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Born Free USA Blog

Born Free USA Blog

Zoos Are Foolish

Save the Loof Lirpa

Published 04/18/08
By Adam M. Roberts, Senior Vice President

Two weeks ago, a community activist sent an email out to his neighborhood list informing residents that a “loof lirpa” had escaped the National Zoo here in Washington, DC. Even the local police commander got into the act, notifying citizens of the District that a department helicopter was on the case.

Of course, the infamous “loof lirpa” is not an animal at all — not in the zoo and not in the wild. It’s simply “April Fool” spelled backwards. Some will have heard this joke before. Others forgot that it was April Fool’s Day and wondered what this loof lirpa thing was all about.

The problem is, animal escapes from zoos are not funny.

We’ve just included as a feature article in our latest Animal Issues Digest a discussion of the Christmas Day incident at the San Francisco Zoo where an escaped tiger caused the death of one young man and injuries to two others. I’ve always been mystified that local residents of communities across the country accept that dangerous predators are dumped in the middle of our cities or rural areas. When we really examine the situation, we know it’s just not right. It’s not right for the animals and it’s not right for us!

Animals in zoos are kept in unnatural conditions; they are deprived of their biological, physical, emotional, and other needs. And it is all for human entertainment.

Whenever I discuss the keeping of exotic animals in captivity I say the same thing: I totally understand the remarkable allure of seeing magnificent wild animals up close. I have seen elephants in Zimbabwe, Kenya, Sri Lanka, and Thailand, for instance. I have also seen elephants in the San Diego Wild Animal Park and DC’s own National Zoo. When we see them in captivity we’re not seeing elephants at all. We’re seeing the shell form of what we think is an elephant. Elephants live in large matriarchal herds. Elephants travel for miles a day together. Elephants gather at water holes and mourn the passing of loved ones. In zoos they stand. They rub against a tire wrapped around a tree. They sway back and forth.

I took my daughter to the National Zoo a few weeks ago as part of my work as a Born Free USA Zoo Checker. I wanted to check on an old Asian elephant from Sri Lanka. Little Mia, all of three years old, couldn’t understand why the elephant was standing alone in such a small room eating hay. “Is it because of all the snow outside?” she asked.

Then Mia saw the hippo. “Daddy, why is that hippo all alone? Does he play with that red ball? Where are his friends?”

Even at three, with some time looking at books and watching programs on tv, my daughter knows that a hippopotamus doesn’t belong alone in a small cement pool of water indoors. And surely the red plastic ball floating by his head is not the stimulation needed to enjoy life. If a three-year-old gets it, why don’t the rest of us?

It is time for us all to reject the notion that zoos are about conservation. Real conservation is what Born Free USA does — protecting wildlife in the wild. It is time for us all to reject the notion that zoos are about education. What kind of education do we get seeing birds that can’t fly free or pandas removed from their bamboo forests?

I’m surely glad there is no such thing as a loof lirpa. Because if there were, you can be sure that some zoo would want to capture them and put them behind bars.

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