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Do you engage with the 'enemy'?

Discussion in 'General Zoo Discussion' started by littleRedPanda, 25 Feb 2019.

  1. littleRedPanda

    littleRedPanda Well-Known Member

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    I thought about this last weekend, but KevinB's comments on Barcelona and Zooreview's on WAMS have spurred me ask now. Maybe this should be in the cafe section instead?

    Do you, via facebook or otherwise try to understand where people are coming from and why, when they are attacking zoos? Myself and a couple of friends have had interesting, but not confrontational chats with facebook posters, resulting from particular incidents:
    • someone who decided to inflame comments after the death of a keeper, turned out to be a lad crying out for attention and not getting over his brother's death.
    • someone constantly jabbing at a zoo after a tiger death, turned out to be an anti capitalist, blaming the zoo for all the world's financial ills.
    • someone who is still furious over the threat of destruction of a pair of tigers several years ago to allow a breeding pair in.
    There's a few more too and it turns out one of my friends was talking to the guy who posted the Bili videos. He is part of an animal 'rights' group, but very polite with a rose tinted view of what an alternative to zoos would be; big reserves. Unfortunately, the guy didn't stick around to explain how these would be managed and protected in relatively unstable countries; he misunderstood the term 'research', associating it with sick laboratory torture and excused himself. According to my friend, he was polite and patient (translation was needed) and might be more of an animal welfare campaigner than a hard core animal 'rights' activist.
     
  2. Great Argus

    Great Argus Well-Known Member

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    I try to understand why they are attacking zoos, but prefer to do so without engaging. I have no objections to hearing someone's point of view, but I'm not one for arguing, especially heated ones like those kind of situations can turn into, depending on the person. During my several years volunteering at my small local facility I had a few people who clearly were along the lines of animal rights, and they were polite for the most part. I remember a certain pair in particular that were concerned for the well-being of some of the animals in the now defunct row of mews, and most of the questions they asked weren't really that bad, but they very clearly didn't accept my answers. Nor did they go see the new, larger, better furnished enclosures that all those animals shortly moved to, despite my telling them. They left discussing how the animals "really should have better cages", apparently choosing to disregard everything I'd said. That kind of scenario has pretty much been my experience, they ask me a whole bunch of questions regarding the animal's care, then either disregard or disbelieve my answers. Each is certainly entitled to his own opinion, but hopefully we allow ourselves to listen to all arguments.

    Personally, it really bugs me the animal rights groups only really pick on zoos and pets... In zoos at least the animals receive excellent care for the most part, and many pets are treated well. Yes, there are exceptions, but in most cases the animals are treated pretty well. If you're concerned with ethical treatment of animals, go target the illegal wildlife trade instead. Crack down on the people who stick parrots in tubes, pile tortoises into crates, ship venomous snakes through the mail, and kill elephants just so they can take the tusks. Those animals will suffer far worse than any animal living at the average modern zoo, not even remotely comparable except maybe at the worst of zoos. The losses of animals caught for the illegal pet trade is huge, but as far as I've seen and heard, the animal rights groups ignore it.
     
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  3. Mbwamwitu

    Mbwamwitu Well-Known Member

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    I don't like the categorization of these folks as the "enemy" - maybe because I was recently one of them. My understanding is that we're all advocates for conservation and wildlife. Our enemy is the wide range of people and practices that are undermining the safety and wellbeing of animals both in captive and wild conditions. @Great Argus is bang on in identifying the illegal wildlife trade as one of those, to which I'll add more slow-burning and non-visceral threats like habitat destruction and climate change.

    @littleRedPanda seems to be talking about people on the internet who are using the platform and issue to vent about other issues they have - in that case, I agree that it's probably not always worth our time engaging. This is as true for politics, religion, etc. as the zoo debate.

    But then there's also the significant numbers of people who are just average laypersons that don't really have as much information as we do. Some of them - like I was - might be relatively informed on wildlife issues without fully understanding the role of zoos. They might not be aware of things like the AZA and modern zoo standards worldwide; maybe their childhood zoo growing up was a hellhole for animals (again, as mine was) and they've since failed to expose themselves to enough of the research, data and evidence backing the critical role of zoos in conservation and the level of animal wellbeing that can now be achieved in captivity.
    ^In these cases, I am 100% a proponent of engagement. It's only when the "good zoo" community engages with laypeople that they're introduced to this perspective.

