Monday, August 19, 2013

Hitting your head against rocks - SP Aquarium - São Paulo

Thunder, prisoner of the SP Aquarium forever.

Beware of rant. I am a little crabbed out this morning because of this article from Folha de São Paulo which just showed up in my email in-box. I missed it on its original publication date of August 4.  I'm so revved up I had to put aside my original post about a story on the military police academies this morning. And you know how much I like to talk about the police.

The title in the English version is: "Pills, Acupuncture, Live Rabbits: When Zoo Animals Need Psychotherapy." As I usually do because the English translations of Folha make me insane, I went over to the Brazilian Portuguese site and found this title: "Conheça as tristes histórias dos animais que moram no Aquário de SP" or "Get to know the sad stories of the animals who live in the SP Aquarium."  I have no idea why they changed the title except that they apparently use an online translation service (at least it's not google translate)--dear Folha, as a "respected" newspaper, do not use online translation services!! Get a professional (this professional would not be me, as how could I then make fun of their stories?).

Let's talk about the SP Aquarium. The SP Aquarium is a privately-held aquarium that charges R$40 for a visit (adult) and R$30 for children. That's around $17USD adult.  This puts it almost USD$10 more than the $8 admission price at the Shedd Aquarium, Chicago's private/public partnership aquarium. Private donations in the US are more common as part of the culture, so I understand the unfairness of comparing the Shedd with the SP Aquarium. I would suggest that a rich Brazilian would rather buy a fourth jet that support cultural institutions. In general, okay? Where are the Brazilian Marshall Fields (Field Museum, Chicago), or John Shedds? But I digress. 

Speaking of digression, anyone get to see the dinosaur exhibit with animatronic dinosaurs at the SP Aquarium? Classic. Very aquarium-oriented. This is sarcasm.

In spite of charging an astronomical price (remember Brazilian minimum wage just went up to R$675 (US$280) per month, which may or may not come out to R$4 (US$2) per hour depending on your math). So we've got ourselves a rich kids aquarium, right so it's pretty nice? Not really. Many of the exhibits are decrepit and explanations are rudimentary. I haven't been there in 5 years or so but I don't recall there being much in lessons learned. If these aquariums and zoos are supposed to provide educational resources for kids, I would like to see more lessons like Nickel in Chicago, a sea turtle ground up by propellers in open waters. She will be captive (since she is physically unable to care for herself) forever at the Shedd and all the exhibit is built to be a lesson in how humans affect the environment. 

Read on, if you can stand it. Thunder, a seal found on the Rio beach, got "saved" by humans and now can't go back to the wild because of "diseases" that it might have gotten from humans. Are you kidding me? I am no biologist, but how is it that dolphins who wash ashore in Florida, get rescued (by humans, not other seals, hello?) and then rehabilitated in Islamorada are then released with no worries of diseases to other dolphins? Is Rio particularly yucky? I don't get it. I am happy to hear from any ocean biologist who wants to tell me I am clueless. It won't be the first time.

But when I read that this "rescued" seal has scars and damage (and hence needs psychotherapy) from banging its head against rocks in its despair in being held captive, I start to get a little upset. As the biologist, Ms. Schwarz, says "Those born free do not get used to living inside walls." Perhaps euthanasia would be kinder, no?

Some of the stories from the Portuguese version don't make it into English. Maybe they exceeded word count on the online translation form. There are approximately 2000 words in the Brazilian one, and 1000 in English. Don't think about the stories you are missing. Except the sharks. Think about them. They have "trainers" who swim with them and teach them to stay, come and who knows what-all. I would like them to bite. Hard.

So what is my point with all of this? The less I know about private zoos and other animal jailhouses, the happier I am. Yes, they exist in the US. They exist everywhere. Some are ethical, some are not. Swim with dolphin programs, Sea World...yes, the US is rife with them. I can only hope the majority of these animals were born captive because the quote about those born free will haunt me for a long time.

Okay, back to happy military police stories tomorrow, okay?


  1. I struggle constantly with this issue. While I appreciate the education provided at Zoos and the like, I still see it as unnatural incarceration of an animal (except in those cases where the animals cannot live in the wild, and often they don't tell you which is which). Of course I also do like that my kids can get excited to see a Tiger (or whatever) and learning about animals and science, but at what cost?

    And don't get my started on the circus. I have permanently boycotted. The kids can go with their Dad.

    1. I'm with you on the circus for sure. It really does depend on the zoo. The Miami Metrozoo is one that does well the open areas, plus education, plus no wild-caught animals. All animals in zoos now should really be rescues from circuses, or private owners who are clearly idiots (I mean the ones with lions and elephants at home) or with a strictly monitored captive-breeding program. With so many animals becoming endangered (African and Asian elephants, snow leopards, even giant salamanders), we may come to rely on zoos to keep them from dying out completely. But we need the ethical ones...

  2. I'm not a fan of zoos for reasons like this, but I do appreciate the opportunity for kids to experience animals up close. However, I'm pretty angry that we took our little Girl Scouts to see stressed-out animals in captivity. I never trusted this place. Especially after my first experience trying to buy tickets.
    I won't be putting any more of my money into the SP Aquarium.

    1. Yes, as I said above, I really do think it depends on the zoo. Some are very responsible and they are in it for the education. I had to re-write my post several times about the Aquarium--I hate it there on a gut level, but hardly want to spend my money defending myself on a defamation lawsuit! :)