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Interview with David Hancocks about the future of zoos

 
 
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  #1
Interview with David Hancocks about the future of zoos
Old 14-03-2012

Here is a new interview (March 2012) with David Hancocks about the future of zoos. He has been an important presence in the development of the modern zoo, but he is also very abrasive to the point of being a jerk, which I think limits his influence. This trait is very much present in this interview...

A Critical Look at the Future of Zoos–An Interview with David Hancocks – News Watch

He makes reference to the important lessons of someone named Heini Hediger, and that the zoo world has discarded these lessons...does anyone know what he is talking about here specifically?
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  #2
Old 14-03-2012

I read that interview and David Hancocks used to be a legend in regards to zoological institutions. His 2001 book "A Different Nature" is one of my all-time favourites, and the trio of zoos that he was a director of (Woodland Park, ASDM, Werribee Open Range Zoo) are still very highly regarded. However, his stance in the past decade could almost be referred to as anti-zoo due to his testifying against the Elephants of Asia exhibit at Los Angeles Zoo and his continual criticism of almost every zoo that I've ever visited.

Heini Hediger has been called the "father of zoo biology" and he was arguably one of the most important people in the history of zoos. Check out the Wikipedia link, amongst other locations, for more information.
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  #3
Old 14-03-2012

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Originally Posted by snowleopard View Post
However, his stance in the past decade could almost be referred to as anti-zoo due to his testifying against the Elephants of Asia exhibit at Los Angeles Zoo and his continual criticism of almost every zoo that I've ever visited.
I think that isn't quite right. David holds zoos to a very high standard and apparently has little tolerance for zoos not working towards that goal. That he is a very demanding zoo voice does not make him at all anti-zoo. Only anti-bad-zoo or bad-zoo-decisions.
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  #4
Old 14-03-2012

Quote from David Hancock,

What zoos have decided to do instead is to design animal enclosures (they call them “habitats”) that look vaguely naturalistic, but in which the animals have no contact with anything natural. None of their senses are stimulated by the typical zoo-built enclosure. Everything they touch except their food and feces is unnatural: trees made of concrete or plastic; floors made to look natural but formed of unyielding concrete (or, occasionally, tan-bark or hard packed dirt, each as useless to the animals as concrete). The animal spaces are very often as barren as the old menagerie cages. Visitor spaces, meanwhile, are typically bewildering and visually chaotic spaces that vaguely resemble a mix of suburban park environments and the Tarzanesque appearance of Hollywood B grade movies. Worryingly, all these modern zoo exhibits are usually designed by specialized professionals. End Quote"

I wonder just how many exhibits have been rated highly by zoochat members that are exactly what Mr Hancock is referring to here, NY madagascar comes to mind and many more the more l think about it.

Calling this guy a Jerk, l think totally misses his point. He is just not prepared to accept what he calls unacceptable, and l would not be surprised if his standards become the norm, however l also would not be surprised if society continues to applaud the perception of what is good rather than what is actually good.
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  #5
Old 14-03-2012

I read his book many years ago when it was new and I do not remember a whole lot about it other than that I did not care for it. The only thing that really sticks out in my mind was that he wrote (or so I remember) that zoos of the future should have less live animals and more video games. In essence (unless I am remembering it wrong), we should replace real zoos with interactive natural history museums.

Does anyone know if he is still the director of the open range zoo in Australia?
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  #6
Old 14-03-2012

Ok, well now I read the interview link (which I had not when I made my last post). I must confess I actually like what he says in the interview (and there is no mention of video games, so maybe I am overemphasizing that one section of the book). I think every ZooChatter should click on the link and read the article - it is very worthwhile.
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  #7
Old 14-03-2012

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Originally Posted by Arizona Docent View Post
Does anyone know if he is still the director of the open range zoo in Australia?
No not for some years.
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  #8
Old 14-03-2012

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Originally Posted by Arizona Docent View Post
I read his book many years ago when it was new and I do not remember a whole lot about it other than that I did not care for it. The only thing that really sticks out in my mind was that he wrote (or so I remember) that zoos of the future should have less live animals and more video games. In essence (unless I am remembering it wrong), we should replace real zoos with interactive natural history museums.

