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Talking to the animals

Discussion in 'General Zoo Discussion' started by Simon Hampel, 9 Dec 2006.

  1. Simon Hampel

    Simon Hampel Administrator Staff Member

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    Given the discussion in another thread (which seems to have got a bit off topic at times :D ) ... I thought I would start a new thread about talking to zoo animals.

    I think most of us have done it at some point.

    Some of my favourites were Suzy (Suzie ?) the Wombat at Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo (where is she now ? wasn't there last time I went - enclosure was used for something else).

    But recently, on our trip to China, we visited the Beijing Zoo, which we found quite depressing.

    Most distressful was a rather depressed looking Red Kangaroo (quite a large fella too !) who was cooped up in a smallish cement floored cage with a couple of what looked to be Grey Kangaroos. Their yard was fairly small and quite barren ... so I'm not sure what they spent their time doing.

    We stopped and talked for a while - suggesting perhaps we can talk to Phil Ruddock about bringing this detainee home too :rolleyes:

    I do take heart in that the enclosure was a long way from the worst we saw there - the bears, cats, and especially the elephants really didn't seem to be that well off.

    But on a happier note - I do like smaller zoos like Mogo where you can usually get a lot closer to the animals - we had a good conversation with a Red Panda once there - although he did seem a bit distracted by an apple he was munching on at the time!

    I do remember a cheetah at Perth Zoo sitting very upright and looking quite regal, right next to the glass screen at the viewing area. It was during the week towards the end of the day, and not many people were around, so I was able to sit there and converse for a while, admiring this magnificent animal. If only we could do this in the wild too !!

    Of course, none of my examples here are very meaningful - I didn't know their names!

    Does anyone else have any good animal conversation stories ?
     
  2. ZooPro

    ZooPro Well-Known Member

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    My only contribution about "talking with the animals" isn't really a story,more a comment, and sorry to all of you who love to talk to the animals.

    Focussing on Rigo as an example, there would be very few Melbourne Zoo visitors who don't know that Rigo is his name, nor many that wouldn't recognise him, and I have visited the zoo many times when people have been constantly yelling his name at him, in an attempt to make him move, or pose for a photo, or for some other equally self-centred reason. In the early days, before he was screend off from the public, once he had enough of constantly having people yelling at him, he'd grab the nearest handful of his own pooh, and hurl at the visitors. He used to be a fairly good shot too!! I used to take great delight in this behaviour watching him getting more and more annoyed before finally letting rip.

    I think his behaviour mirrors my thoughts on the matter - go to the zoo, and enjoy the animals, but let them have their peace, and before you start yelling at them, think about the animal for a minute, and not about yourselves. There's no reason, other than self-centred ones, to be constantly yelling at the animals.

    So what if you know his name? Do you yell at the red kangaroos too? I doubt it, because you don't know their names, yet most of them (at Melbourne zoo) have names.

    My 2 cents worth, and now doubt, this will raise some opposition. I'm looking forward to hearing arguments on the other side of the debate!
     
  3. jay

    jay Well-Known Member

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    My bugbear with people is when they come up and say "look a lion - roarrrrr" at them. Then they plaster themselves against the glass, roaring and yelling at them. To me when the people play up this way it shows disrespect towards the animal. On the other hand if the animal is close to you and you can talk quietly to it about nothing really, like you do with your pets at home, then I don't see that as a problem. The key is how you speak to the animal, quietly, gently and non violently
     
  4. Nigel

    Nigel Well-Known Member

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    Hey Sim ,

    You also had a chat to Cairo , the camel who thought he was a human !
    And as you had discovered , he appreciated the company ( despite flowing forth gallons of froth and goo )

    Admittedly , he was the exception rather than the rule . Most zoo animals consider themselves as being the animals that they are .
    Cairo was one confused human/camel ( or camel/human ?! )
     
  5. Coquinguy

    Coquinguy Well-Known Member

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    i think people talking to animals is symptomatic of the way we personify zoo animals all the time, and project our feelings on to the animals. at whipsnade, i heard a lady talking to the european bison, saying how much happier it'd be in the wild, then she turned to her friend and sad, animals shouldnt be in zoos. ahhh, the irony.
    its all about people thinking they understand the zoo animals
     
  6. ZooPro

    ZooPro Well-Known Member

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    In my opinion, looking at the bigger picture - too many keepers, particularly those very precious primate keepers, tend to be too fixated on individual specimens, and naming them, rather than looking at the bigger picture, and thinking about the species. And not only thinking about the species at "my" zoo, but thinking about the species regionally and globally in zoos.

    Many zoos, particularly in the US, don't allow animals to have names - almost all have some other for of ID - a transponder, a tag, tattoo, and most have ARKS numbers. Giving an animal a name tends to be treating it more like a pet, and zoos should be about conserving the species, and not about a large-scale pet collection.

