Prisons or sanctuaries? Clearing up the confusion about zoos

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I love animals. That phrase is probably most over used sentence in the history of mankind.  I think the vast majority of people claim to be animal lovers (quite often whilst chomping on a bacon sandwich). At least I don’t eat animals, so my hypocrisy is limited to some extent… but I love going to zoos, aquariums and petting farms.

After watching the incredible, and mind-blowing documentary ‘Blackfish’ about the killer whale Tillikum who killed his trainer at SeaWorld, I vowed never to go to an aquarium again. The documentary tracks how baby killer whales are captured in the wild, and records the screams of their mothers and tears of the fishermen who are now traumatised by what they have done. After all, killer whales are shown to have more complex emotions and interactions than humans, and ripping them from the ocean to keep in tiny swimming pools had led to endless cases of psychosis, depression and even the death of keepers when the whales finally crack.

So, aquariums are off the menu. I hate the idea of sharks and whales who should have the freedom of the oceans being stuck in a tank. Like putting a bird in a cage, it speaks to an inner part of myself and is symbolic of stolen freedom and mistreatment.

But what about zoos?

I’ve always comforted myself with the idea that zoos are for ‘conservation’ and ‘education’, but more recently I’m not so sure. You see, zoos first came about to show animals to the public who normally could never dream of seeing them. Taken from exotic, far-off lands before the time of television, the internet or affordable travel, zoos really were the best way to make people CARE enough to want to help conserve biodiversity throughout the world.

But now? Now we have HD television. The silky voice of the legend David Attenborough narrates awesome displays of animals hunting, migrating and playing. To be honest, I think the desire to conserve biodiversity can be easily met through documentaries, articles and films without the need to capture or breed animals in captivity.

From an animal rights perspective, zoos violate the animal’s right to live in freedom, and put the desires of humans over the welfare of the animal.

Then again, from an animal welfare perspective, one might argue that a zoo is only wrong if the animal has a lesser quality of life inside the zoo than it would in the wild. For example, the enclosures might be smaller, but a zebra will live much longer inside a zoo because it will have access to veterinary care and not run risk of drought, famine or predators.

On the other hand, the animal welfare perspective can also argue that zoos deprive animals from their natural habitat, natural social structure and the animals may become depressed and/or institutionalised. With animals in zoos becoming attached to human beings rather than their own species it can be argued that they are prevented from experiencing their true identity and they may experience a lower quality of life if they have a longer life. After all, many animals in zoos have near perfect health, but severe behavioural abnormalities.

For example, my cousin and I went to visit Twycross zoo, having heard it has an excellent reputation for conservation. However, we were really uncomfortable in its world famous primate section. I wanted to cry. Cage after cage of monkeys, and many of them seemed to have very little space.

What’s more, we saw apes banging their heads on the glass and screaming. The zoo keeper told us they weren’t upset, but their similarity to humans made me think that behaviour can’t be normal. Teeth bared, smacking the cage and eyes rolled back in their heads – it seemed like classic signs of extreme boredom and possible psychosis to me. Then again, I am NOT a primate expert, just a compassionate human being who didn’t buy that those animals were truly happy or sane after prolonged enclosure.

Finally, I would like to consider the conservation perspective. Lots of zoos claim that by breeding animals in captivity we can ensure that the species doesn’t go extinct. After all, we are going through the biggest mass extinction since the age of the dinosaurs, and species are going extinct daily. Half of the world’s animals have disappeared since the 1970’s. That is a tragedy. So, perhaps it IS morally acceptable to support zoos because they are ensuring the survival of animals for the coming generations.

However, this argument is also flawed in part. For example, the low numbers of individuals in a zoo means that the gene pool is very limited and it can be difficult to breed without problems. What’s more, removing rare animals from the wild to conserve them in zoos could further impact the natural populations and put them at risk. Some people believe that the benefits that a whole species may receive from conservation cannot excuse the negative impacts on the animals living inside the zoo.

‘For the greater good,’ is a dangerous argument for ANY philosophical problem after all. With the overpopulation of humans in the world leading to limited supplies, killing a few million people would never be an acceptable way to deal with the environmental strain.

Over all, I think that some individual zoos are probably good places, run by good people who want the best for the animals they look after, and those living in the wild. However, I think it’s really important to keep pressure on zoos to put conservation before entertainment and profit. For example, I think it is completely unacceptable to train a killer whale to perform tricks from a crowd, or swim with dolphins in a holiday complex swimming pool. You have to weigh up all the arguments I have put forward and decide in each individual case if the zoo is a place you are prepared to financially support by buying your ticket.

Hope you found this interesting! Let me know if you have any arguments you would like to add 😊

Mental Health and Nature: a generation of men in despair

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAccording to Mind, a mental health charity, women are much more likely to try and access mental health support than men (33% vs 19%), but the level of suicide in young men have continually risen throughout recent years. Samaritan pointed out that the level of suicide is consistently higher in males than females, throughout age and wealth statistics, and men in their 20s are particularly vulnerable to depression.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, gender roles and stereotypes can make it harder for men to express their feelings and seek help, because of stereotypes about ‘masculinity’ being linked to emotion. As if somehow, by admitting feelings of depression and anxiety, you are ‘less of a man.’

To be fair, I think this rhetoric is changing.

There have been various campaigns recently aimed at normalizing men speaking out about mental health problems. Most recently Prince Harry opened up about his own depression. You can read his interview here in the independent, which describes how he shut down his emotions up to the point he neared a mental breakdown.

