For the Love of Animals

I’ve been visiting zoos ever since I can remember. The Bowmanville Zoo has always been a ten minute drive from where I grew up and there were many years where we would take school trips to the Toronto Zoo.

It seems so normalized – a great way to spend the day with your kids, teaching them about the animals that bring a smile to their faces. But is this how we should be teaching our kids about animals? That animals should be locked up and under our control? That because we have the intelligence, we should dictate the fate of every living thing?

They probably get enough of this at home, seeing you boss around the family dog, set traps for mice, buy special garbage cans to keep away racoons. All along you’re sending the message that humans are in control, making the decisions. And we are. But if we continue to run the world the way we do, there won’t be many animals left to teach your kids about.

My main reason for writing this, is that I haven’t been able to understand how I feel about zoos. On one hand, I love animals, just seeing them brings me so much joy. However, I also find visiting zoos to be very painful – so many animals display obvious signs of stress and it makes me sad to see wild/exotic animals in a cage, far from home, being gawked at. My goal is to explore the pros and cons of zoos in order to educate myself and hopefully raise awareness of this issue.

For the Love of Learning

Might as well start out on the positive side since I have a feeling this will be the losing end. I think it is important to keep in mind that when considering the positive aspects of zoos, that it is an ideal and not always a reality. The arguments for zoos describe what they are potentially capable of, but is usually not representative. I would also note that although most of these points seem positive, there is another point that counteracts it.

So far the only argument I found that seems of any worth is “Some zoos help rehabilitate wildlife and take in exotic pets that people no longer want or are no longer able to care for.” Every other point fails to stand up to scrutiny or ignores the whole point – the animals. I’m actually disgusted that someone thought these were arguments for why we should have zoos:

  • Zoos are a tradition, and a visit to a zoo is a wholesome, family activity.
  • Seeing an animal in person is a much more personal and more memorable experience than seeing that animal in a nature documentary.

These arguments seek to draw away from the fact that zoos imprison animals and often fail to take proper care of them. Human experience is more important than the lives of millions of animals. Who cares if the animal has a miserable life as long as you get a fun day out with the family.

I’m not even going to bother to list the rest of the points, but you can read them here https://www.thoughtco.com/arguments-for-and-against-zoos-127639 . Every argument on the list is later canceled out by the list of arguments against zoos.

Caged and Controlled 

Not all zoos are the same but after recently visiting Clarington Family Outdoor Adventure Park (formerly the Bowmanville Zoo), I was pretty disgusted. The highlight of the trip was feeding and petting the pygmy goats that hang around and seeing the animals is always cool. But that’s about where it ends. goat.jpg

Two fully grown lions lay on cement slabs in a cage about the size of a suburban backyard. A group of Baboons share a cage even smaller, staring out at us, sometimes grooming each other, but obviously bored. A Serval paces and rocks in a similar cage, clearly in distress. A giraffe stands in a slightly large pen, which is barren except for a camel. It attempts to stretch its neck enough to reach the trees outside its fence but fails. Nearby a lion cub is passed around a group of people who paid a fortune for a chance to hold the wild animal.

I’m guilty of this myself. Last year, a group of friends planned a similar trip and I paid my share for this opportunity. We spent half an hour in a small pen with the cub and a handler. Although it was an incredible experience, it was very painful for me, watching the cub pace along the perimeter, calling to its sibling who was in a similar situation, several feet away. The handler repeatedly pushing it away, attempting to stop the cub from pacing and pawing at the wall. It had no interest in the people standing around, enthralled by it, attempting to play with, or pet it. I did get some beautiful photos, because of course it’s a beautiful creature – but I can’t help feeling guilty. Guilty about giving my money to people who force a helpless baby animal into this situation, day after day. And for this reason, I’ll never do it again.

cub

This is one of the main criticisms of zoos – it’s a money grab. They charge a lot of money to visit for the day, and even more for any extra activities (encounters, feedings, rides, etc.). Babies are regularly the victims of these moneys grabs. Cause duh, they are cute AF – people will pay a lot of money to see them. Hell, I’m a prime example of this – cute animals are my weakness, I’d probably pay to play with a puppy. However, this means that young animals are taken away from their mothers for extended periods of time and are put on display, expected to put on a show. Can you imagine someone doing this to your child? For it to be treated as an object, something to buy and sell, for the entertainment of others?

