Okay, first I just have to say that this animal escape drill is naive. The speed, dexterity, and ferocity behind an animal escape can’t be duplicated by a human in an outfit. Drills are important but this one seemed to succeed in creating trauma for little children.
In the wake of the tragic death of Ashlee Pfaff, zookeeper at the Denver Zoo, the debate related to captive animals is again rearing its head. My whole career this has been an issue and it will remain so.
First, I belive the majority of people don’t care about what they don’t know, can’t see, can’t touch. Sometimes humans are afraid of what they don’t know or understand. Most certainly don’t understand the connection between all living creatures…meaning that what impacts the smallest will impact the largest.
Do I want animals in captivity–I don’t see any way around it–and so my whole career has been grounded in my relationships with captive animals and trying to improve the world they live in and get people give a damn, improve conditions, and get people to think outside of the small environment they call home.
One of the problems that has been increasingly disturbing is that people still want to think animals are their friends. That is the wrong idea. Animals are beautiful, majestic, powerful beings that need respect. They are fine tuned for survival. An animal person can have a good relationship with an exotic–but that doesn’t mean they won’t kill you or try to at some point.
A jaguar is not a domestic kitty. The sad death of Ashlee Pfaff doesn’t focus on the loss of the powerful predator–or the plight of his species and all those in the habitat he came from. It would be a waste of her life not to get people to look at why the animal is in captivity in the first place and the bigger picture.
As the Federal investigation into Ashlee Pfaff’s death begins I have to say that all the animal attacks I have witnessed have been due to human error.
Human error can mean a lot of things such as failure to monitor the animal’s emotional state, failure to secure or lock a gate, entering into an enclosure that was supposed to be empty but wasn’t, failing to take action to mitigate a situation, even design error or equipment failure. In zoos, most accidents seem to come down to the simple fact that someone made a mistake.
One of my college buddies lost her life entering into a tiger exhibit shortly after we graduated from the “Harvard of exotic animal trainers.” It was the first but not the last time I heard about the death of a colleague. I don’t know if it was her mistake or someone else’s mistake but the error was a deadly one and happens all too frequently.
In my career I always have double and tripled checked–even when someone else said they had already done so–and it has probably saved my life more than once. This latest incident is a reminder to all those working with wildlife to use diligence and be mindful of what you are doing at all times.
The animal community is saddened by this recent loss and most of us choose to work with animals and know the risk. We urge you to remember that wild animals are just that–and the jaguar is an apex predator and very good at the job of being just that.