Friday 29 March 2013

The Fight for Flight & Ebony's Love of Animals

At the interview for my previous role as a campaigner at an animal rights organisation, I was asked what I’d say if one of my friends invited me to an aquarium. It was a difficult question to answer because I couldn’t really imagine any of my friends inviting me to an aquarium. Firstly, not many twenty somethings hang out at aquariums, and more importantly, if my friends were going to an aquarium, I’m pretty sure they’d know not to invite me.

Not only would I not go, I’d probably give them shit eye for asking. I’d then go all weird, mutter something about animal cruelty and call them a knobhead. It’s just my way. And, although many of my friends probably don’t care about whether the fish in aquariums deserve to be in the ocean and not a tiny tank, they probably don’t want to get told off about it. So they don’t ask.

This has changed since becoming a mum, though. Now, I am constantly invited to animal-related day trips. There are toddler groups on farms, visits to the aquarium, zoo trips, feeding the lambs and so many more besides. The list of activities combining children with animals is endless, and it’s obvious why, kids love animals.

If Ebony sees a dog walking down the street, she will practically throw herself out of the baby-carrier so she can get close enough to shout “DOG! RUFF RUFF,” at it. If the rabbit hops past the french doors while Ebony is in her highchair, she will drop her food so she can squeal in delight. She loves nothing more than a David Attenborough documentary on the TV, especially if it has elephants in.

Ebony hanging out with the rabbits
But, Ebony’s love of animals doesn’t mean I have to take her aquariums, zoos and petting farms so she can interact with animals. If anything, it means I shouldn’t. I want to develop Ebony’s love of animals into a lifelong respect for all living things. I want her to understand that we do not own animals, and they are not ours to exploit, and we must interact with them in a respectful way. I don’t ever want her to run at the pigeons because it’s funny when they fly away, and I don’t want her to pick up a scared rabbit for her own amusement, I want her to empathise with and understand the needs of the animals around her.

So we avoid zoos and aquariums where animals are kept in small enclosures that don’t come close to their natural worlds. I don’t believe that the limited conservational value of zoos justifies the captive existence of millions of animals. I don’t want my money to go towards a system that keeps animals in captivity.

Avoiding these places as a mum can be tricky, because so many attractions for kids have jumped on the ‘kids love animals’ bandwagon. Huge tourist attractions that would make for a great day out are avoided because of their insistence on providing lamb feeding experiences for children. Quaint tea rooms are avoided for lunches out because they also offer a petting farm for kids. Yesterday we even had to avoid a museum that has a zoo license for keeping live frogs and snakes on the premises. I’m sure that I seem completely insane when I say to my mum friends that I can’t visit certain places because they keep live animals, and it probably sounds like I hate animals and want to avoid them at all cost, but it’s their exploitation I want to avoid.

I would be contradicting myself if I told Ebony about respect for animals, and then took her to a zoo that bred monkeys who would live their entire lives behind bars for human entertainment. Whenever we see animals when we’re out, be it sheep in a field, dogs on a lead, or ducks in a park, we always stop and talk to Ebony about the animals and let her see them.

When I was a little girl, my Mum used to take us to a local WWT attraction to see the birds. We probably went a few times a year. You paid to go in, bought some seeds, and then fed the birds as you went round. My mum could relax knowing we would be entertained, and we all thought the birds stayed at the sanctuary because they loved the seeds so much. The birds were seemingly free to leave at any time because the ‘sanctuary’ was wide open spaces with huge lakes.

It now turns out this was not quite the case. These birds, who stay at attractions like the WWT one up and down the country, have their wings cut at a few days old. One wing is deliberately severed on each bird to prevent flight. That means these birds will never fly. They will never be released into the wild. And why? So that children up and down the country can “love animals”. For a fee, of course.

I love animals. I avoid these places like the plague, because I love animals, and because I want Ebony to love them too. And because I don’t want any animals to be physically maimed so that I can gush about what an animal lover my daughter is.

You can sign the petition calling for an end to zoos mutilating birds here.

Please share the petition on Facebook and Twitter, and ask your friends and family to support the campaign too.

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