    I remember the uproar at Melbourne Zoo when the first-born male gorilla (yes, OK, Yakwanza, AKA Mzuri), was recommended for transer to Jersey for breeding. The public were horified, and so were most of the ape keepers at the time. Mzuri was "their" animal, they raised him, and there's no way he should taken away from him to be sent to another zoo. Granted that was probably 20 years ago, but that's the sort of attachment that comes with names. There was very little positive thought from the keeprs about the bigger picture - attempting to maintain the species in captivity.

    Sadly, the naming, and "ownership" issue still survives, particularly in some of the smaller zoos (not mentioning any in particular ;) ), and all too often, this stands firmly in the way of moving animals around within the region's breeding programs. It's sad, but very true.
     
  7. Coquinguy

    Coquinguy Well-Known Member

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    its true, and when humanised animals appear in the news and on television programs as 'personalities' zoos run the risk of overstepping the line and reinforcing the popular misconception that zoos are saving animals by virtue of just keeping them... that by having trisha the elephant or simba the lion in a zoo habitat, that species is 'safe'.
    the reality is that extinction and global loss of biodiversity is a real crisis and should not be trivialised or downsized into a 'feel good' media slot.
    furthermore, i like the idea of zoos reinforcing the line that only by working in partnership with other agencies can wildlife be saved. its a line that taronga, ive noticed is starting to push, particularly to justify (for want of a better word) its elephant import. and for that reason, animal birthdays and the like, as good publicity as they are for the zoo and for creatng awareness, again put the emphasis on the indiviual animal and not the species, or its wild status, as a whole.
    its a dramatic over simplification of the topic when people start equating their visit to judy the orangutan at bla bla zoo as saving orangutans. but then people and the media dont like sad news, they like warm and fuzzy or hot and scandalous.
    NO NAMES FOR ZOO ANIMALS ;) I HOPE EVERYONE GETS MY POINT.
     
  8. patrick

    patrick Well-Known Member

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    to quote grant....

    "I think all of us have 'talked to the animals' at some stage- that's what zoos are all about! And I certainly don't feel guilty trying to attract a gorilla's attention if I want to photograph it- it doesn't have to look or come over if it doesn't want to..."

    - sorry mate but i couldn't disagree with you more - thats what zoos used to be about, and its not a particuarly justified argument for there existance anymore.

    i personally feel no urges whatsoever to "communicate" with the animals unless they are showing an interest in me first and foremost. i have no problem with people playing games with orangs or gorillas through the glass, since the animals are obviously enjoying the experience too. but i never shout out their names or ask for their attention. imagine how bloody annoying it is!!

    i'm not against the idea of zoo animals having names, in fact i think its important, especially for keepers dealing with intellegent animals like great apes and elephants. sure zoo animals are not there to be pets, but lets be honest, when your working with a gorilla every day for 10 years, as if the two of you are not going to form some sort of a relationship and not only is naming the animal a pretty natural human trait, its an important managemant tool. bit hard to get one particular elephant in a herd to do something when they don't even know which one your talking to...

    of course we can't have the public running around calling out the animals names either, and thats why the alias system works so well...

    i wholeheartedly agree with zoopro's comments about zoos becoming so attached to their animals that they start to let it compromise their whole reason for keeping them. if that does occour, its pretty disgraceful (yes, disgraceful!) - but i'm not entirely convinced that avoiding giving animals is the right method to discourage this behaviour...

    and it can be a plus for the public to know the animals names to, even if it is just an alias. whilst its true that many US zoos avoid the practice i know of at least one that has recently reversed the decision realising how useful the tool can be. firstly giving the animals names that reflect their native homeland instantly gives the public a sense of the cultures that share the earth with this particular species. melbourne zoo has signage explaining their gorilla family tree. you can ID idividual gorillas and learn that they are as diverse looking as people. it also encourages the public to get to know "their" gorillas and whilst it can backfire somewhat as in the case of mzuri a sense of community ownership can be a pretty useful fundraising tool.

    none of this would be possible if the animals didn't have names...

    in the end a tv specieal explained that mzuri couldn't have sex with his family and everyone understood anyway (though they did argue why we couldn't bring him a girlfriend here!)...and i suppose maybe, in a way its a shame they couldn't. mzuri was undoubtably the biggest star melbourne zoo has ever had, he must have had some pretty good fundraising powers behind him if teh zoo had ever decided to utilise it.

    i suppose melbourne have tried to replicate their success there however, even if no other animal has ever quite reached the same degree of fame. certainly mek kapah and bong su had their names plastered all over everything when TOTE first opened. the orangs now have their names and photographs on plaques in their new sanctuary.
    yakini the baby gorilla had a very popular childrens book written about him....

    in any case, i feel for the animals that have people consistantly shouting at them to get their attention. when i was in rural parts of india and sri lanka, i came accross a pretty annoying habit some of the local men displayed. essentially they make strange "chirps", "blips" "whistles" and "boinks" to get me (and more often my girlfriend) to turn around and look at them. then they would stare at you blankly, just enjoying looking at you, not saying anything.

    IT DROVE MR F***ING CRAZY!!!!!!!!!!

    - please spare a thought for the monkeys... since you have absolutely nothing to offer them, just shut up and enjoy them from a distance.
     