This also means that some species are more desirable. Primates and big cats are favourites but this means they are also targets. They are imported from the wild and bought from other zoos because they are a big attraction.

Many claim that this is to help protect endangered species, but it does nothing to protect the animals in the wild or their habitats. They also tend to ignore animals that could benefit from this protection but don’t have the same type of public appeal. Keeping endangered species captive is also rather controversial. Animals bred in captivity cannot survive in the wild. Even if the species survives, it will only be in captivity. The money that the zoos allot to endangered species usually ends up being spent at the zoo, not on protecting the animals natural habitat.

In addition to zoos, there are other facilities that hold animals captive that are even more controversial such as Sea World and Marine Land. These facilities are known to house Orcas, dolphins and other marine life in tanks that are grossly undersized. In the wild, these animals would spend their days covering vast distances, not being forced to perform. After incidents and the deaths of orcas being largely publicized, these institutions seem to be feeling the heat. But for some reason, the general distaste towards these places has not entirely transferred to zoos.

Many animals in captivity show signs of stress and depression. This is evident when animals (often big cats) pace or rock. Similarly with marine life, we see their fins drooping. Animals can also be bullied by their cage mates. Many animals in captivity are trained and forced to perform. Starvation and punishment are common tools used when training animals. They may also be forced to give rides or be the subjects of research.

Conclusion

The sad part is, it can get even worse. Normally, when I think of zoos, The Toronto Zoo comes to mind. A huge place that has large habitats and lots of opportunities to learn about animals. In my mind, they seek to educate and genuinely care about their animals. But this is not the reality everywhere.

The Bowmanville Zoo is probably somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. In the past, they had shows, where big cats were trained to jump on boxes for a chunk of meat. The previous owner was accused of animal abuse and forced to close his business. I suppose it is a type of roadside zoo, but there are definitely much worse. The Dodo reports on zoos across the world where animals starve to death and ‘zoo keepers’ are more likely to torture animals than care for them.

It strikes me that maybe some people open zoos or work in them because they genuinely love animals and want to care for them. But this is not the way. Sanctuaries are great alternatives to zoos and aquariums. Sanctuaries are places where animals are protected and able to live out their natural lives. Different types exist around the world. For example, here http://veg.ca/animal-issues/animal-sanctuaries/ are all the farm sanctuaries in Ontario. In other parts of the world, there exist sanctuaries for giraffes, elephants, etc. where they protect animals from hunters/poachers. They take in animals that may have been part of the tourist industry, such as elephants who are forced to give rides. Visiting a sanctuary would be a much more positive experience. It fosters an environment of compassion rather than one of dominance.

Although it makes me sad to think I’ll never visit a zoo again, I’m not sure I want to continue support this industry. But it’s a choice, one that I will make, because the animals cannot.

 

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Materialism vs. Minimalism

In regards to the interconnectedness of one’s lifestyle, I think materialism (or rather, minimalism) also comes into play, especially in regards to living zero waste.

“Minimalism is a tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favor of focusing on what’s important—so you can find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom.” – http://www.theminimalists.com/minimalism/

How could you live waste free and not be edging towards minimalism? It becomes very difficult to fill your house up with stuff without creating any waste. Furniture, appliances, clothes, shampoo, picture frames, etc. – it all comes in packages. And if any of it ends up breaking, you usually end up throwing it out and getting a new one, thereby creating even more waste.

I’ve spent the last four years studying social psychology, and in that process I took a class on positive psychology. It was probably one of my favourite classes, because Dr. Day was teaching it, and because it literally taught you everything you need to know about how to live a healthy, happy, satisfying life. A large part of that, is living in the moment and making the most of your experiences. It isn’t about money or the stuff you have (after you have the necessities of life). Buying things usually provides some type of instant gratification, which usually doesn’t last very long. It’s experiences that add to our lives and contribute to our well-being.

