Born Free USA Blog
by Will Travers,
Chief Executive Officer
What can you say about a big-hearted bloke who has rescued dolphins, tigers, elephants and more and whose parents once helped a lion cub from a department store by caring for him in their backyard and engineering his rightful return to Africa? You can safely say that he's got great animal instincts! In 1984, Will Travers joined his parents — "Born Free" film stars Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers — to form what became The Born Free Foundation. With knowledge, passion and compassion dripping from his every word, Will's blogs are sure to make you embrace our crusade to Keep Wildlife in the Wild ®.
Today I appeared on CNN International to debate the merit of caging animals in zoos versus saving them in the wild. My exchange with Dr. Andrew Marshall of the University of York followed a predictable course — until his jaw-dropping final statement, to which I did not have an opportunity to respond. I’ll take the opportunity to do so here.
Prior to Marshall’s fall-on-his-face finale, the two of us managed to find one remote outpost of common ground. We agreed, to the extent we could considering he works for a zoo, that we as a civilization should work on conserving wild habitats. However, much of the rest of his comments were along the typical, well-rehearsed lines of claiming that zoos contribute financially to field conservation work (a veritable pittance compared to how much zoos spend on sad enclosures) and the hotly disputed and unproven claim that zoos are educational.
In response to Marshall’s claim that zoos educate kids, I pointed toward a scientific study released just this year that questions the notion that people leave zoos with any greater knowledge of animals or with any increased commitment toward animal conversation. Marshall, a field biologist, responded by calling my comments — and presumably the study I cited — “nonsense.” Then he added, “Whether the data is there or not, it doesn’t matter.”
(Click to see an enlarged image.)
If you watch the video of our exchange, you will note that my head swivels toward him on that whopper. Marshall, a scientist, says data doesn’t matter!
But he saved his worst for last. We were asked to give “one final thought,” and I was instructed to go first. I said that we’re missing the point by putting so much emphasis (i.e. money and effort) into showcasing animals for entertainment purposes in zoos, rather than preserving and respecting their natural existence in the wild. Marshall’s final point?
“Without zoos, we wouldn’t be conserving many of these animals. They’d be going extinct. And the fact is that most animals in zoos are happy, and if they weren’t happy, I wouldn’t be working in a zoo.”
I don’t need to comment on that insanely delusional assertion beyond, well, what I’ve just written! Although again, here we have a scientist venturing far off the provable-fact realm. He knows whether an animal is “happy”? That’s quite a talent you have, Dr. Marshall. A talent for unscientific zoo propaganda!