Various video campaigns on social media have also shown male role models and celebrities open up about the last time they cried: watch one here. #boysdocry

Depression can be caused by stress, brain chemistry, hormones, genes (bloody parents) or by a traumatic event. The World Health Organization says that 300 million people are affected by depression and anxiety worldwide, so you definitely aren´t alone if you are experiencing any of these symptoms!

So what´s any of this got to do with being outside!?

Well. The great outdoors have been recognized as a cure for stress and anxiety throughout history. Following the industrial revolution, doctors would send distressed inner city workers to ´take the country air.´

More recently, we have seen scientists and doctors unite in research which clearly shows that being outdoors and connecting with nature can hugely reduce rates of depression. According to the University of Exeter 71% of participants in a study felt less stressed after taking a walk outside and the Journal of Environmental Psychology found that 20 minutes outside a day can boost mood and energy levels.

We are living in an era where more people than ever are living in cities, we are constantly connected to a television or smart phone screen and levels of depression and anxiety are frighteningly high in people of all ages and genders. We live in a society where increasingly less value is put on green spaces and we continue to pollute rivers, raze rainforests to the ground and build over nature reserves.

I´m really scared to think what might happen to environmental law when we leave the EU. Did you know that the European Court acts as an extra level of environmental protection? It means when the government builds a car park over a bio diverse environment, charities can take them to court and make sure that there are consequences. When we leave the EU the government will be the high authority on biodiversity and nature, not sure how I feel about that!

I worry about the mental health of the people I love, especially my father, cousin and boyfriend who might be less able to seek help and support. I worry about the environment, and about our access to beauty and nature.

These worries are linked, and by protecting one, we protect the other.

 

 

Dakota Access Pipeline. WHAT THE FRACK?!

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What is it?

The Dakota Access Pipeline is being protested by people from all over the world. At Standing Rock, Dakota thousands of protestors have gathered at the construction site which has delayed its progress for many months, particularly The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe who have been in protest since 2014, when they found out about the plans

The project is a 1172 mile, pipeline designed to move hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil from North Dakota to Illinois every day. The development of fracking has led to billions of tonnes of more oil being ‘available’ to the United States Government. This means MONEY. (read about fracking here)

Although the Obama administration temporarily blocked construction in September to review the situation, the federal court intervened and allowed the project to carry on.  (Time)

Positives?

So, before I get mad, here are a couple of points in defense of the Dakota Pipeline. The builders of this project (Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners) claim that the pipeline isn’t ALL bad. It will reduce rail and truck transportation of oil in order to support domestic demand of a vital product. They also insist they will take extreme measures to protect the environment and use advanced technology to ensure ‘safety and responsibility. (DAPL facts)

By producing their own oil, despite fracking being arguably inefficient and socially and environmentally destructive, the US can be more energy dependent. This can be a politically beneficial situation as they do not need to rely on oil from states in conflict e.g. oil rich nations in the middle east.

The pipeline means big money for the US government which could be argued to be beneficial to society as it is reinvested into the economy, though with inequality continually rising in the US it is debateable as to who will see these benefits, certainly not the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

Why the protests?

The pipeline will cross sacred Native American Land, in particular a sacred burial ground which is protecting by treaties dating back to American colonisation. The US government continues to oppress and disregard the voices of the first peoples of America which can be seen as a perpetuation of colonial rule and violence. The pipeline was not consulted with the people that it might affect. (Time)

The risks to these people stem from the fact that the pipeline would tun underneath the Missouri river, the drinking source for 10, 000 Sioux people. This could become contaminated, and therefore pose a risk to food sources, human health and the local flora and fauna. #Waterislife

This protest is not just about protecting land, health and the environment. It is a matter of racism and ruthlessness, with profit being priorotised over the lives and voices of a minority people. For example, white protestors occupying a nature reserve this year were heavily armed but FULLY ACQUITTED. Native American protesters have been arrested, attacked and harassed by police and government officals despite the peaceful nature of their protest, which includes prayer circles and forming human barriers. (CNN)

The response to the protest came to a head last Thursday when protestors camped directly in the line of the proposed pipeline. Military police descended with tasers, rubber bullets and violence, arresting 100 people. (Aljazeera)

Protest camps have continued to grow to attempt to block or slow progress of the pipeline, with some people planning to remain through a winter of -17.8 degrees Celsius. These camps will be expensive to run but global support has been astonishing with a crowd funding page aiming to raise $5000 bringing in $1 million which helps pay for yurts, food, medical bills, legal support and paying for bail. (CBS)

One CNN article claimed that not all Sioux are protesting this pipeline, and that local communities wish people who have travelled all over the world would go away and stop causing conflict, criticising protestors for being a burden to local communities. (CNN)

If like me you consider that claim a load of bollocks and want to support the tribe of Standing Rock to protect the environment, their health and their human rights you can check out this page, which has links to pages where you can donate and petitions you can sign to show your solidarity to the protests.

 

A change of plan

The support and encouragement I received following my first blog post about how mental health has affected me has been uplifting.

People I barely know have emailed me, thanking me for being honest and open. I realised that addressing taboos head on can be very helpful and reassuring to those going through a rough patch.

This won’t be a travel blog.

Who wants to sit and read about my holidays anyway?! A pretty narcissistic and self involved idea that looking at my holiday pics is going to appeal to the masses.  I’m going to keep writing posts which face taboo subjects head on. Is my vagina normal? Do I need to lose weight? Should I be shaving down there? Infidelity, depression, uncertainty. In a world where we are continually oppressed by social norms, I’d like to shine some light on the pressures that surround us.

If even one person finds some empowerment and reassurance in my words, I’ll have succeeded.