Happy summer to everyone up north and hoping all our readers in the US had a fabulous 4th of July week. Whether back at work or still on vacation, summer often means that time of year to explore, excite, and expand our horizons. Also, an opportunity to make an impact while you are on the road.
I just recently came back from Vietnam, and though we will go deeper into that in a future issue, I came to the realization that country is a dream. I made more friends than I imagined possible, discovered mind bending artwork, food (and coffee, OMG the coffee!) that I am still dreaming about, amazing sights, and incredible culture. Now, time permitting, whenever I am on the road I try to visit local zoos and aquariums so I can review, rate, and report on them. When I see questionable practices, I then will go a step further to consult with an expert and then reach out to management if we feel necessary. When I visited the The Saigon Zoo and Botanical Gardens in Ho Chi Minh City, I admit I was shocked – it was by no stretch the worst zoo I had ever seen in my life.
Habitats were often cement boxes with tourists excitedly banging on the glass or bars that separate them from the creatures inside. There were little-to-no educational components and animals were mixed throughout children’s rides so there was no distinction in what was a living creature and a game. Smaller animals like otters and meerkats seemed to not be distraught but larger mammals were showing sever signs of distress. A Malaysian black bear banging its head and body incessantly against the habitat door, isolated giraffes standing listless and frozen in time, and elephants rocking nervously back and forth then huddled in defense when the keeper would enter their confined space. Considering the rules and limitations in Vietnam I do not envision improvement for the future- in fact, at this state of disrepair I believe the zoo should be closed and likely many of the animals euthanized while appropriate outreach is conducted with state officials. I have never said that before for any institution.
So is this another horror story to ruin the bunch? It shouldn’t be. Good zoos and aquariums play many vital roles. Some have extensive rehabilitation and release divisions, others have unique captive breeding programs, and almost all good zoos have extensive educational components. No matter who you talk to you will see there are countless opinions on this topic- whether regarding the size of the animal, the species, comparing zoo habitats to natural environments, or sheer ethics of captivity. So what should you do? Learn which are the good ones, support them, and if you have the means see how to help the ones that need improvement. Struggling to find a birthday gift for someone? How about a membership to a local zoo, aquarium, or sanctuary.
The needle dictating what is ethical/acceptable/natural-as-possible is constantly moving but understand that while there are cages and tanks that are quite dreadful, there are some similar organizations out there that do some invaluable work that many species depend on.
Have questions about this issue, Vietnam, my zoo experience, or anything else? Email me. It might take a bit for me to get back to you but I respond to everything.
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Safe travels & happy swimming,
Giacomo Abrusci, Executive Director, Editor-in-Chief