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Why The Humane Society Targeting Animal Handling is a waste of time

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Animal welfare groups are once again missing the big picture.

RT reports that the US Department of Agriculture has issued a warning notice to zoos after several animal rights groups submitted complaints regarding programs that allow visitors to handle exotic animals, specifically cubs. The notice, titled “Handling and Husbandry of Neonatal Nondomestic Cats” outlines animal welfare policies that protect cubs under four weeks of age. Zoos will now be in violation of the Animal Welfare Act and face prosecution if they are caught using these cubs before a designated maturity. So once again, we spotlight a single-issue and not the zoos at large.

The Humane Society is one of the groups behind this campaign, having filmed undercover video of these zoo practices in Oklahoma and Virginia. Visitors pay up to $50 to take a photo with exotic baby cats, and up to $300 to feed or play with them. The Humane Society found that one cub posed for 30 photo sessions and had five play sessions in one day, meaning a potential of $65,000 to the zoo from that one animal. Despite being a huge money maker, taking cubs off the attraction list for a few weeks isn’t going to hurt attendance. 

The notice doesn’t put a stop to the activity altogether, failing to mention if the cubs that become cats can expect to be similarly treated. It also doesn’t mention a variety of other animals, regardless of their age, that are subject to the same human interactions. It’s not only possible but probable that zoos that can no longer feature cubs will find another animal to put in their place, and can then continue to use the cubs once they’ve passed the designed maturity. 

When we focus on the treatment of one kind of animal only, we actually encourage the imprisonment and exploitation of others. By fighting for the rights of these cubs and these cubs alone, we are giving permission to zoos and zoo goers to feel good about not supporting cub handling programs, while continuing to fund and promote all the other zoo practices that are just as morally unjust for animals. When we watch a video of cub abuse and feel bad, our efforts should not be to relieve only those cubs, but all animals that face exploitation.

Although their intentions are to help, these animal rights groups are actually helping zoos remain favourable in the public eye. Not unlike Seaworld’s choice to stop breeding orcas, the single-issue attention doesn’t take us any closer to the closure of zoos altogether. To stop contributing to violence for all animals, we need to focus on vegan education.

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0 Comments
  • You write: “So once again, we spotlight a single-issue and not the zoos at large. […] When we focus on the treatment of one kind of animal only, we actually encourage the imprisonment and exploitation of others. By fighting for the rights of these cubs and these cubs alone, we are giving permission to zoos and zoo goers to feel good about not supporting cub handling programs, ***while continuing to fund and promote all the other zoo practices that are just as morally unjust for animals.***”

    And yet, the actual HSUS website states: “Neither the states nor the federal government should tolerate these types of operations, and the laws should speak. ***So should consumers, who ought to avoid these operations – and many others like them – at all costs.*** We’ve been investigating and exposing substandard wildlife attractions like these since the early 1970s, ***which are responsible for some of the worst animal suffering you can imagine.*** The violence at a cockfight or a live pigeon shoot is certainly more acute and obvious, but the outcomes for animals at such roadside zoos is almost always bad – typically pain and death for animals who never deserved this kind of enduring privation and misery.”***

    I’m unclear as to where in the HSUS statement that I posted (and asterisked for emphasis) “fund[s] and promote[s] ALL the other zoo practices” when clearly HSUS is not giving these zoos a pass.

  • BigCatRescue

    Our “ask” of the USDA was to ban all contact with cubs of the big cats, bears, primates and canids. There are already rules on the books that ban contact with adult big cats. Of course all of the Big Cat Coalition partners would like to see all wild animal handling end, because it is the driver behind 99% of the abuse. We are celebrating that USDA and USFWS did something…after 9 years of badgering them; even though it wasn’t everything that needed to be done.

  • mz

    Your backseat driver criticism of HSUS is misguided. HSUS does an immense amount of good work, including promoting plant based eating.

  • Promoting plant-based eating does not negate the fact that some of their other efforts, although they may be well intentioned, in the end simply promote animal exploitation.

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