This blog (https://nosidebar.com/benefits-of-minimalism/) describes ten benefits of minimalism which have me pretty convinced that I have too much stuff. Maybe this will become another goal – not only to avoid buying things I don’t need, but also to declutter my life. I like to keep my place clean and clutter free, but I do still have a lot of stuff. Perhaps it is time some of it goes…

I think this will definitely come into play during the coming season. My birthday is in November and Christmas is just over a month after that. I am extremely grateful for the gifts I receive from my family and friends, but I usually end up with a couple things that I never end up using. I think it would be an interesting experience to ask those around me to practice minimalism this season. Give gifts that can be used, and give them in reusable bags rather than wrapping paper. I will make these goal for myself as well. I have already begun to plan gifts for upcoming birthdays and Christmas – gifts that will be useful and create minimal waste. I hope that this inspires others to do the same.

I think having these goals that are all interacting with each other, is making it easier to achieve them. Rather than just working towards one of them (e.g. a healthier diet), I’m working towards a healthier lifestyle and simultaneously achieving all of them together. Eating healthier means eating less fast food/processed food which means creating less waste and eating vegan more often. It means I’m being more mindful. Attempting to produce less garbage has also lead me to buy less stuff – stuff that I don’t really need and that isn’t going to make me happy. It’s teaching me to be happy with the things that I have and it helps me to save money.

Summer Photo Update 

For more photos check out my Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/natalie.craig.568) and Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/natalieecraig/?hl=en)

Summer Update

I thought summer was going to be the time when I would write a lot of blog entries. I thought I would have the time and the motivation but apparently it was quite the opposite. My old laptop was giving me a hard time and therefore made it difficult to get online. When I wasn’t at work, I preferred to spend my time outdoors. Summer is also my time to catch up on my reading. And of course summer went by much too fast, with only about two weeks remaining. So here’s a little update . . .

First, I graduated. Got up early, spent a lot of time standing around and listening to people give speeches. I walked across a stage and shook hands with someone wearing a funny robe. And then it was over.

I spent most of my mornings at work, pouring an endless amount of coffee. Because what else are you going to do with a University degree? Get a real job? Ha.

Most recently, I spent a week at my cottage with my family and boyfriend. We celebrated the 50th Anniversary of our lake and cottage by swimming, waterskiing and hiding from the rain. I took over one thousand photos that week.

This past weekend, I witnessed the Hamilton Tiger Cats continue their losing streak (8 games) at the Tim Hortons Field. Despite this, there were some good plays and it was a fun night out with friends.

I’ve also seen a number of movies this summer – Spiderman, King Arthur, The Dark Tower, Dunkirk, Planet of the Apes, Wonder Women, and probably some others that I can’t remember. And of course I read books. I started with the Inheritance Cycle and then moved onto the King Killer Chronicles. I also devoured Tolkien’s newest publication – Beren and Luthien. Next I was going to work my way through Dan Brown’s books, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion.

In two weeks, I start school again. Contrary to most, I’m so excited to be staying in school for at least two more years. I feel like I finally have it figured out. I already know my way around campus, and although I will not know anyone in my new program, I feel more confident and open towards meeting new people.

Overall, I don’t feel like my summer was very productive or eventful. I did not follow through with many of the goals I made for myself and although I didn’t digress, I definitely have not improved. So here’s to starting fresh as the summer comes to an end.

My goals for the fall are:

  1. Produce Less Garbage –
    1. Use reusable bags/containers, travel mug, etc.
    2. Buy less packaging
    3. Recycle and Reuse
    4. Stop junk mail
  2. Health –
    1. Eat vegan more often
    2. Limit sugar intake
    3. Increase protein consumption
    4. Improve posture
  3. Personal Growth –
    1. Spend less time on social media/phone
    2. Shop local
    3. Make conscious/growth choices

The Female Orgasm

This (https://docs.google.com/document/d/1m0-s6l8PHJfAMBcUjRPzdOUFFJwHkBJAA-Z9sOSNZ-Y/edit?usp=sharing) is a paper I wrote last semester for my Special Topics in the Sociology of Deviance class which focused on the topic of sexuality. It’s one of the longest papers I wrote at university and it took a long time (not surprising). I was kind of uncertain about it but I ended up get 98% on it and it was worth 50% of my mark for the class, so I am happy my effort paid off.

I picked the topic because none of the other ‘deviant sexualities’ were of particular interest to me and this is something that is still quite taboo to talk about. I found a TON of interesting stuff while I was doing this research and would like to emphasize how important it is for people to get to know their bodies and avoid falling prey to big companies.

