Perhaps some day in next few decades, zoos will be a thing of the past.
We are already experiencing a massive backlash against marine mammal captivity thanks to documentaries such as Blackfish, that exposed the behavioral changes that occur when Orcas and other cephalopods are taken for use in places like SeaWorld. Is it so hard to imagine a world in which we are asked to reexamine the captivity of elephants and giraffes in the same way?
Certainly, television programs such as Tiger King, with its kitschy cleverness, aren’t addressing the possibility. Instead, the hit Netflix docu-series seemed to make a jovial affair of attempted murder-for-hire, tax fraud, arson, animal cruelty, and possibly even homicide.
But there are still stories out there that will get the blood boiling.
The Monterey Zoo in California is facing a new lawsuit over the alleged use of banned prods on elephants at its facility and unsafe handling that could endanger zookeepers.
The Monterey Zoo is also allegedly the only facility in the state that uses “circus-style, free contact” training – which places trainers in the same space as their elephants and uses negative reinforcements, like using bullhooks, to control behavior.
That system can put handlers at risk. In June 2018, a Monterey zookeeper suffered a broken back and ankle after getting trampled by an animal.
“Even following this incident, defendants continue to use canes to control the remaining elephants,” the lawsuit alleges.
The device is certainly a bit of a grotesque holdover from the uncouth past.
California halted the use of bullhooks and similar items on captive elephants in 2018, court documents show.
They are devices “resembling a fireplace poker with a sharp hook on one end” used to intimidate or coerce elephants into following their trainer’s commands, according to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which filed the lawsuit Tuesday afternoon. The zoo is accused of using L-shaped canes that resemble the hooks enough to instill fear in the animals, instruments that are also subject to the state’s ban.
The zoo has had a bit of a reputation after being investigated after the death of two of the establishment’s other elephants, one of which was involved in a “trampling incident”.