Lets face it, for the most part the animal rights activists have for a very long time been defining the narrative to the general public about how we care for our animals. We have seen the negative effects that poor public perception or a lack of understanding can have on an animal business or facility. Some people may disagree with me on this, but I believe we are all in the same boat when it comes to the daily struggle to defend our way of life and protect our ability to care for our animals. The animal rights groups no longer just target certain segments of the animal industry, they will go after anyone. Accredited zoos, private zoos, circus, dog breeders, horse breeders, and agriculture are all in the same boat.
We needn’t look any further than the Pittsburg Zoo for a case study. They are a world renowned facility with a stellar reputation for both animal care and conservation work, yet as soon as they decided to switch which zoological association accredited them, they were viciously attacked by PETA and HSUS. Now the PETA attack is not a surprise, they will go after anyone, however HSUS is usually a little more restrained with big city zoos. HSUS seems to have a bit of a détente going with most large zoos, but all gloves were off once Pittsburg switched to being accredited by ZAA (Zoological Association of America).
It is time that we take a proactive approach, educating the public about how we care for our animals. It isn’t enough to explain to them about the care and enrichment that the animals receive when people visit your zoo, those people generally don’t need to be convinced. It is the hordes of people who are not already coming to your facility that need to hear your message. Social media seems to be the most efficient and cost-effective way to spread whatever your animal care message is.
The general public needs to know what it is like to see footwork done on an elephant, see an elephant get a bath, or learn why a sow needs to be in a farrowing crate when she gives birth. What we seem to forget, and I’m as guilty of this as anyone, is that the general public does not understand why standard animal husbandry practices are the way they are. By and large the animal husbandry tasks that we perform on a daily basis have been fine tuned for decades, now we need to let the public know about them.
Those of us who have devoted our lives to animal in zoos or agriculture have done so because we love our animals and are passionate about their well-being. People don’t just decide one day that they want to spend their life working with animals because it is a profitable career. If we continue to let ourselves be vilified by the animal activists then they will ultimately prevail.
The veil of secrecy must be lifted and we need to get the public on board with our animal care practices. We must be offensive though, because once you are put on the defensive it may already be too late to sway the court of public opinion. The National Pork Board has been succesful in creating a series of videos for social media that invites the average person into a hog barn and shows them the state of the art facilities that pigs are raised in. This should serve as a model for all of us to use, to educate the world. It is no longer enough to educate the average person about the plight of animal in the wild, they also need to be educated about how we care for them in captivity. Animals in the wild face untold dangers, animals in human care face only one foe, the radical animal rights movement. This movement is dependent on emotion and counts on a lack of understanding by the public of animal care techniques, lets change that.