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5 Times Animals Have Been Killed in Zoos Due to Human Encounters

Animals
5 Times Animals Have Been Killed in Zoos Due to Human Encounters

Within one week in May, a gorilla and two lions were killed after humans entered their zoo enclosures. Outrage continues to grow over these deaths. Yet these tragedies are not unique and in most cases are preventable. (Of course, the easiest way to prevent deaths like these would be by not keeping animals in zoos).

Within one week in May, a gorilla and two lions were killed after humans entered their zoo enclosures. Photo credit: Youtube

1. Harambe the Gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo, May 2016

Western-lowland gorillas are critically endangered and now there’s one less of them with the death of Harambe after a 4-year-old boy fell into his enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo. Experts like Jane Goodall believe Harambe was attempting to protect the boy, but nevertheless, zookeepers say they made the right decision in shooting and killing the gorilla. Tranquilizer darts would not have taken effect quickly enough, they said.

Some argue that the death could have been prevented if the child’s parent was paying closer attention to him (though whether that’s fair is up for debate) and that if the enclosure—which is expected to be reopened—had a larger barrier. When the Gorilla World exhibit opened at the zoo in 1978, it was the first gorilla habitat without bars in the country. Although zoo officials said the exhibit is safe, they are now considering reinforcing the barriers, CBS News reports.

2. Two Lions at the Santiago Metropolitan Zoo, May 2016

Just six days before Harambe was killed, a male and female lion at this zoo in the capital of Chile were shot to death after a suicidal man entered their enclosure, removed his clothes and began taunting them. When the lions mauled him and began dragging him to their den, they were killed.

In a statement, zoo officials said the “incomprehensible action” of killing the lions was “profoundly painful for every single one of us,” but they are thankful the man is expected to recover.

The lions would still be alive if there were safer barriers, but based on the zoo’s troubling history, it should be shut down altogether. Lions and a puma have escaped from the facility, while poor wiring sparked a fire that killed four giraffes. This doesn’t seem like a safe place for animals or humans.

3. African Painted Dog at the Pittsburgh Zoo, November 2012

Photo credit: Youtube

When a mom perched her vision-impaired 2-year-old son on the wooden railing of an observation deck to get a better look at the African painted dogs, an endangered species, at the Pittsburgh Zoo, the boy slipped from her grasp and fell into the enclosure. Tragically, he was killed by a pack of the dogs.

Most of the dogs cooperated with zookeepers and moved to a back building, but one was aggressive and shot to death.

The boy’s mother, not charged since it was considered an accident, later settled a lawsuit against the zoo. The observation deck was removed and the remaining African painted dogs were transferred to other zoos. To prevent horrific accidents like these, children should never be allowed to sit or climb on zoo railings and zoos need to provide barriers that better protect their animals as well as visitors.

4. Tatiana the Siberian Tiger at the San Francisco Zoo, December 2007

Tatiana was a 4-year-old Siberian tiger, a species which, like the Western-lowland gorilla, is critically endangered. When a group of young men threw rocks and roared at her on Christmas Day 2007, Tatiana managed to leap out of her enclosure at the San Francisco Zoo and maul them, killing one of them. She was shot to death by police officers.

An investigation found the tigers’ enclosure wall was four feet lower than the height required by federal safety standards. After being fined a rather paltry $1,875 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the zoo installed a new, 19-foot-tall wall made of tempered safety glass panels.

5. Two Polar Bears at the Prospect Park Zoo, May 1987

On a dare, after a group of boys sneaked into the Prospect Park Zoo in Brooklyn one night in May 1987, an 11-year-old climbed over a tall spiked fence and entered the polar bear exhibit. He thought he could take a dip in the moat as the bears slept.

Responding to a 911 call from a passerby who heard children screaming inside the zoo, police officers found two polar bears mauling the remains of the boy. The officers opened fire, killing the bears.

Known as Teddy and Lucy, the bears had always been well-behaved, zoo superintendent Pat Spina told the New York Times.

Rated as one of the 10 worst zoos in the country around that time, the Prospect Park Zoo closed the following year. Over the next five years, most of the zoo was demolished and rebuilt. It reopened in 1993 as the Prospect Park Wildlife Conservation Center, with childproof barriers to prevent future tragedies.

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The world-famous wildlife broadcaster and his royal sidekick appear to have played an active role in the prize's inception, and media coverage has focused largely on them as the faces of the campaign.

But the pair are only the frontmen of a much larger movement which has been in development for several years. In addition to a panel of experts who will decide on the winners, the prize's formation took advice from the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace and the Jack Ma Foundation.

With more and more global attention on the climate crisis, celebrity endorsement of environmental causes has become more common. But why do environmental causes recruit famous faces for their campaigns? And what difference can it make?