Obviously this paper is quite long but feel free to read it/parts of it and comment. One point I would like to emphasize is the element of control that has historically existed in regards to female sexuality. Women are controlled by men and religion and the liberation of female sexuality is inextricably linked to feminism. This is evident in the following excerpt from my paper:

“Female masturbation can be viewed as a woman taking back control of her body. Block’s (2014) comment that “it’s empowering to be able to do it for yourself” is a perfect example of how masturbating puts women in control of their own sexuality and pleasure. In this instance, women are no longer at the mercy of men to awaken their sexuality and the female orgasm is no longer a tool to reassure men of their sexual abilities. In these ways, female masturbation is challenging historical and current ideologies about female sexuality and the notion that it is a response elicited by men.”

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is incredibly prevalent in many countries around the world, including Canada. It can take many forms (physical and verbal) and can take place between strangers and non-strangers and in essentially any environment. This happens in public, the work place, and in schools with kids as young as 12 (yes, 12 year old girls are being sexually harassed by their male classmates and sometimes much older boys/men).

There is a lot of focus on the experience of women being sexually harassed, and they are the primary target, but the truth is, anyone can be a target, and anyone can be a harasser. In addition to women, other common targets are effeminate men or really anyone perceived as abnormal.

This is a really important topic to talk about because of its prevalence and its effects. Individual’s who are sexually harassed experience many negative side effects including self-objectification, poor self-esteem and fear of being in public. In this case, it really seems that education is key. Men who are uneducated are likely to continue sexually harassing women and encourage their peers to do so as well. Women who are uneducated are likely to be more severely affected and be unable to respond to or cope with the experience appropriately.

To learn more about how sexual harassment is a gendered phenomenon, check out a literature review I wrote this past semester for my sociology of sexualities class – https://docs.google.com/document/d/1z66MIvTgW7dCke_avaqX_iERcid6PTZQroQIAY8t0-s/edit?usp=sharing  (feel free to read and share your thoughts).

The paper talks about how men and women perceive the impacts of sexual harassment much differently due to their experiences and then how sexual harassment is used to reaffirm gendered identities – men sexually harass women to assert their masculinity and establish a hierarchy of power.

While doing research for this paper, it became more and more evident how much we still need feminism. In a place like Canada, known for being progressive and equal, it is not nearly as bad as the situation is some other places. But we still have men who are treating women as animals just to prove that they are ‘manly,’ not to mention to establish that they are superior to women…

Educate yourself. If you witness sexual harassment, do something about it. This is especially important for men – call out your friends who are acting inappropriately. Maybe you think it’s a joke or a compliment, but chances are, the women does not appreciate it.

 

Mexican Souvenir

skull.jpg

Last January (2016), I was in Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico with my family, playing in the waves and looking for shells when I found this little skull.

I have never quite confirmed what animal it came from, but I think (and others have said this as well) that it’s the skull of an axolotl. This seems possible as the axolotl is native to Mexico. It’s kind of sad though because the axolotl is currently critically endangered and possibly extinct in the wild.

I thought it was a really cool thing to find among all the shells and waves. Definitely the best souvenir I’ve ever found.

Ecosia

ecosia_logo

This is one of the things I recently discovered which I think is really cool. Ecosia is a search engine that helps you plant trees. It works just like Google (you can download a chrome extension), but it uses the money from ads, to help plant trees rather than keeping it for profit. With every search you make on Ecosia, you are helping to save the environment and it really doesn’t cost you anything. It also lets you track how many trees you have helped to plant (I’m at 136).

Ecosia also has an app which you can download on your phone or tablet which works just like Safari (I have an iPhone, not sure what it is like on an android).

I have done a pretty basic job of describe it, but there is a lot more information on their website (https://www.ecosia.org/). This includes why they choose to plant trees, FAQ, where the money goes and how they decide, and the ways in which they are helping communities around the world. And if you’re too lazy to read about it, they have a nice little video you can watch that sums it all up.

With such a large portion of the world’s forests gone, I urge everyone to download Ecosia. It’s super easy, convenient, and doesn’t cost you anything. It’s as easy as adding a chrome extension or downloading an app.