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The Zoo Keepers Part in the Illegal Animal Trade

Peter is an independent international zoo consultant, critic and writer with over 50 years work within zoos.


My Family

Stored away in a chest in another country is another life. Photographs of family. Great grandparents, grandparents, parents, holidays, children, friends and pets. Happy memories of people and animals I have loved.

As someone who has spent almost my entire working life in zoos these photographs inevitably include large carnivores, primates and other species I have through necessity hand reared. These were not just animals...these were family! They were sleepless nights of baby bottles, bottom washes and nappy changes. These were labours of love for creatures which will forever be in my memories and my heart. These truly were family. Happy times.

Social Media Advertising

There is nothing wrong with such photos. They are 'family' after all. Where they go wrong is when they are posted on Social Media. As zookeepers we know that our striped and hairy family members can be cuddled, kissed and played with. Generations of keepers have done the same. There is nothing clever about what we do.

Why then do we post on Social Media? How many of us have a photo of ourselves with a big cat or primate as our profile picture?

The moment such photos appear they act as advertisements. Other people, outsiders, see these and want the experience and are prepared to pay for it. Some species lend themselves to such activities but others do not. Here I am talking about All big cats and All primates.

Monkeys are NOT suitable pets.

Zookeepers posting photographic posing ARE 'adverts' on Facebook, LinkedIn and other Social Media are indirectly promoting the barbaric and illegal trade in these animals. Think about it. Care.


Such is the power of advertising. Don't believe me? Scan your way through Facebook. Wherever you find a photo of someone (perhaps one of you) posing with a big cat or primate look down the comments below. "Wow", "Amazing", "Jealous", "I want to do that".

And do that they will.....the moment the opportunity arises.

As it should be


Keep Your Photos in a Box

Some may argue that these animals HAD to be hand reared so why not take photos. Again I have no argument with this....just with the photos being used as accidental adverts. Keep the photos. Hang them on your walls at home.

Then there are the zoos themselves getting so called celebrities to pose with their tiger cubs. It is still wrong. Very wrong. Showing off photographs of cubs that were removed for that "essential" medical is equally bad but isn't bad at all if it doesn't include grinning zoo staff.

What Are You Trying To Prove?

You have to ask yourself why? Why do you need to show off such photos? What are you trying to prove? Your 'share' is a bad move. It isn't clever.

Then you have to realise that these photos are causing harm. They are directly contributing to the tiger trade, to canned hunting of lions, to Chimpanzees, Orangutans, Gibbons being killed to provide the babies as pets to the Arabian Gulf states.

Mother and child is best


Tiger Bone Wine

There is an immense choice of places which are churning out tiger cubs so that 'Joe Public' can play with them. I will mention just three. SriRacha Tiger Zoo, The Tiger Temple and Tiger Kingdom. Cubs are produced, they grow up and ultimately sneak out the back door to end up as tiger bone wine. Denied of course..."They were sent to other zoos". They weren't though because so many other zoos are breeding them, they don't have space. The trade is not properly regulated. Removal of microchips and placing them in other animals is as easy as pie.

It is not just Asia. There are places in the US, Australasia and other countries also. Cubs being deliberately pulled from their mothers for hand rearing. The excuse that they were removed because of problems can mostly be attributed to inadequate facilities and poor husbandry.....or because they need the cubs for visitors to pet.

The best regulated zoos need to stop their posing opportunities as they give out the message that it is okay....and it isn't. The bad zoos will copy...and they do. They will continue to do so until we set an example. Only then can we truly condemn the practice.

Stolen infants for sale


It Isn't Just Big Cats

Then there are the Orangutans. Taman Safari and its satellite collections, Sri Racha (again) and so many many others. Seemingly ageless groups of animals forced to take part in Boxing matches in Bangkok Safari Zoo and in Cambodia at Phnom Penh Safari World.

You really have to think about the harm we are doing.

It is not the first time I have presented this argument. I know some of my friends and colleagues are culprit. I don't expect everyone to agree with me but I would ask that they think about it....and No, I am not jealous of your photos, I have my own of animals I loved. To be sure though you will never see any of them posted on Social Media. Not by my hand.


Sue on May 10, 2016:

Just about every time I train (if not every time) the lemur group I can hear visitors in the distance commenting how cute they are or how they want one. Lemurs are one of the few we still have free contact with. I don't have any "photo opp" with them posted but the free contact moments leave lasting impressions too. Even something like your Cleveland rhino picture, people who saw that in person may want to do it too. Maybe they will want to educate themselves, work hard to get into the same field and do it right or maybe they will seek out close encounters by any means necessary.

Lynda Collrin on May 10, 2016:

We do not allow photos with our exotic animals, nor do we have public feeding or a petting area. Do you realize how difficult this has been to maintain when other zoo allow this and then the public expects it from all of us. But your title brushes us all with a broad stroke and you are well aware that people only read headlines and not the full story. Please do not use Enquirer tactics when addressing what we consider to be a serious problem.

Michael Gassaway on May 10, 2016:

I would like to thank Penny for sending this article on to us. Personally, I was unaware of the problem, but totally agree with what you have written. I have friends that don't believe in zoos, but I think they are becoming more and more of a necessity to maintain the survival of some species. As you have said, some zoos are good and some bad. Thanks for making us aware of this particular problem. Unfortunately, you will never stop celebrities for "showing off". That's how they became celebrities. They should be donating to the "good zoos" rather than cuddling baby animals for their photo shots. Thanks.

anonymous on May 09, 2016:

some zoos are changing things, we aren't allowed to post any behind the scenes photos, just photos that the public could also take

BigCatRescue on May 09, 2016:

I don't know you, but I could just kiss you for setting the record straight. I have this argument several times a day with people who should know better, but insist that their photos are OK to post, because of blah, blah, blah and it's always the same old, tired excuse for showing off. You hit the nail on the head by making it clear that these photos should never be posted on social sites.

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