Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Where is this relationship going?...

How we view animals is, like always, undergoing revision. One of the most endearing species is elephants. Who doesn't like elephants? Even though they are among the most beloved of species, we are not sure whether we are treating them fairly. Consequently, many zoos may be closing one of their most poular exhibits.

A handful of U.S. zoos, including ones in San Francisco and Chicago, have recently closed their elephant exhibits. Central Park and Prospect Park zoos, both in New York, stopped displaying elephants in the 1980s.

Last year, the Detroit Zoo in Michigan sent its aging and arthritic elephants—Winky, 52, and Wanda, 46—to a California sanctuary to live out their remaining years.

"Just as polar bears don't thrive in a hot climate, Asian elephants shouldn't live in small groups without many acres to roam," Detroit Zoo director Ron Kagan said at the time.

"They clearly shouldn't have to suffer the winters of the North."

What's more, animal activists are pushing hard to get zoos—most recently those in Los Angeles, Tucson, and Washington, D.C.—to close their elephant exhibits, arguing that captive environments do not meet the animals' physical or behavioral needs. [More]

They are also obvious examples of evolving attitudes concerning animal treatment that may ripple through the livestock industry. It seems likely that more sympathic animals like cows will be the focus of animal defense advocates first, but even chickens have their sympathizers.

I don't think this is the end of meat production. My guess is the meat industry will grudgingly make changes, costs will increase, and business will continue. This has been the pattern to date. Demonizing the other side - now a standard pattern for public debates - will make the issues and people involved seem more outrageous, but answers will be found in the same old place: compromise.

How we live with animals may be a burning issue here in the West, but it is more likely that other cultures will really control the human-animal debate, simply because those groups are growing and eating more meat.

[via Metafilter]

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