Does anyone know if he is still the director of the open range zoo in Australia?
He was fired some time ago, which allows him the free reign to express his disregard for most of his former peers and institutions. He was one of the most important thinkers in the history of zoos, but as suggested elsewhere his strong and often acid opinions have alienated many of the people he presumably would like to be influencing. I have deep respect for what he achieved and agree with much of what he has to say, but feel he has gone so far beyond the pale with some of his vituperative attacks that he has essentially rendered himself ineffectual.
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  #9
Old 14-03-2012

I revere David Hancocks for the pioneering work that he did in the 1970s and 1980s, along with his partners at the Woodland Park Zoo (e.g., Jones and Jones) and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. I think what he is saying now about the potential role of zoos for being a place that can meaningfully engage visitors in biodiversity appreciation and conservation is right on and greatly needed.

Where I think he is dead wrong is that he seems to be saying that zoo visitors are wrong and stupid for wanting to see megafauna species like elephants, tigers, giraffes etc. and that zoos are stupid for maintaining these species that people want to see. I think people have a primal attachment to these species, for whatever reasons, and that the best hope for conserving these species and their habitats in the 21st century and beyond is through institutions like zoos finding meaningful ways for people to help conserve them.
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  #10
Old 14-03-2012

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Originally Posted by DavidBrown View Post
I revere David Hancocks for the pioneering work that he did in the 1970s and 1980s, along with his partners at the Woodland Park Zoo (e.g., Jones and Jones) and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. I think what he is saying now about the potential role of zoos for being a place that can meaningfully engage visitors in biodiversity appreciation and conservation is right on and greatly needed.

Where I think he is dead wrong is that he seems to be saying that zoo visitors are wrong and stupid for wanting to see megafauna species like elephants, tigers, giraffes etc. and that zoos are stupid for maintaining these species that people want to see. I think people have a primal attachment to these species, for whatever reasons, and that the best hope for conserving these species and their habitats in the 21st century and beyond is through institutions like zoos finding meaningful ways for people to help conserve them.
Quite right. While Hancocks is of course correct that the vast majority of life on earth is comprised of the small and inconspicuous, conservation of charismatic megavertebrates will more likely result in creating the "umbrella" under which the microinvertebrates and less prominent vertebrates will survive. Your comment about the inherent human fascination/reverence for the "big guys" is completely on point. There is a reason that the ultimate expression of Bill Conway's seminal paper "How to Exhibit a Bullfrog" was in fact a complex that featured gorillas.
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  #11
Old 14-03-2012

Ill have to read the articular another day. I use to think that we shouldn't be exhibiting megafawna that don't need our help as much. Then it dawned on me that, yes, many of these animals are getting more help then they probably should compared to less popular that need it, like say frogs, but despite how much money and space these animals require to be kept they have a particular draw that does bring in income that then lends itself to conservation projects and funding for other animals.

I may spite the panda, but if hes gonna bring in money to help save the java rhino from extinction, create interest in it's biome possibly stretching as far as boosting ecotourisum, and be a flag ship species to help protect other animals under it's umbrella then so be it. I'll put a stupid panda in my zoo, if I had one.
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  #12
Old 14-03-2012

I can understand the views of David Hancocks. I was in London Zoo's Information Kiosk on Sunday and at least 3 people asked where the elephants are. One man seemed disgruntled that the elephants had gone to Whipsnade. I agree with David Hancocks that too many people expect to see popular species, regardless of how they are exhibited. I agree with the John Aspinall principle that animals should be allowed to evade public view; perhaps CCTV could be used so that the public could see the animals in indoor enclosures.

