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Time to kill all the kittens

I think that’s the only reasonable response. We’ve been conditioned to think that animals are all furry and big-eyed and most importantly, cute, and every animal that isn’t must be reclassified as vermin. We’re going to need a radical readjustment of the public; every time you send someone a LOLcat, a thousand annelids and a million arthropods die in despair.

At least, that’s how I feel on the news that the Smithsonian is closing their Invertebrate Zoo. There are some fucked-up priorities here.

The Smithsonian says the Invertebrate Exhibit costs $1 million a year to operate, and that necessary upgrades to the facility will cost another $5 million. "We have several other fundraising priorities which preclude us from launching a… campaign for the invertebrates to stay in their existing space," reads a statement on the Zoo’s Facebook page.

The National Zoo’s annual budget runs about $20 million, with its friends group kicking in another $4 to $8 million a year. Which basically means the Zoo has decided it can’t afford to allocate five percent of its annual budget to educate the public about 97 percent of the animal species in the world.

“Priorities”. What defines their priorities? An accurate presentation of the science, or pandering to brains high on fluff? I suggest we start feeding the Red Pandas to the octopuses until those priorities get readjusted.

Comments

  1. gussnarp says

    I’m just stunned by this news.

    I’m a little more understanding of the prioritization of megafauna, but still stunned. The biggest reason I’m stunned is because the National Zoo has free admission. It ought to be able to shift a little funding to the overlooked, but scientifically and ecologically important species that other zoos, needing to keep ticket revenues up, cannot. Having an institution like the Smithsonian ought to be that buffer between the public with its insatiable appetite for pandas and the need to do research and preservation work with animals that the public finds icky.

  2. hillaryrettig says

    More proof of what antizoo activists have been saying for years…that zoos are basically entertainment organizations masquerading as educational/conservational ones.

  3. Chris Hall says

    As Terry Pratchett once quite rightly said: “If cats looked like frogs we’d realize what nasty, cruel little bastards they are.”

  4. Trebuchet says

    I suggest we start feeding the Red Pandas to the octopuses until those priorities get readjusted.

    Red pandas are basically differently colored raccoons, so I’m cool with that. I hate raccoons.

  5. says

    It’s easy to be a critic from the sidelines. The zoo has to consider a lot of factors and funding is tight. I know a lot of people who work for the Smithsonian, and they should be put up for sainthood for what they do. I’m sure this was not done without a lot of consideration.

  6. hillaryrettig says

    Brian Axsmith – Yes, it’s easy to be a critic from the sidelines. I imagine nearly everyone working at a zoo (except possibly the senior executives) loves animals. But that shouldn’t blind us to the realities of zoos’ mission, and their obvious priorities.

    One example: Here, from that liberal rag, the wsj is a story explaining how zoos intentionally overbreed their cute mammals so that they can have a cute baby to draw crowds and revenues – and then kill the same babies when they are bigger and no longer cute.

    http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB123689895056312923

    And another, about how zoos, even when they try to do the right thing, are inherently compromised: http://www.bornfree.org.uk/campaigns/zoo-check/uk-zoos/zoo-conservation/do-zoos-help-conservation/

  7. gussnarp says

    @hillaryrettig #7:

    I was very curious about your claims, so I read the WSJ piece you linked. I’m not sure if you did, or if you just didn’t expect anyone to, but it says nothing like what you claim it says.

  8. =8)-DX says

    @hillaryrettig #7:

    American zoos believe in birth control or sexual abstinence for their animal populations. But Europe’s 4,000 zoos take a more continental approach to reproductive rights: Animals should be free to do what comes naturally. The result is a surplus of offspring. And if zookeepers can’t find a home for the babies, zoos typically kill them.

    You’re jumping to conclusions about intentions. Culling natural overpopulation vs. birth-control and abstinence for zoo populations is something to debate perhaps, but you’re misrepresenting the issue. As in the wild, not all babies survive to reproduce…

  9. bbgunn says

    At least, that’s how I feel on the news that the Smithsonian is closing their Invertebrate Zoo.

    So, what do you think the Smithsonian do with all those politicians?

  10. L E says

    I don’t have any particular insight into this decision and unfortunately won’t have time today to read up on it, but I do know that the whole Smithsonian, including the Zoo, is highly dependent on Federal appropriations which haven’t gone up much in the last few years – and in some cases have been cut severely – at the same time that their costs for salaries and benefits (which are not discretionary) and maintenance have gone up. If you’re really serious that that they should be able to afford your favorite pet exhibit, talk to your legislators and tell them to increase funding to the Smithsonian. (I say this as someone who studies invertebrates and is disappointed that I never got a chance to visit the Invert Zoo). Or donate – they do have some private funding.