    But again - the Internet is the Internet. A lot of what both of you @LRP and @GreatArgus bring up about arguing online is very valid and there's no point losing our time, sleep or mental health over online idiots (who are idiots not by virtue of lacking information, but by virtue of their unwillingness to listen or cross-check when it is offered to them). We should focus on educating people in our actual lives - friends, family, etc.
     
  4. Ned

    Ned Well-Known Member

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    If you have the ability to engage with animal rights activists go ahead. I've always found I'm trying to employ a reasoned argument against an emotional one which is just frustrating.
     
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  5. CGSwans

    CGSwans Well-Known Member

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    They’d say the same thing about you, fwiw.
     
  6. Ned

    Ned Well-Known Member

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    You misunderstand, I try to stick to facts and logic where as they talk about feeling. I had one person accuse me of using science in a debate where as they "just felt" that their argument made sense.
     
  7. CGSwans

    CGSwans Well-Known Member

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    No, I understand very well. This fallacy - that one is themself an objective thinker whereas their opponents are all subjective - tends to pop up a lot.

    There are good arguments both for and against zoos. Obviously, I view them as net (very) beneficial on balance, or I wouldn’t visit them or frequent this site, but if you simply dismiss all criticism as emotional babble you won’t convince anybody. I do understand, though, that you aren’t trying to and that’s fine.
     
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  8. Ned

    Ned Well-Known Member

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    Just to confirm, I'm not saying that I don't get emotionally attached to arguments or that all zoos are good, just that when I've discussed the issue with animal rights fans they wouldn't accept any argument against the point of view, therefore I don't bother.
     
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  9. Daktari JG

    Daktari JG Well-Known Member

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    Although extremists never know when to stop, I think they do provide a valuable service by keeping zoos and keepers of animals "on their toes".
     
  10. Mr. Zootycoon

    Mr. Zootycoon Well-Known Member

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    I once took an ethics course and one of the teachers (an animal ethicist) was highly critical of zoos. It was great to talk to someone from the "opposite side" as we both knew the flaws and strenghts of the zoo. The difference in position was mostly due to differing opinions on the intrinsic value animals have to freedom; and whether and how much freedom (and welfare) should be sacrificed to achieve greater goods.

    I then decided to write my essay for that course on zoo education in which I defended the position that captivity of animals with an intrinstic value to freedom can be morally justified if freedom was taken into account as a welfare factor and if zoos better their educational programs.* In the end I think we both learned from each other on the topic, and I was happy to have my opinions challenged again.

    More generally I think everyone should challenge their beliefs and positions every now and then. So also when it comes to zoos. If that means engaging with animal rights activists, so be it. I do prefer to do it in real life though.


    * I'll be happy to discuss my position on freedom of zoo animals but that's a topic for another time.
     
  11. littleRedPanda

    littleRedPanda Well-Known Member

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    Start another topic then? I was considering asking the question regarding the euthanasia of animals, over giving them to 'sanctuaries' where posters on WAMS facebook consider them to be free - a lady even sent me a video of a gibbon swinging around in a cage to show how 'free' Bili would be.
     
  12. Hammy

    Hammy Active Member

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    That's really awesome. I'm always really happy to hear about nuanced, informed discussions being had, and I'd be interested in hearing more about the specifics of your conversations with this teacher. Seems to me that in cases like these, it does end up coming down to reaching different conclusions from the same facts.
     
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  13. Giant Panda

    Giant Panda Well-Known Member

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    I think there's a tendency to misunderstand/straw-man animal rights positions on this site. Just as we don't want all zoos to be tarred with the same brush, it's lazy and unfair to imagine all animal rights advocates are criminal, stupid or even unreasonable. Indeed, that contingent has been loudly denounced by mainstream animal rights activists. Unfortunately, the fringes often get the most media coverage and are most noticeable online, but they don't represent the basic moral standpoint.

    Universal human rights are one of the most widely accepted ethical principles. Having rights doesn't depend on a person's intelligence, comprehension of rights, ability to enter into a social contract or even consciousness. It also has nothing to do with "using science", whatever that means. Extending basic rights to (some) animals seems, to me, wholly reasonable. At least as far as I'm aware, there's no rationally defensible line between recognising the inalienable rights of babies, developmentally disabled people and coma patients, and the inalienable rights of other mammals.

    Where I disagree is on whether those rights are inviolable and what they should be. I don't view freedom, for instance, as a basic right for animals, although there's pretty good evidence that species with larger home ranges typically fare worse in captivity*. But a right not to undergo unnecessary pain and suffering? A right to express behavioural needs? A right to life perhaps? Even if I don't necessarily agree these principles are absolute rights, I can still get behind them.

