Suffering in Silence

Posted: December 4, 2013 in Uncategorized

Every year I make a special effort to get to The Cincinnati Zoo several times for a visit. It’s one of those places I’ve been going since before I can remember; as a child, we would always take a day on the weekend and go to the zoo, the Natural History Museum (with the huge T-Rex standing in the lobby to greet us), or Coney Island. I loved all three, but animals have always held a special place in my heart. I used to volunteer in the Children’s Zoo, and was an active member of the Zoologists of Tomorrow and Junior Zoologists Clubs when I was younger. I couldn’t imagine a better place to spend one’s day and, though I think I was beginning to question some of the ethics of the confinement of the animals, even at a very young age, I didn’t let it worry or bother me.

These days, I visit the zoo with very ambivalent feelings and often leave with a heavy heart. While it is true that many (if not most) of our zoos today are strongly invested in conservation and educational efforts, one really must consider, in a thoughtful and mindful way, how these facilities are run, and decide if the suffering of the individual animals is worth what administrators hope to eventually achieve some time (perhaps far) into the future.

I hadn’t been to the zoo in awhile, so yesterday when I was off work I decided to go and walk around for a couple of hours. I enjoy almost any animal – feathered, furred, or scaled – but when I go to the zoo with a limited amount of time, I make sure I stop by the elephants, the birdhouse, and the polar bears, if I see nothing else. My first stop, at the area where the elephants are kept, set the tone for the entire visit. There was a loud crackling sound every few seconds at the perimeter of the enclosure, which sounded like the electric fencing the zoo uses. I’ve not heard it before, or at least I’ve never heard it at this zoo before, and it was distracting as well as troublesome. One of the elephants was swinging from side-to-side, much like can be seen depicted in films where they are chained by the foot and unable to walk freely. I remember when the elephants were regularly kept in the small cages in the old elephant house and chained, they made this constant side-to-side movement. It reminded me that these animals don’t belong in this zoo; they belong in the wild, and that we are robbing them of so much by holding them captive.

But what I found even more disheartening, perhaps, was in the birdhouse just a short distance from the elephant house. There is a lovely room in this building where many different birds fly free where I love to sit. After awhile, a bird or two (yesterday it was a particular red-capped cardinal) takes an interest and tries to dive bomb me repeatedly, or will come over and sit on the rail near my seat and check me out. These birds are curious and engaged with one another and the visitors. Outside the doors, down the hallway, and just around the corner, though, in a darkened hallway is a series of 3 small exhibits, 2 of which contain 1 bird each, and the middle of which contains several. The first one is the one that I was particularly drawn to, and which left me nearly in tears.

The enclosure is a small one, glass-fronted with the remaining 3 walls painted black. There is a group of lights in the upper front portion of the cage trained, like spotlights, on a bare tree situated in the center. I say bare because, although there were leaves and some pretty pinkish and white flowers, they were actually artificial; a close look revealed their plastic connections to the tree branches. Sitting in the center of the tree was a small, beautiful blue bird with a reddish-orange beak. I’d love to tell you what he was, but there was no identifying placard. I believe he might have been in the Kingfisher family. He peered at me as I approached the glass, tilted his head, and sang. I couldn’t hear his song, because of the glass, but I saw the lovely blue feathers on his throat puff out and his long beak open just the slightest.


I was deeply ashamed to see that bird in that cold, dark enclosure. I was ashamed for my zoo and I was ashamed for the whole of the human race. It was clear that no thought went into the welfare of that bird, that he had been positioned there for no other reason than to sell the exhibit. He had fake foliage, no companions, no space to fly and, no one to hear his voice and, to top it off, no identity.

How many others are living in the same condition?

  1. carole kohl-duggan says:

    Hi Diane, here is Carole, it’s been a long time since we spoke! I do so deeply share all you have written. I avoid going to Zoo’s for this reason. Your words brought back all those mixed emotions i always had, Now i have definite opions about it all, which were inhanced once again by a visit with my one, and only, dearest little Grandson Matt 2yrs old. His daddy takes him to the Zoo every week, and once i promised to go with them. Matt loves all the animals and is rapidly becoming an expert in mimicing their voices. I only hope that one day he will see and feel as we do, but he is now so innocent in his enjoyment. Love and hugs to you. Carole.

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