  11. says

    You know what ELSE costs 1 million dollars? ONE fucking Blackhawk helicopter of which several dozen were just given to Egypt which will never come back to bite us in the ass… FUCK our fucking IDIOT priorities JESUS FKN CHRIST

  12. says

    Hey, David Koch donated some serious to the dino wing of the smithsonian…Maybe he can be convinced to pony up for this as well

  13. ambassadorfromverdammt says

    @Tabby Lavalamp #8

    We could feed some octopusses to the red pandas, too. That would win over the cephalopodophiles.

  14. says

    , is highly dependent on Federal appropriations which haven’t gone up much in the last few years – and in some cases have been cut severely

    This right here is the problem. Our national purse strings are held by spineless ignoramuses and malevolent grafters.

  15. carlie says

    Yeah – I’m not mad at the Smithsonian, I’m mad at the legislators who cut their funding to the point that this decision was necessary.

  16. astro says

    one thing that bugs me about zoos, the smithsonian in particular, is the blatant sinophilia. i get that there are people out there who like large, lazy, black and white herbivores. but hells bells, they don’t love red lanterns, fireworks, or confucius. it is mere geologic coincidence that the panda’s natural habitat is in china, the country that has itself caused the panda’s habitat loss.

    should we rework all the cheetah exhibits after !kung tribalism? fill the elephant habitats with ganesh dolls and shiva statues?

    then again, if any of those cultures had the mania that the chinese do over their cultural hegemony, i’m sure they would. i don’t know which is worse, china or the reagan legacy foundation.

  17. Rich Woods says

    @ilgeo #13:

    The hissing cockroaches were my favorite.

    Mine too, until I discovered the sign contained a typo.

  18. busterggi says

    Its Washington D.C. for Pete’s sake! Can’t they just repatriate the foreign invertebrates to their local embassies and release the native ones into nearby restaurants?

  19. rrhain says

    I realize I’m a mathematician, but surely I wasn’t the only one who noticed the sloppy math.

    $20M budget with another $4-8M in donations.

    $1M operational cost with $5M in necessary upgrades required.

    So even if we assume the largest budget to work with, $28M, the $6M in costs comes out to more than 20% of the budget, not 5%.

  20. sanban says

    It’s outrageous that Smithsonian, a publicly funded institution, should be “prioritizing” cute and cuddly over educationally important. What more important exhibits could there be than invertebrates on this planet of the bugs? And what about the people who are more interested in invertebrates?

    I think it’s time to write some letters.

  21. applebeverage says

    Seeing all the weird buggies is like the number one reason I even like to go to museums. Kittens are for when I’m at home. :3

  22. hillaryrettig says

    gusnarp #9. are you saying the article I claim talks about zoos intentionally overbreeding and then killing the “surplus,” and that discusses that very topic in depth, is not not actually talking about that topic?

    =8)-DX #10. fyi you’re quoting someone else, not me.

  23. gussnarp says

    @hillaryrettig:

    Oh come on. Either your reading comprehension is severely compromised by your motivated reasoning, or you’re being willfully dishonest. I said the WSJ piece doesn’t say what you said it did. I stand by that. You respond by changing your claim.

    =8)-DX quotes the article to demonstrate that your claim about the article is false, and you gloss over the fact that the article’s quote directly contradicts yours.

    Apparently we have to spell it out. You claim:

    Here, from that liberal rag, the wsj is a story explaining how zoos intentionally overbreed their cute mammals so that they can have a cute baby to draw crowds and revenues – and then kill the same babies when they are bigger and no longer cute.

    The article you refer to says:

    American zoos believe in birth control or sexual abstinence for their animal populations. But Europe’s 4,000 zoos take a more continental approach to reproductive rights: Animals should be free to do what comes naturally. The result is a surplus of offspring. And if zookeepers can’t find a home for the babies, zoos typically kill them.

    Nothing about cute babies drawing crowds and revenues in the piece at all. Instead the question seems to be one of philosophical differences about how to maintain healthy and safe zoo environments. Not only that, but the article is specifically about European zoos and makes a point that this approach is not taken in American zoos (like the Smithsonian’s National Zoo that we’re discussing).

    Is it possible that they’re lying and that European zoos are just trying to boost the cute baby numbers? Sure. But the article absolutely does not say that, and you claimed that it did.

    There is a case to be made against zoos, even if I don’t agree with it and think it’s extremist and relies on emotional appeals and some level of anthropomorphic thinking about animals, but you could reasonably make the case here and probably find some who would agree with you. You’re not likely to accomplish that by misrepresenting your sources as if no one is going to check them.

  24. hillaryrettig says

    @Gussnarp – you’re absolutely right – I misrepresented the link. Sorry about that, and I appreciate your calling me out on that. Here’s one that does make the point I made:

    http://articles.courant.com/1999-02-23/features/9902230737_1_surplus-zoo-animals-aquarium-association-american-zoo

    “Zoos have been very successful breeding grounds for many species … [and] it’s definitely a draw to always have babies on display,” said Craig Hoover, a former special agent with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who is now program manager with TRAFFIC North America, a wildlife trade monitoring arm of the World Wildlife Fund and the World Conservation Union. “But what do you do with those animals when they’re not babies anymore? Certainly the open market is the best place to sell them.”

