Following our posting of a promotional shot for the FelineTensive Training Camp, on which we see participants petting a lynx, one of the camp’s featured activities, we received messages from people who felt concerned by animal exploitation in zoos and that animals were forced to suffer this contact. Well, let me explain what the FelineTensive Camp aims to do and you will see that everything isn’t merely black or white.
SAYENNE THE LYNX – SHE IS THE ONE WHO MAKES THE DECISION
Before we focus on the matter of zoos, let’s settle the case of Sayenne’s photo. You need to know that Jacinthe Bouchard, the owner of Zoo Académie, where the FelineTensive Camp takes place, has socialized Sayenne, the lynx, to an incredible extent. The protocol to go see Sayenne in her pen is very strict. We enter in groups of 4 or 5, we sit in the middle of her pen and we wait. NO ONE may stand up, take or pet Sayenne EXCEPT if she comes see you on her own. In the picture, it is her who climbs voluntarily in people’s lap because she likes it (those who were present may attest to it in the comment section). She loves to be petted. For her, socializing with people is enriching. There are times when she does not come to people and we respect that (especially when the weather is very hot). She has the right to remain in her corner to play alone or to come play with people, and 90% of the time, she chooses people. If she does not come to us, well, we watch her from a distance.
That’s all. As soon as she gets a little too exited and she starts playing a bit too intensely, we get out of the pen so as not to encourage this kind of behavior in presence of humans as we would do with a cat who would act similarly (it is in fact the purpose of the feline camp to put those theories to practice).
You also need to know that little lynx Sayenne was fated to become a fur hat (in a fur factory) and Jacinthe saved her. The mission of the zoo is to educate people and to develop methods to provide voluntary care without needing to put them under anesthesia or to resort to contention. When you have seen Jacinthe’s 600kg bison self-administering his injections (yes, he gives himself his own shots), you will understand why it is so much preferable to proceed this way than to try sedating this mastodon, considering all the stress and medical dangers the later option would entail.
ZOOS – BECAUSE THEY WILL NOT VANISH OVERNIGHT
Some say that it would be better to never have contacted and socialized those animals, for it goes against their nature. Once again, I respect this view. However, I personally believe that the mere presence of these animals in zoos is against their nature. We must not forget that many of them were rescued and would not survive in nature (species preservation is also a positive aspect of zoos). Humans will approach these animals to provide veterinary care and thousands of people will pass by their pens to watch them every day. Why, then, don’t we socialize them with the humankind so that human presence is not a source of constant stress? I am not saying that we should turn them into circus animals, and making them do tricks for public entertainment (except if the activity in itself is enriching for the animal), but rather that we ought to ensure that they are not stressed in the presence of human beings and that we may administer veterinary treatments without stressing them out.
Like me, Jacinthe would prefer that zoos didn’t exist and that all animals would live freely. But zoos do exist and won’t disappear any time soon. So there are two lines of reasoning. First, we may stop going to the zoo and stop talking about it altogether, wishing that they would close doors because people have stopped going. I respect people who share this view. Some members of my own team have in fact asked me to be exempted from the FelineTensive Camp on account of their beliefs, and I respect their wishes 100% even though I would have greatly needed them that week-end. For my part, though, I prefer to integrate zoos and use what I know to educate people and raise awareness about safe practices around animals. If we cannot eliminate zoos, we might as well make sure animals are happy there.
I am sure that the 200 people who have attended FelineTensive Camp are much more sensitized to the wellbeing of captivity animals, just as children who visit good zoos become more sensitized to animals in general (studies support this). In fact, this is the purpose of the FelineTensive Camp, that is, making a comparison with our domestic cats who are also captivity animals, let’s not pretend otherwise. Granted, domestication is a great differentiating factor when comparing zoo animals and our little pet tigers. But principles of environment enrichment, veterinary care training, body language decoding and reinforcement are similar and many more parallels can be drawn; that is what the FelineTensive Camp aims to do.