Dr Chris West
Chairman, Ethics Committee
World Association of Zoos and Aquaria
Adelaide Zoo, Australia
I hold the position of Animal Welfare and Education Director for Animals Asia Foundation, a Hong Kong-based non-government organisation dedicated to improving the lives of all animals in Asia, ending cruelty, and restoring respect for animals Asia-wide. I previously worked with the Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme at the Institute of Zoology, London, completing a thesis studying cetacean strandings data from the UK coast.
I am writing to express concern regarding the continued acquisition of small cetaceans for zoos and aquaria that operate under the WAZA umbrella. Of particular concern is the capture of dolphins during dolphin hunts in Japan, during which many dolphins suffer a prolonged, violent death in order to satisfy the demands of Japanese restaurants. Those that are taken live for the zoo and aquarium trade are forced to watch their brethren die around them and are then transported to small facilities where they are displayed and often required to perform “tricks” in order to entertain an uninformed public, in the name of education and conservation.
Such practices have no place in any society that professes to call itself “advanced”. The extraction of these social, intelligent animals from the wild, the disruption of their social structures, and the subsequent conditioning of captive animals for the purposes of public entertainment, cannot in any way be associated with constructive education or conservation initiatives. The more progressive zoos and aquaria are beginning to recognise that captive cetaceans serve no real purpose, and that the non-disruptive observation of animals in their wild environment provides an infinitely greater educational opportunity.
We urge you to consider these issues in the light of your own code of ethics, which requires members to “exercise the highest standards of animal welfare”, “deliver a sound conservation message”, “focus on natural behaviour”, and “not demean or trivialise the animal in any way”. In addition, your code on Acquisition of Animals requires members to “endeavour to ensure that the source of all animals is confined to those born in human care”, and your code on External Wild Animal Welfare Issues condemns “cruel and non-selective methods of taking animals from the wild”. In all of these respects, zoos and aquaria obtaining live dolphins from dolphin hunts break your own codes, and surely must be excluded from membership of WAZA and condemned by WAZA for their actions.
In the past, WAZA has been very supportive of Animals Asia’s campaign to end bear farming (your ex-President Ed McAllister wrote a storming letter to the Chinese government a couple of years ago) and for this we are truly grateful.
Along with regional and national zoo associations, WAZA is also in a unique position of being able to influence the activities of zoos and aquaria worldwide, to ensure that these traditional places of entertainment can be turned into places of worthwhile education and ambassadors for conservation.
Sadly, too many institutions continue to exploit animals for profit and public entertainment, while hiding behind a facade of education and conservation. You are in a position to change this, and those of us with an interest in the welfare and conservation of animals are watching with baited breath.
Mark Jones BVSc MSc(Stir) MSc(London) MRCVS, Veterinarian
Animal Welfare and Education Director
Animals Asia Foundation
Tel: (852) 2791 2225
Fax: (852) 2791 2320
Email: [email protected]