Zoos should have more diverse collections and should coordinate these with other zoos. Over the last few decades, many zoos have cut the number of species they keep, while increasing enclosure size for 'elite' species. Unfortunately, there are very few species in this category - basically elephants, great apes and big cats and a few other large species. Most of these 'elite' species will live their lives in zoos, which will say that they are saving them from extinction. Many of these animals are represented by hundreds of individuals, greatly exceeding the 80 genetically-diverse individuals needed to save a species. Some subspecies of tigers have larger captive populations than the total captive populations of most species of small cats, several of which are critically endangered. As zoos could save these smaller species and have decided not to, they are inadvertently aiding their extinction. For example, some flamingo species are represented by over 4,000 individuals. I would much prefer to see 50 species of large wading birds, each represented by 80 individuals, which would be a far better example of conservation.

If zoos coordinated their collections, they could provide discounts to other zoos that contained a different collection of species. Does seeing an animal asleep in the corner of a concrete box really increase the knowledge of visitors? I think that some of the new, mixed species exhibits are more interesting to visitors and enable the animals to behave more naturally. This can be supported with audio-visual and other dispalys, similar to those in museums, to provide information about animals. Considering the way that computers have taken over many of our lives, it is quite amazing why so few zoos use them. Computer screens could enable visitors to obtin much more information about the exhibited animals than can be shown on a species label and could also interest people in helping to conserve the species.

I think zoos need to be more realistic about what they are trying to achieve. There is no point in continually increasing the numbers of the 'elite' species, which they have already saved from extinction, while edging out less popular species, which are not safe. While it has several faults, I applaud the way that Plzen Zoo has increased the number of species it keeps, including some species that are not kept elsewhere. I enjoyed seeing the dusky pademelon last year, along with various other unusual species. I also liked seeing the signposts pointing to the gjharial exhibit in Prague Zoo in 2009. If other zoos could help save the less popular species, they would have more of a purpose than just highlighting the elite species that people expect to see.
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  #13
Old 14-03-2012

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Originally Posted by DavidBrown View Post
I think people have a primal attachment to these species, for whatever reasons, and that the best hope for conserving these species and their habitats in the 21st century and beyond is through institutions like zoos finding meaningful ways for people to help conserve them.
Hi David,
l would be very interested to hear of any real evidence that suggest that keeping Elephants in captivity has directly resulted in conserving the species or their habitat?
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  #14
Old 15-03-2012

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Originally Posted by Dassie rat View Post
I agree with David Hancocks that too many people expect to see popular species, regardless of how they are exhibited. I agree with the John Aspinall principle that animals should be allowed to evade public view; perhaps CCTV could be used so that the public could see the animals in indoor enclosures.
First point (unfortunately) true, second point also true -I think it's the responsibility of the zoos to take the moral high ground on these matters and to be fair, in the UK at least, most do to a large extent (though improvements can take a long time the intentions are usually there.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dassie rat View Post
Zoos should have more diverse collections and should coordinate these with other zoos.
Whilst I, and I'm sure many "zoo nerds", would love this to be the state of play I think it's an unachievable utopian dream:

1. What happens to the surplus elite species (most have very long lives);
2. Who decides which zoos get which species, a political nightmare;
3. Zoos are unlikely to take the financial risk and go out of popular animals which bring people through the gates and pay wages and conservation donations;
4. Joe Publics and their families (who makes up most of visitor numbers) typically visits their local zoo occassionally (or even regularly) and a zoo or two on their annual holiday. They ideally want to see all or most of their favourite elite animals in one space and I believe not being able to do so would lead to a number of them becoming disillusioned and not visiting at all. You've witnessed the disappointment when a zoo doesn't have Elephants, imagine the frustration when, "there's no Tigers or Gorillas either, but we have a nice (sleeping) Binturong and Dusky Pademelon";
5. The idea would never work where there are low concentrations of zoos, e.g. who in the local area would take Twycross' or Edinburgh's surpluses;
6. If the public, to my surprise, did subscribe to the idea imagine the extra miles travelled to see what could have been previously seen, at one zoo, by a small journey -it's not really "green".

