Everyone makes mistakes- even our well loved and widely regarded conservation heroes. Jane Goodall spent the better part of her time out with the chimpanzees in Camp Leaky tempting the animals with tasty banana treats which we now know are loaded with sugar and can lead to issues such as obesity and diabetes in mammals if consumed in high frequencies. On top of this, animals and humans are most often best kept apart in order to preserve natural behaviours.
Our British documentary idol, David Attenborough could be found capturing wild animals for their new lives in captivity for his hit show- Zoo Quest, back in the early days of his career. Family groups split up, stressful transportation situations and solitary isolation were just a few consequences of his actions for wild animals.
In fact, every animal you see in a zoo or a tourist park most likely has an ancestor who was poached in the wild for a life in captivity. If you think that this process of obtaining animals was a short and painless experience, I am sorry to inform you that often whole family groups of animals were mass slaughtered just to obtain one individual for captivity. Imagine trying to pry a baby elephant away from its mother without getting killed yourself, it is a near impossible task. To obtain a baby elephant, you must kill the mother and any other elephants that wish to avenge the mothers death or claim new motherly duties of the infant- which is everyone in the herd. That’s right, to capture one single baby elephant, you must slaughter an entire herd. I wish that we could say our ancestors were tasteful about this slaughter and paid their humble respects to the herd on their death beds, however unfortunately the English captors used to capture ridiculous portraits of themselves posing on top of the elephants with penny farthings and the like. If only Facebook and Instagram were around back then so they could share their outrageous portraits with other nations.
But alas, we must not poo poo these people with upturned noses, as without Jane, you would not have the conservation idol who created a multinational conservation initiative- Roots & Shoots which has been a leading organisation in inspiring young people all over the globe to become involved in conserving nature. On top of this, we would be without the discovery that humans were not the only tool users on the planet which lead to redefining our whole species.
David Attenborough told me himself that he has no regrets of his past life in Zoo Quest as zoos are a main driving force in inspiring people to see wildlife in person and draw inspiration for conserving them from their experiences. I don’t know a single person who is not interested in watching Sir David’s documentaries even if they are not interested in wildlife or conservation at all. He has single-handedly brought the savannas of Africa, depths of the oceans and the impenetrable South American rainforests into the homes hundreds of thousands of humans around the world and sparked a conversation regarding how incredible our planet really is.
As for the blood shed that lead to the modern zoo- was it worth it? In some instances you can have an amazing conservation based facility that supports field projects and does not keep animals which would be unreasonably kept in the climate within the zoo. These places are responsible for re-vegetation projects, often support conservation based research and are responsible for educating a large chunk of the public about global wildlife. But on the other hand, there are zoos that are still killing the animals that lie within them as they wither away with inadequate diets, enclosures and social interaction with others of its species.
Being in the field of conservation, I have come to understand that imperfections can often lead to amazing and brand new innovations. Rick O’Barry introduced flipper and captive dolphins to us all, but now is spending his life trying to tare the industry down just as Jane has built her conservation empire and David has shown the whole world how beautiful our planet could be if we just let it flourish without taring it down.
If our zoos are built on a foundation of bloodshed, lets make them worth it shall we. Lets use them to educate the public and show them first hand what these animals look and feel and smell like and why they are important to the running of the world we live in. Lets show people the tree kangaroos and the hairy sponge crabs and prove to people that nature has miraculous inventions and that we could be a part in celebrating them. Lets show people how animals are too interesting to be killed and lets continue to breed captive animals so that no more wild species need to die on our behalf.
Conservation taught me that mistakes, even big horrible ones are okay if you are willing to devote your time to righting your wrongs. There is always a second chance. There is always room to make amends.