    So, to answer the original question: yes, I think we should engage with animal rights activists. There are, of course, fundamentalists and die-hard ideologues (on both sides), but there's also a sizeable middle-ground potentially open to cooperation. Even if we disagree on ultimate goals, there's a lot we can work together on (e.g. the aforementioned case of wildlife trafficking). The funding, reach, and media savvy of animal rights organisations can be a massive asset in such endeavours. Detroit Zoo provides a compelling example; their engagement with groups like PETA has improved animal welfare at the zoo and through external initiatives, tempered criticism, and enhanced its standing in the local community. I think that's a win-win.


    *For all the talk of us holding the "reasoned" or "scientific" position, how much evidence-based discussion do we actually have about issues like this?
     
  14. Ned

    Ned Well-Known Member

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    As part of this was aimed at me I should point out, which I think is clear in my post, that I was talking about my experience of with anti zoo people. It wasn't based on how they come across in the media. Perhaps those I've met aren't the mid ground you talk of but as I said, if other can engage with animal rights people good luck to them, I don't bother.
     
  15. littleRedPanda

    littleRedPanda Well-Known Member

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    If you mean the thread, then no, it's not aimed at anyone.
     
  16. Ned

    Ned Well-Known Member

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    No, I didn't. I meant the previous post :)
     
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  17. TheMightyOrca

    TheMightyOrca Well-Known Member

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    If the person's views seem to come from a place of ignorance, rather than just blind, unthinking malice, I'll often say something. Plenty of people are ignorant but willing to learn, and while you might not necessarily convince them to come to your side entirely they might walk away with a little more understanding. Like a lot of issues, captivity is a nuanced and complex subject. A person might be opposed to elephant or cetacean captivity, but legitimately not understand that you can't just release them all into the wild. If they get that understanding, they may continue to oppose captivity, but they can support a position that's realistic and better for the animals.

    It's also worth considering that not everyone who is critical of zoos is ignorant and uneducated, or blinded by emotion. It is important to be critical of zoos, that will help them continue to improve. It's good to challenge your beliefs in general, after all, if your position can't stand against an opposing argument, maybe it's not a good position to hold.
     
  18. JigerofLemuria

    JigerofLemuria Well-Known Member

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    I always engage with them... And I don't know why. I can never win an argument with them. All they'll do is call me every insult in the dictionary and invent new ones if not...
     
  19. Jurek7

    Jurek7 Well-Known Member

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    I usually mention something which can be done to help domestic pets or animals in the wild (e.g. make a reserve).

    Many seem to be well-meaning people but confused and not knowing how to separate facts from the chaff. Their energy could still be directed to do something good.

    I also notice that anti-zoo campaigns toned down recently compared to e.g. 10 years ago. Maybe the activists are getting more educated.

    I avoid discussions on a concept of universal rights applied to animals. Of course, the concept is internally flawed and you can generate any number of questions which are paradoxes and unsolvable. E.g. how to care about rights of both a predatory killer whale and its prey dolphin? What to do with ability of all animals to breed faster than food resources? Better not to make people sad that nature is cruel and rights cannot be applied to creatures incapable of obeying obligations coming from rights. Better let people do something positive elsewhere, where they can help.
     
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  20. TZDugong

    TZDugong Well-Known Member

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    I'll occasionally discuss and debate with people who are against zoos, I enjoy these sort of arguments and I think that it's important to see other peoples point of view.

    I don't really like the term "enemy" used in the title of this thread, after all I'd say that AR activists and Zoo supporters are quite similar in terms of their love of animals, and willingness to protect them. Obviously AR activists and Zoo supporters go about it in different ways, but I think the general foundation is the same. In my experiences discussing with Anti-caps, most of them are reasonable, respectful, and intelligent people who truly care about animal welfare, they're just un-informed regarding modern zoos. There are of course idiots that will hurl insults if you challenge their point of view, but most will listen to your points and I'll often see that anti-caps will say "I don't hate all zoos" or "responsible zoos can stay", etc. Branding them as the "enemy" is unnecessary and frankly un-true.

    Also, as others have said, AR activists are important in making sure zoos are always improving and making sure they aren't stagnating. It's hard not to admit that they've help to improve animal welfare in zoos. And I can honestly get behind some of the stuff they protest, (Roadside zoos, animals in circuses, even Cetaceans in captivity to an extent) even if I think that their main message is wrong.