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Knut's Unbearably Bad Luck

Knut's Unbearably Bad Luck

Posted 6 April 2011   by Jesse         Permalink | 6 Comments

Tags: zoos, Knut, bears, rant, David Attenborough

One of the most lasting memories I have of zoos, is going with my highschool. I remember standing in front of the tassie devil enclosure. Most of the enclosure was grassy, including a raised mound in the middle. But around this mound ran a heavily worn dirt track (roughly the same width as a tassie devil) and on this dirt track ran a lone devil. Around and around he went, like a broken record... around and around and ... you get the idea.

At the time, I just thought that all tasmanian devils must be crazy (I'm sure a childhood of Taz cartoons made this explanation seem obvious.). But several years later, when I found out that a life of confinement and lack of stimulation can lead many animals in zoos and circuses to go mad, I realised that a more likely explanation was that not all tassie devils are crazy - just the one I saw in that zoo.

If you've been following the story of the celebrity polar bear, Knut, who died a couple of weeks ago in Berlin Zoo, then you'd know that he also lived a very troubled life. Born in captivity, and rejected by his mother shortly after birth in 2006, he was raised by a human zookeeper. I'm sure this zookeeper did his best to raise Knut well, but let's face it, he was not 2.5m tall with a coat of white fur, and by 2008 there were reports that Knut was knuts, calling him a "publicity addicted psycho".

Fame can do some strange things to people - so can jail. So what can being raised by a human in an unnatural, confined environment, with constant crowds looking on do to a polar bear? Well here's a description from one of his keepers at the zoo: "He actually cries out or whimpers if he sees that there is not a spectator outside his enclosure ready to ooh and ahh at him. When the zoo had to shut because of black ice everywhere, he howled until staff members stood before him and calmed him down." This from an animal that would normally live a more-or-less solitary life in the wild!

A couple of years ago Berlin Zoo ran into financial problems and even considered selling their polar bear celebrity. But ultimately Knut lived out the rest of his short life at Berlin Zoo - confined to an enclosure, never able to roam the vast expanses that his bear buddies in the wild do.

Sadly, I'd say I've learnt more about what life's like for a polar bear from David Attenborough's docos than Knut ever learnt being raised by a man in an enclosure in Berlin. Given the choice, I wouldn't go back to a zoo after seeing the dizzying madness of that tassie devil running in circles. Fortunately, Attenborough and others have made more docos about animals in the wild than any of us are ever likely to manage to watch.

What do you think of wild animals being kept on display in captivity? Leave a comment.

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paris paris 6 April 2011
i do believe that a lot of zoos in other parts of the world do not have their animals in enclosures that are required, however in australia, most zoos are of very high standard and are only interested in the wellbeing of the zoo. not only that but they allow people to be informed about the animal in a level that a tv documentary cannot and although they are not in the wild it is still educating people about these animals.
most zoos are all about conservation and so they will put it out to the visitors that they are trying to help the animals and will ask for their help too. for example Taronga Zoo have a program for seafood at the moment and so when you go there, they will give you a list of seafood you should eat and those that are fished unsustainably and therefore not eat.
i feel that zoos are necessary in todays society. but if there is going to be a zoo they need to have the right enclosures and enough funding to provide the animals with the best possible life in captivity.
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Jesse Jesse 7 April 2011
Hi Paris, Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

This incident at Taronga Zoo left me sceptical of at least some zoos' claims about conservation:

I agree we need to protect endangered animals. But I don't think that a life on public display is necessarily in the best interests of the animals. There are many great sanctuaries rehabilitating and protecting animals, who try to offer them as close as possible to a natural environment.
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4_da_animals1 4_da_animals1 8 April 2011
I understand the sanctuary side of things, but the state of particular zoo enclosures and the way the animals are exploited is certainly not a sanctuary. Similar situation with the sun bear in Adelaide zoo, even now being moved to a bigger enclosure, he still walks back and forth up and down the fence in a circular motion, almost never stopping. Just like your tassie devil. It's not right. Surely Australia should work on proper sanctuaries and parks rather than the exploition that is zoos.
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Jacqui T Jacqui T 11 April 2011
I cry when I go to Toronga, Melbourne or Adelaide zoo. But I do like open range zoos, I know the wildlife are still kept in an environment different from their natural habitat but atleast they get more privacy and the chance to get away from public eye. I think animals shouldn't be held captive unless they had absolutely no chance in the wild.
With WIRES, we're supposed to put down any animals that aren't fit for the wild- so if a lorikeet can't fly as well as normal lorikeets then it needs to be put down. I don't agree with this, the carers with large aviaries will keep birds or try and get the wildlife sanctuaries around us to have them. I know its cruel because they're still locked up but they're not for show, they're not depressed and the probability of having a happy life is still worth more than their death.
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Annelies Craig Annelies Craig 22 April 2011
Animals should be left within their own environments.  How many stories has their been of animals that have been captured from the wild and then kept only for them to die not so long after.  They are wild animals for a reason and they need to stay that way.  Having said that I do give thanks to those who do rescue sick wild animals and treat them but they need to be set free as soon as able.
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jacqueline1 jacqueline1 29 April 2011
zoo has nothing to do with the free life that wild animals are entitled to have!
 only shrines can be remedied somewhat. Moreover, animals give birth in prison is a zoo idiocy, it is better to save animals from circuses or kept in temples as in India or in a cage as in China, so they end their lives with dignity.
Species conservation is still a big business that these zoos are receiving state subsidies, do not be fooled!
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