Target: Michelle Barrows, Head of Veterinary Services at Bristol Zoo Gardens, United Kingdom
Goal: Fire zookeeper for punching a South American fur seal during a health check.
A senior animal handler at Bristol Zoo Gardens in the United Kingdom punched a captive South American fur seal during a routine health check that included weighing the animal. As the other staff members tried to lift the seal onto the scale, the zookeeper bashed the seal for not cooperating. Bristol Zoo Gardens responded to the incident by suspending the zookeeper, but this action is not sufficient to prevent future abuse from occurring. Handlers who abuse animals under any circumstance should be fired.
Causing unnecessary suffering to animals is unethical and unacceptable. Various laws in the United Kingdom protect zoo animals from physical violence, teasing, or frightening them. Beating or intimidating a captive animal is a cruel and ineffective way of training them. Reputable animal caregivers facilitate animal care with operant conditioning training that uses positive reinforcement, allowing animals to voluntarily participate in husbandry behaviors to improve their care.
Effective animal caregivers earn the animal’s trust by being patient, compassionate, and consistent. It is deplorable to hit an animal that has been removed from its natural environment and is experiencing increased stress because it has been shifted from one enclosure into another for a health check up. The zookeeper’s actions indicate that they are unequipped to properly handle wild animals and they should not be able to work with them in the future.
The South American fur seal that was the victim of the zookeeper’s physical violence remains on public display. Demand that Bristol Zoo Gardens uphold its commitment to animal welfare and take the appropriate action of permanently firing the employee who punched an animal under their care.
Dear Michelle Barrows, Head of Veterinary Services at Bristol Zoo Gardens
To show its true commitment to its promise of the highest standard of animal care, Bristol Zoo Gardens must permanently fire rather than merely suspend the zookeeper who hit a South American fur seal during a routine health check. Bristol Zoo Gardens insists that there is zero tolerance for animal mistreatment, but the decision to suspend the zoo keeper instead of terminating employment suggests that animal welfare is not taken seriously. By firing this employee, you can potentially avoid future incidents of animal abuse and improve safety for everyone. Trainers who respond violently to animal aggression place other staff members and trainers at risk.
I also encourage you to train caregivers with proper handling techniques when dealing with aggressive animals. Please emphasize operant conditioning techniques that use positive reinforcement in order to humanely gain cooperation from animals during health checks. By implementing better training to show staff appropriate ways to handle wildlife and avoid injury, the animals will become more trusting of your staff and staff members will develop increased understanding of the animals. Positive interactions with less stressed animals will lead to a satisfying animal caregiving career at Bristol Zoo Gardens.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: Ungulate Dave via Flickr