Basically I think the only way the idea could be carried out, that's not to say it would work, would be if all zoos became one organisation for the whole country (and we all know how difficult to manage effeicently mega-large organisations are) which would never happen. If only most did, it would only take one maverick to operate displaying all the elite species in one space and they'd clean up financially and damage the others survival prospects.

I think realistically, in the UK at least, the current stable situation is as good as things will get (and that's pretty good overall). Lots of species repetition but a number of big and smaller zoos operating and continually improving with financial stability whilst leaving some space (though never enough for zoo nerds) for unusual species to be displayed.

Last edited by Shorts; 15-03-2012 at 07:07 AM.. Reason: tidy grammar & spelling
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  #15
Old 15-03-2012

Thanks Shorts. You've spent a lot of time loking at my e-mail. I accept that there are no easy solutions and many zoos will not want to make the potential sacrifices, even though their contribution to conservation (and a good reason for them to continue to exist) would hopefully improve their collections. I've tried to reply to each statement.
[quote=Shorts;534713]
1. What happens to the surplus elite species (most have very long lives)?

I admit this would be a difficult situation, although zoos do put down various animals, when they can't find alternative homes or when there isn't enough space for the new species and the animals being replaced. How many people check what happens to the animals that leave zoos when a new exhibit with one or a few species in replaces exhibits containing many more species? I don't like the idea of animals being put down (one of the saddest things I've seen on TV concerned two bears being thrown on a skip when Knareborough Zoo was closed down), but I don't think there should be a hierarchy saying that some species can be put down, but other species must always be exempt. Hopefully, the worst case scenario could be avoided by elite animals being kept in sanctuaries.

2. Who decides which zoos get which species, a political nightmare;
Once again, not an easy scenario, but surely this should be based on the quality of the exhibits and how the animals are kept. For example, Howletts and Port Lympne would have the right to kep gorillas and tigers, while other zoos would keep other species where they have a good track record. As I said earlier, zoos could encourage visitors to visit other zoos to see other species, as I tried to do three times on Sunday to people expecting to see elephants at London Zoo.

3. Zoos are unlikely to take the financial risk and go out of popular animals which bring people through the gates and pay wages and conservation donations;
I'm not saying that any zoo should never keep popular animals, just that there should be more of a balance between popular and less popular species. As I've said on earlier threads, I think zoos should be honest about why they keep certain species. They should not pretend that an animal is being kept for conservation reasons, when it is being kept to make money. Many years ago, I had an interview for a wildlife organisation. The interviewer said that the animals were kept to make money, not to conserve the species; I was quite surprised, but I think this is true for many zoos and similar organisations. If visitors have a good day out and learn about various animals, I'm pretty sure that this would be more enjoyable than ticking off a list of ABC animals and learning practically nothing about them. One of my most rewarding experiences as a zoo volunteer was hearing a girl telling her parents that when a spider moults, it takes each limb out of the discarded skin. I'd told her that in the Invertebrate House. There is a lot of interesting information about animals, rather than visitors looking in an enclosure and trying to discover an animal hiding in the corner.

4. Joe Publics and their families (who makes up most of visitor numbers) typically visits their local zoo occassionally (or even regularly) and a zoo or two on their annual holiday. They idally want to see all or most of their favourite elite animals in one space and I believe not being able to do so would lead to a number of them becoming disillusioned and not visiting at all. You've witnessed the disappointment when a zoo doesn't have Elephants, imagine the frustration when, "there's no Tigers or Gorillas either, but we have a nice (sleeping) Binturong and Dusky Pademelon";