  25. hillaryrettig says

    Also, I do think anyone smart enough to be reading Pharyngula knows to follow the money. While the European zoos may flaunt their supposed “philosophy,” they’re profiting just like the American zoos from the surplus babies.

  26. gussnarp says

    @hillaryretting: See, now you’ve shown a real issue. I happen to think that the whole exotic animal trade is disgusting and ought to be shut down. I don’t think this means we should shut down all zoos, but it does show a greater need for oversight. Obviously you disagree, I’m fine with that.

    As for following the money: it’s one useful strategy for figuring things out. But, particularly in cases where the money trail isn’t very clear, it can lead one to ignore other factors that may be of far more critical import and lead to false conclusions. One need look no further than opposition to vaccines or support of “alternative” medicine for an example of where this approach goes astray. Still, considering financial motives is worthwhile.

    It’s also worthwhile to consider that there is legitimate cause to maintain sufficient genetic diversity among the breeding population of captive animals.

    But I’ll certainly grant that there are problems. My own local zoo, for example, on the one hand does a fantastic job of successfully breeding difficult to breed and rare animals, including several kinds of rhinoceros, and without such breeding programs, it’s very likely there will be no more rhinos within my lifetime. They’re also known for the fantastic work they do for cheetah conservation, where a lot of that money that comes from people coming to the zoo to see its cheetahs is spent on preventing the killing of wild cheetahs in Africa by educating farmers and providing guard dogs for their herds. At the same time, they expend far too much space and resources on white tigers and lions, animals that frankly there’s no good reason to conserve as preserving them is about inbreeding to maintain a genetic anomaly rather than breeding for a healthy genetic diversity of species. I’ve no doubt they do this because those animals are popular and draw visitors. I’ve also no doubt that a substantial portion of the zoo’s revenue that comes of having those animals goes to help preserve other animals in captivity and in the wild, so I don’t at all think that it’s a simple black and white issue.

  27. hillaryrettig says

    Hi Gussnarp –

    Thanks for your reply. I think your follow the money caveat is really interesting and will ponder that.

    re zoos doing good, many of them devote only a tiny percentage of their budgets on conservation – it’s really window dressing, in some cases, and apparently not very effective. See below links. Think about how much real conservation could be accomplished with equivalent funds by orgs that were truly, primarily devoted to that goal.

    http://www.bornfree.org.uk/campaigns/zoo-check/uk-zoos/zoo-conservation/

    “4. The CCZ only keeps 3.5% of the total number of animal species (mammals, birds and amphibians) listed by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (2006). 5. More than 60% of species kept by the CCZ are in the ‘Least Concern’ category (lowest IUCN Red List category). 6. Only 37% of CCZ animals are higher risk than Least Concern.”

    Also: http://www.sdu.dk/en/Om_SDU/Fakulteterne/Naturvidenskab/Nyheder/2014_01_15_zoos

    I think it’s common sense that combining an entertainment mission with conservation or science will almost inevitably contaminate the latter. Although I think some level of compromise along these lines is okay, zoos go way too far. To round things out – and with irony, considering the OP – here’s a comment from someone at the Smithsonian saying just that:

    “If there are criticisms, they are that zoos are not transforming their mission quickly enough from entertainment to conservation. / We as a society have to decide if it is going to be ethically and morally appropriate to simply display animals for entertainment purposes,” said Dr. Steven L. Monfort, the director of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, part of the National Zoo in Washington. “In my opinion, that model is broken. There needs to be an explicit role for zoos to champion species.”
    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/28/science/zoos-bitter-choice-to-save-some-species-letting-others-die.html

    We’re also eliding the entire issue of zoos being intrinsically, unspeakably cruel to many of the animals they house, including your rhinos.

  28. Crimson Clupeidae says

    NO!!!! Not the kittens!!!

    Silly move, but I guess the zoos gotta go with what they think will at least bring in more public funding until (if!) we get a government that actually cares to fund science, outreach and research for its own sake.

  29. David Marjanović says

    I know a lot of people who work for the Smithsonian, and they should be put up for sainthood for what they do.

    Reportedly the staff at the invertebrate house was on the verge of tears when they were given six days’ notice.

    I’m sure this was not done without a lot of consideration.

    I’m sure it was done without any consideration.

    Consider: when a publicly funded zoo is short on money, the logical thing to do is to beg the public for donations and shame the politicians. Closing with six days’ notice is, instead, unbefuckinglievable.

  30. yubal says

    Talking “Priorities” here:

    We are witnessing an unprecedented case of Ebola outbreak right now (aka for some weeks now) . More than 500 people are already dead and the virus is not confined to a remote location like it used to be. And it is a really nasty strain.

    No. I don’t care about invertebrates in a zoo right now.

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