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Born Free USA Blog

Born Free USA Blog

Unnatural Suffering in One of the Greenest Buildings on Earth

Published 09/03/09
By Sharie Lesniak, Vice President of Marketing

Picture a corporate conference room. There’s a big table in the middle and the entire room is surrounded by glass — including the ceiling.

Now picture yourself there, lying on top of the conference room table. People are constantly walking by and looking in, staring at you from all sides and even watching you from above. There’s nowhere you can hide from the peering eyes. Now imagine there is no door ... so you can’t ever leave.

OK, now here’s where things get really surreal. Picture the glass prison — and so many other much smaller ones just like it — all housed inside one of the greenest, most eco-friendly buildings on earth! “What the ... ?!” Yeah, that’s about what I said, too!

It’s been over two weeks and I still can’t get the image out of my head. This sad-looking, albino alligator, lying on a fake rock — about the size of a conference-room table — while everyone stared at him from above and through a glass aquarium that was about the size of a conference room.

As I was watching, the alligator moved to turn himself around, moving so slowly, just dragging his legs across that fake rock ... it was if he was in pain or so tired he could barely lift his legs to turn. He didn’t even bother flipping one of his legs over once he finished his 180-degree move. His leg just lay there, upside down. He looked so miserable. He didn’t move again. When I questioned the museum staff I was told, “That’s what he does.” As if he had a choice to do much else in that awful, little, glass prison, under a 2.5-acre living roof in the greenest museum on earth.

Now I know alligators are not the most endearing of creatures and I’ve never had a relationship with a reptile like I’ve had with, say, a cat or dog. Yet this one actually moved me to tears. I am still getting choked up again as I write this and am struggling a bit to really explain why that distant relative of the dinosaur (or is it dinosaurs and birds?) moved me so.

I think it has to do with that fact that we humans — once again — disregarded the animals. That even so-called “eco-minded” people did not take the animals’ wants, needs, nor happiness into consideration. I mean, here is one of the greenest buildings on earth; it was carefully considered, created, and built to meet the highest green standards on earth (LEED Platinum) and inside it holds animals in tiny, unnatural cages that don’t meet their needs! What made me so upset, was that it seemed that this supposed “green museum” was just like every other zoo or aquarium in the world out to turn a profit at the animals’ expense, under the guise of “education.”

I guess what really got me was that I had such high hopes for this place — but when it came to the animals, it was all talk!

ALL TALK > The new Academy “serves as an educational model by demonstrating how humans can live and work in environmentally-responsible ways.” NO WALK > Just doesn’t seem environmentally-responsible to have a “touch tank” where, all day long, kids are encouraged to touch and pick up sea stars, hermit crabs, and other aquatic creatures.

ALL TALK > The Academy’s architect, Piano, speaking about why he made the building so open, with so much glass to let in the light, said, “Museums are not usually transparent. They are opaque, they are closed. They are like a kingdom of darkness, and you are trapped inside. You don’t see where you are.” NO WALK > While the humans get to enjoy much of the glass and light, live penguins are relegated to the end of an enclosed hallway.

ALL TALK > A “single modern landmark ... places a visual and intellectual emphasis on the natural world.” NO WALK > A small display holding turtles was surrounded by glass sides. As I watched, a turtle repeatedly smacked into and scratched on the glass trying to move through the glass toward the outside. (This is a common problem with captive reptiles, whose natural instinct to roam unconfined remains intact, resulting in a lifetime of frustration when forced to live in small, captive environments.)

ALL TALK > A great display on global climate change that pointed out how our food choices played a role in it — including promoting “Meatless Mondays!” NO WALK > Serving hamburgers and beef hot dogs in their cafeteria!

ALL TALK > Creating a large and visually impressive saltwater aquarium that uses solar power to regulate temperature along with displays of how our oceans are in trouble. NO WALK > Serving “sustainable” seafood in their restaurant. (Am I the only one who sees eating no seafood as the real sustainable option?)

ALL TALK > Using a digital camera to capture a souvenir photo on a “green screen” as you walked into the building. NO WALK > Rather than displaying the resulting image on a computer screen, they print your photo out on paper, then slide it into a paper frame to see if you want to buy the picture. If you don’t, paper is wasted as the print is tossed out.

I had walked in with such high hopes! They were dashed the moment I saw that amazing albino alligator, stripped of so much more than his color. I left not seeing green, but red.

Blogging off,


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