'Count Me In'

"We need celebrities to reach those people who we cannot reach ourselves," says Sarah Marchildon from the United Nations Climate Change secretariat (UNFCCC) in Bonn, Germany.

Marchildon is a proponent of the use of celebrities to raise awareness of environmental causes. In addition to promoting a selection of climate ambassadors who represent the UN on sustainability issues, Marchildon's team has produced videos with well-known narrators from the entertainment world: among them, Morgan Freeman and Mark Ruffalo.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," Marchildon explains.

"Sometimes they reach out to us themselves, as David Attenborough did recently. And then they can promote the videos on their own social channels which reach more people than we do — for example, if they have 20 million followers and we have 750,000."

Environmental groups focused on their own domestic markets are also taking this approach. One Germany-based organization that uses celebrities in campaigns is the German Zero NGO. Set up in 2019, it advocates for a climate-neutral Germany by 2035.

German Zero produced a video in March 2020 introducing the campaign with "66 celebrities" that supported the campaign, among them Deutschland 83 actor Jonas Nay and former professional footballer Andre Schürrle. They solicit support as well as financial contributions from viewers.

"Count me in," they say, pointing toward the camera. "You too?"

"We are incredibly grateful for the VIPs in our videos," says German Zero spokeswoman Eva-Maria McCormack.

Assessing Success Is Complex

But quantifying the effectiveness of celebrity endorsement of campaigns is not a straightforward process.

"In order to measure effectiveness, first of all you need to define what is meant by success," says Alegria Olmedo, a researcher at the Zoology Department at the University of Oxford.

Olmedo is the author of a study looking at a range of campaigns concerning pangolin consumption, fronted by local and Western celebrities, in Vietnam and China. But she says her biggest stumbling block was knowing how to measure a campaign's success.

"You need a clear theory of change," explains Olmedo. "Have the celebrities actually helped in achieving the campaign's goals? And how do you quantify these goals? Maybe it is increased donations or higher engagement with a cause."

A popular campaign in China in recent years saw famous chefs Zhao Danian and Shu Yi pledge to abstain from cooking endangered wildlife. While the pledge achieved widespread recognition, both Olmedo and Marchildon say it's difficult to know whether it made any difference to people's actions.

"In life we see a thousand messages every day, and it is very hard to pinpoint whether one campaign has actually made a difference in people's behavior," she explains.

Awareness Is Not Enough

Many campaigns that feature celebrities focus on raising awareness rather than on concrete action — which, for researcher Olmedo, raises a further problem in identifying effectiveness.

"Reach should never be a success outcome," she says. "Many campaigns say they reached a certain number of people on social media. But there has been a lot of research that shows that simply giving people information does not mean they are actually going to remember it or act upon it."

But anecdotal evidence from campaigns may suggest reach can make an active difference.

"Our VIP video is by far the most watched on our social media channels," McCormack from German Zero says. "People respond to it very directly. A lot of volunteers of all ages heard about us through that video."

However, some marketing studies have shown that celebrity endorsement of a cause or product can distract from the issue itself, as people only remember the person, not the content of what they were saying.

Choosing the Right Celebrity

Celebrity choice is also very important. Campaigns that use famous faces are often aiming to appeal to members of the public who do not necessarily follow green issues.

For certain campaigns with clear target audiences, choosing a climate scientist or well-known environmentalist rather than a celebrity could be more appealing — Attenborough is a classic example. For others, images and videos involving cute animals may be more likely to get a message heard than attaching a famous face.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," says Marchildon from the UN. "You need figures with credibility."

McCormack cites the example of Katharine Hayhoe, an environmental scientist who is also an evangelical Christian. In the southern United States, Hayhoe has become a celebrity in her own right, appealing to an audience that might not normally be interested in the messages of climate scientists.

But as soon as you get a celebrity involved, campaigns also put themselves at risk of the whims of that celebrity. Prince William and younger members of the royal family have come under fire in recent years for alleged hypocrisy for their backing of environmental campaigns while simultaneously using private jets to fly around the world.

But Does It Really Work?

While environmental campaigns hope that endorsement from well-known figures can boost a campaign, there is little research to back this up.

"The biggest finding [from my study] was that we were unable to produce any evidence that shows that celebrity endorsement of environmental causes makes any difference," says Olmedo.

This will come as a blow to many campaigns that have invested time and effort into relationships with celebrity ambassadors. But for many, the personal message that many celebrities offer in videos like that produced by German Zero and campaigns like the Earthshot Prize are what counts.

The research may not prove this conclusively — but if the public believes a person they respect deeply personally cares about an important issue, they are perhaps more likely to care too.

"I personally believe in the power this can have," says Marchildon. "And if having a celebrity involved can get a single 16-year-old future leader thinking about environmentalist issues — that is enough."

Reposted with permission from DW.

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