Today, Orange Monkeys - Tomorrow?

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Today, Orange Monkeys - Tomorrow?

By Jenny Moxham
May 2010

Now that Taronga Zoo is proudly showing off it's new baby francois langur - or orange monkey - what will Melbourne Zoo retaliate with?

Oh, that's right, Melbourne has it's new baby Sumatran tigers - but what, after that?

This "wild baby" making really has become quite a game, with each zoo seemingly trying to outdo the other.

Dubbo's Western Plains Zoo recently "produced" a black rhino baby and cheetah cubs and Canberra zoo is currently showing off it's new baby lions. Last year Werribee zoo "gave us" three serval kittens and a baby Addax.

Sadly, for the zoo animals involved, this game has no winners. The only outcome for them is a lifetime of imprisonment, far from their natural homes.

With no tasks to exercise their intelligence or skills, they become depressed and listless and totally dependent on humans.

Some of them go crazy from the boredom, deprivation, frustration and stress. Signs of this are self-mutilation and abnormal repetitive behaviours like pacing up and down or rocking back and forth.

Even though the animals may look physically healthy and well cared for, they are telling us they are suffering from inadequate lives.

An additional cause of stress for zoo animals is the fact that they may be confined in countries which, climate wise, are the total opposite of those in which they have evolved to live.

Each year elephants, giraffes and other animals adapted to the heat are forced to endure freezing winter temperatures in countries such as Russia and Canada where the winter temperature plummets to minus 30 degrees Celsius. Likewise, polar bears are forced to bake in our searing 40 degree summer temperatures.

The Sumatran tiger who gave birth to Melbourne Zoos' recent batch of cubs came here from a zoo in Holland - a country vastly different in climate from her hot and steamy homeland.

For long living animals such as elephants, this miserable life in captivity must seem interminable. Last year the world oldest captive elephant died in Taipei Zoo at the age of 86. Captured in 1943 when 26 years of age, he had spent more than 66 years in captivity!

In this era of enlightenment when circuses are being publicly condemned for confining wild animals and the keeping of elephants in zoos has been banned in India, zoos have realized that they must change their image if they are to continue to receive public acceptance.

Consequently, zoos worldwide now justify their existence by telling us that they are "saving animals from extinction".

Whilst this sounds like a selfless and noble cause the reality is that most animals in zoos are not endangered and those which are, would, I'm sure, prefer a life of freedom regardless of what the outcome is for the survival of their species.

If we wish to ensure species survival the way to do it is to to ensure the survival of their habitat - for without habitat, where will all of these "saved" animals go.

Clearly, in a world with no habitat, there will be nowhere for them to go - except zoos.