind of sad it was only 7 taka each because I was wondering how they fed all these animals and maybe that explains way the monkeys were reaching with such determination through the bars to get a few peanuts)

Now, before you get tempted to be all condescending to countries like Bangladesh and assume that of course my little jaunt through the zoo would be depressing and horrid in all the ways seeing big beautiful animals driven to insanity in small concrete cages can be, I would like to ask if anyone has ventured to walk through our own National Zoo in Washington DC? It too has its fair share of concrete, wire and pitifully green-lacking cages and pathetic (although probably better fed) animals. Yes, it has a cute baby panda, but some parts of it also make me want to scream and break the animals free from their concrete monotony.

So, is there any zoo I would deem meaningful, worthwhile and in my non-expert expert opinion, has redeemable qualities that would justify the relocation of animals from their natural niches into one that makes it convenient for curious humans to stare at them?

Yes; The San Diego (California) zoo and Wild Animal Park. Open space, social groupings mixed animals in natural habitat spaces with space to run and eat real grass (or what have you) and drink from a 'stream'. - plus a rather successful breading program for endangered species.

So, a little conciseness to end my ramblings: I have a new found respect for the people who put their goodwill and money for the humane treatment of animals. Also, I would argue that being able to care for the needs of animals might bring us one step closer to being able to care about other humans.

I would really like to put my video clips of the lolly-gagging black bear and the pacing tiger but that's just way more than I can handle at the moment. Alas.

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