Once again, if zoos follow this line, as they have done in the last few decades, so that each zoo contains lions, tigers, elephants, gorillas, giraffes, hippos etc in massive enclosures, so there are even fewer species per zoo than there are at the moment, what is going to happen to the surplus non-elite animals? See question 1. Also, why would Joe Public et al need to visit another zoo if that ha the same exhibits? Surely, each zoo should have a mixture of elite and non-elite and try and encourage people to take an interest in the non-elite animals. I tend to find it amazing that a zoo can have the only example of a species in captivity and doesn't highlight it. Imagine the Louvre not advertising the Mona Lisa. I know it's subjective, but why shouldn't a zoo have a binturong or a dusky pademelon and is a sleeping tiger any more interesting than a sleeping binturong? I must admit, I preferred seeing the active olingos at Kilverstone, rather than the sleeping olingo at Exmouth, but I'm pleased to have ever seen olingos at all. I also miss the white, red and black-headed uakaris at Cologne Zoo and I defy Joe Public seeing a uakari and not showing any interest in it.

5. The idea would never work where there are low concentrations of zoos, e.g. who in the local area would take Twycross' or Edinburgh's surpluses;
While it would be ideal for animals not to be moved over long distances, they can be. Did Edinburgh get its giant pandas from a local zoo?

6. If the public, to my surprise, did subscribe to the idea imagine the extra miles travelled to see what could have been previously seen, at one zoo, by a small journey -it's not really "green".
Is it really green to keep encouraging the elite species to keep breeding, adding to the high numbers of some species, while also leading to the demise of less popular species. Do we really need thousands of meerkats, when there are endangered mongooses that could also make interesting exhibits and could be saved from extinction? The reality is that most of the large, elite animals are being 'conserved' as zoo animals - they're not going back to the wild, either because they couldn't live independent lives or because there is not enough natural habitat for them. If zoos kept smaller species, they could breed them and help replenish wild populations. Is it really green for zoos to allow species to become extinct, because they're not very popular. One of the saddest books I know is 'A Gap in Nature,' which shows many animals that have become extinct in the last few centuries, but are now considered to be extinct. Some of these were kept in zoos, but they didn't have the allure of the elite animals. Another sad book is 'The Last Tsmanian Tiger', which tells of the neglect shown towards the last captive thylacine, which lost out because the dirtectors were more interestd in the type of elite animals that many zoos would prefer us to see.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Shorts View Post
Basically I think the only way the idea could be carried out, that's not to say it would work, would be if all zoos became one organisation for the whole country (and we all know how difficult to manage effeicently mega-large organisations are) which would never happen. If only most did, it would only take one maverick to operate displaying all the elite species in one space and they'd clean up financially and damage the others survival prospects.

I think realistically, in the UK at least, the current stable situation is as good as things will get (and that's pretty good overall). Lots of species repetition but a number of big and smaller zoos operating and continually improving with financial stability whilst leaving some space (though never enough for zoo nerds) for unusual species to be displayed.
I think it would be difficult for all the zoos to become one organisation, although there is a consortium of zoos, where membership of one entitles you to visit others (I've joined Newquay Zoo, after a visit in 2010). The aim would not be to have all the elite species in one zoo, but to have zoos keeping the animals they keep best. I can't see the point in a zoo keeping a species for the sake of it, when the zoo has a bad breding record with the species or do not have suitable enclosures. I wouldn't want a return to seeing a social species represented by an individual in a bare, concrete enclosure, but neither can I see the point in a zoo spending millions of pounds in building a new enclosure for an elite species that is over-represented in zoos, does not do well in that particular zoo and is not destined to return to the wild. Meanwhile, I don't agree with the atitude that 'non-elite species', no matter how endangered they are, are disposable and, while they could be bred to replenish wild populations, are destined to become extinct. It has recently been announced that South Korean scientists are aiming to bring back the mammoth. Wouldn't it be better for zoos to try and save animals from becoming extinct, rather than spending the animals that they have already saved, no matter how often Joe Public wishes to see them?
 


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