Does The Public Hate Zoos and Aquariums?

zoos and aquariums

In my final interview with Dr. Grey Stafford, we discuss the public’s perception of zoos and aquariums and perhaps more importantly, what animal advocates can do to spread the truth surrounding accredited animal facilities.

It was such an honor to sit down with Dr. Stafford and I would like to thank him for his time and his continued work to help protect and conserve our wild animal populations. You can see our other interviews using the links below:

The New President of IMATA, Dr. Grey Stafford

Advancements in Animal Training

The Last Generation of Killer Whales at SeaWorld

You can read the transcript to this video below and also get access to the resources discussed in this interview.

Kyle: Hi everyone my name Kyle Kittleson and welcome back to our conversation with animal welfare guru Dr. Grey Stafford, Grey, thanks for being back for our final video.

Stafford: Good to be here.

Kyle: We’re talking today about the public’s perception of zoos and aquariums. The majority of people views zoos and aquariums favorably. However, there seems to be a growing number of people who view them as these terrible places. What are your thoughts on that?

Stafford: Well, the bigger concern for me are the number of people, the people 80 percent in the middle, that have questions. They have doubts about zoos and aquariums. And this is not to say that all zoos and aquariums should be open and operating. There are some bad ones out there. Like in any industry or any in any field, there are some bad apples. Fortunately we have accreditation and industry organizations like IMATA and others that help minimize those groups and their impact and celebrate the good things that are being done.

But one of the things I’m sad about, and I mean I’m doing this for over 25 years, and a lot of it in front of the camera, promoting great zoos, great species, great professionals, that work so hard is we’ve lost ground. We’ve ceded that position of leadership as animal welfare advocates. And I’m disappointed because we have some great people. You know, we’ve got Jack Hanna, we’ve we had the late Steve Irwin, and to some degree here at the local level, people like myself singing the praises zoos and yet we’ve we’ve slipped from that leadership role. And I want to find a way to rebuild that trust and make sure the public understands that when they need to understand some of the species it’s their local zoo and aquarium that’s out there leading the charge trying to save what’s left of our planet.

Kyle: And you are the president of the International Marine Animal Trainers Association. So if anyone is in a position to advocate for that change it is you.

Stafford: Well, as I said to the members last week in our award banquet, we aren’t going quietly into the night. We’re going to celebrate the successes and the improvements in animal welfare and people welfare because of organizations like IMATA, and the members, the individual trainers, the people who give themselves. You know, I just recently opened up a new zoological facility here in the Phoenix area. And as with any startup there’s always a lot of work to do, lots of things that unexpectedly happen last minute. And I knew that we would get through it because I had a team of trainers that I could lean on. I have never worked with a group of professionals, like trainers, who can take any challenge and rise above the kinds of things that most people would probably, you know, shudder away from, trainers embrace. Because they love their animals their passion about what they do. They see the value what they do and they want to make the world a better place for everybody.

I love the profession of animal training positive reinforcement based training and that’s typified by your IMATA members.

Kyle: A lot of the members of IMATA and a lot of people who love animals ask me, “what do I do? I have a friend who thinks my zoo is terrible or I’m seeing on Facebook that people hate SeaWorld.” They want to help what can they do that’s actionable.

Stafford: Well, the first thing they should do is stop sending money to these national organizations which are designed to just take money and not really improve the lives of animals. When people want to donate physical time or money they should keep it local. Go to your local humane society, your local pet shelter. I’ve never seen organizations who can stretch a dollar like your local humane society. Those people are heroes too because they work hard trying to prevent misery among domestic animals in every city in the country.

But as far as your zoos though, go visit your zoo and if you see something and you have questions about, ask! Ask them there may be a reason why that bird doesn’t have a feather in a certain spot. It may be a rescue, it may maybe molting, it may be going through an issue. There’s no reason not to ask those questions. And if you don’t get a satisfactory answer, keep asking. But know that most of accredited zoos and aquariums are doing great work not just for their animals and their care but those lessons that they learn translate into helping animals in the wild.

Kyle: Yes. And you actually have a great resource that you created called Zoomility. The forward is by Jack Hanna. So if you haven’t heard of Dr. Grey Stafford, you’ve definitely heard of Jack Hanna. The link for this book is below, but give readers or viewers a brief summary of what they can expect when reading this book.

Stafford: Well, I hope that people will take all the mishaps and missteps of my career and learn something about it. And one of the things I’ve learned is when you’re talking about training decisions, how you care for animals, whether it’s your pet dog or your pet cat, your pet elephant, you’ve got to take your ego out of the equation. Good training decisions start with setting our egos aside. And from there we can have fun with our animals teach that cooperation and everybody’s life is better.

Kyle: Yeah, I knew some trainers with some big egos back in the day. But you’re absolutely right – removing that ego and making it all about what’s best for the animal not what makes you feel good.

Stafford: Right.

Kyle: I preached that message all the time. Dr. Stafford where can everyone reach you?

Stafford: They can check out our website at www.ireinforce.com.

Kyle: Great. Awesome. Well, thank you so much for being here. I really appreciate this. And I know it’s been helpful to all of our readers and viewers. Guys, make sure that you go to marinemammaltrainer.com for more information about animal welfare and how you can enter the field of animal care.

2 comments

  • We love Dolphinaris and are so excited to see your interviews with Dr. Stafford, Kyle! Thank you.

  • Reading through this has been so refreshing to me. I’ve always been a huge, huge supporter of zoos and aquariums. I grew up going to them and I learned to appreciate what they do for animals. But the biggest problem therein lies in the fact that the largest animal welfare organizations, some of the largest zoos and aquariums unfortunately have made very bad choices and the “trickle-down” from that effects the smaller facilities. Not to mention the spread of misinformation is so rampant that it makes me sick.

    Sure, there are plenty of animals out there that aren’t happy. There are plenty of facilities that shouldn’t be open. But there are so many animals, specifically marine animals that love their job and love their people and taking that away from them would kill them. I see it so often with horses–they love their “job,” they love to compete and go for rides. Whenever they get injured, they’re deeply effected by the change in their lifestyle.

    I find the irony here that the “advocates for welfare” preach about how the animals must feel yet they refuse to acknowledge that a great number of animals enjoy their lives, and enjoy their jobs. I wish there were more ways to showcase this just beyond handler interaction. People who haven’t experienced this really don’t understand what it’s like to find an animal that is committed to what they do.

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