    Last edited: 9 Dec 2006
  9. Simon Hampel

    Simon Hampel Administrator Staff Member

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    Ahh yes I agree ... but I did say "talking" to the animals - not yelling at them !!

    I enjoy it when I can get some quiet time alone with an animal or group of animals (which unfortunately is extremely difficult to do in most zoos - except perhaps first thing in the morning or just before closing).

    I see nothing wrong with quietly expressing your appreciation for them and having a more intimate moment.

    Definitely agree that yelling is not on - neither is banging on the fence or any other such behaviour. That really annoys me at the zoos - and it was particularly bad in China.
     
  10. Simon Hampel

    Simon Hampel Administrator Staff Member

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    Exactly what I was trying to describe !
     
  11. Simon Hampel

    Simon Hampel Administrator Staff Member

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    Ahh yes I should have mentioned Cairo ... he certainly was a character !!

    Of course, it was difficult to carry on a conversation - and not just the froth and goo ... he had really really bad breath !!
     
  12. Pertinax

    Pertinax Well-Known Member

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    respect to the animals.

    You're exactly right- there's a big difference between making some sort of quiet contact, and yelling/teasing an animal to wind it up or get a reaction.
    But that's usually the difference between casual zoo-goers and genuinely interested folk...
     
  13. Simon Hampel

    Simon Hampel Administrator Staff Member

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    I figure that if you were photographing a large (and potentially dangerous) animal in the wild - if he (or worse ... she !!) is looking at you, you are probably considered as an annoyance at best, and at worst a threat - and you may well find yourself getting a little too much attention !!

    When I'm photographing animals, I prefer to (as much as possible), get them in natural habitat, or at least in as natural behaviour as possible ... and interacting with humans is not usually natural behaviour!
     
  14. Pertinax

    Pertinax Well-Known Member

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    animal stars

    Regarding the fuss over Mzuri/YK leaving Melbourne, this type of thing still happens- as it did in Berlin/Rotterdam only last year with another 'star' gorilla. He's called Bokito and was born and handraised in Berlin. Then it came about he was going to be sent with two females from two other zoos to Shanghai zoo in China in exchange for rare snub-nosed monkeys. There was UPROAR in Berlin- keepers, public etc.all against it- press/ public petitions to keep him from going to a 'horror zoo' in China where apes and other animals are still thought to be kept in bad conditions.
    The three gorillas were assembled at Holland's Rotterdam Zoo(who will get the monkeys in exchange) before going to China(a month by sea!!!) Well, they are still in Rotterdam and Bokito is now established as the breeding male in their own group(they needed a new one but it wasn't planned to be him!) and -almost certainly because of all the fuss- he won't now go to China. But they say the 'deal' is still on apparently and the another male Dango(who was to be their 'new' male- though he wasn't 'famous' like Bokito ) is going in his place- so three gorillas will probably still go to China.
    It does show what public opinion/ pressure can achieve if it is strong enough- sometimes its misguided, sometimes its in the right direction. What do you think in this case?

    And has anyone been to Shanghai zoo? (they have built brand new accomodation for these gorillas but they have a poor rep. for treatment-even cruelty too). Is it that bad?
     
  15. jay

    jay Well-Known Member

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    An example of zoos doing the right thing re moving animals around is Perth zoo where they sent 'their' female, to Orana (I think) and received another animal in return from Monarto. Perths female is a valuable and unrelated animal in the region. They had tried to breed from her via AI but unfortunately the cub had major physical problems and didn't live.
     
  16. Pertinax

    Pertinax Well-Known Member

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    Jay- What species was this?
     
  17. jay

    jay Well-Known Member

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    Whoops sorry, it was their cheetah
     
  18. Nigel

    Nigel Well-Known Member

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    animals without names ?

    I cant imagine the zookeepers at Wellington Zoo ever calling out to chimpanzee 691140 to come closer so they can have a closer inspection of it
    All the chimpanzees ( and most other animals ) have names , and they have their own characteristics . There is a limited bond between the keepers and the animals , but human contact is avoided if all possible ( Cairo was the exception , but he was convinced that he was human . And he is no longer alive ) except for the cheetahs that are used for close encounter sessions

    Most of the animals respond to the keeper calling them by name . But they are by no means "tame" The large cats will happily have a go at anyone who enters their enclosure , and one of the chimpanzees still throws the occasional rock at the public . They aint pets . But they are individual animals that have personalities , and every now and again , require close inspection and/or treatment . The sooner the animals learn to have a relationship with their keeper , the easiere it will be for the keeper to look after the animal , and less stress if the animal needs on going treatment
     
  19. gorillagirl

    gorillagirl Member

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    yukky

    I think you guys will find that keepers are more than happy to send any male gorilla to a group, away from their zoo included. As male gorillas are the hardest to place. Unfortunitly with the birth ration of 50:50 and with the compesition of gorilla groups, ofcourse we will have lone males and bachelor groups in the future. It is just a matter of housing them and looking after them appropriatly.