Philadelphia Zoo: OK or NOT OK?
August 9, 2011 8:50 AM   Subscribe

What is your impression of the Philadelphia Zoo, in terms of how animals are treated, their quality of life and their living conditions?

I'll be working an event my employer is having at the Philadelphia Zoo this summer but I'm a bit nervous about it. In the past, when I've gone to zoos, I've left feeling really sorry for the animals because of what I felt might be quality of live issues.

I'm hoping to find responses related specifically to the Philadelphia Zoo and not zoos in general. Please let me know if you need any additional info that would make answering this question easier.

Thank you in advance!
posted by smirkyfodder to Pets & Animals (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
This is anecdotal and only about one animal, but I suspect the tortoises are pretty okay, at least.

I base this on: the one time I went to the Philadelphia Zoo, I noticed that the tortoises were gettin' it on right in their pen, right out in the open in front of everybody. A couple of volunteers were standing nearby, so I asked them if the tortoises were indeed really....? And they said yes, and that "they do it frequently and with great vigor." I can only assume that if the tortoises were comfortable enough to shag, then that was probably a good sign.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:02 AM on August 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I worked at the Philadelphia Zoo for 11 years - on the administrative side, but I worked closely with many of the keepers and veterinarians. No one who works at a non-profit like the Zoo does it for money - you do it because you have a passion for wildlife conservation. I can tell you hundreds of stories of the compassionate care that goes on behind the scenes for the hundreds of animals who live there. They would make you cry.

Just one example - I remember walking into the Bird House where one of the keepers was preparing a large round tray for feeding the birds. It was beautiful! There were the dead baby mice, crickets, worms, etc., all in a gorgeous little patterns displayed on the platter. "The birds probably don't care," the keeper said, "but I like MY food looking pretty, so I try to do it for my birds too."

Then there's the horticultural staff who keep the grounds pretty but make sure all the plants aren't toxic to the animals in the exhibits. The maintenance guys who work miracles making sure everything works to keep the public and the animals safe.

It may not be the prettiest. It may not be the newest. It may not have the most money. It may not have the biggest exhibits. But it's got caring staff who would give everything they had to keep those animals alive.

You may have heard about the accidental electrical fire on December 24, 1995 that killed 23 primates. The grieving that went on among all of us - it was heartbreaking. I can't even tell you the devastation we all felt. I still remember Bim, my favorite orangutan - he knew how to give himself insulin shots for diabetes.

Yes, like many other zoos, there is always controversy about the role of zoos in wildlife conservation. But the truth is, there is a lot of scientific research that goes on behind the scenes and in educating the public that helps those in the wild stay in wild.

The Zoo also does a lot for the inner city kids who wouldn't have any other opportunity to work with animals. They bring lots of them in, and the awe and excitement they have learning about animals is inspiring. Many of them end up volunteering, then working seasonally, full-time, and eventually some actually end up in managerial / senior positions at the Zoo.

Please feel comfortable knowing that the Philadelphia Zoo is one of the best in the country.
posted by HeyAllie at 9:16 AM on August 9, 2011 [26 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you for your thoughtful response, HeyAllie! That's actually exactly what I wanted to know. Sounds like there's a lot of heart there.

And there sounds like there's a lot of something else there too, EmpressCallipygos. Thanks for that image, I mean, info, as well!
posted by smirkyfodder at 9:22 AM on August 9, 2011

Just from my limited anecdotal view, I don't think the Philadelphia Zoo will leave you feeling any different. They did recently give up their elephants, with much controversy.

In the past, I have felt most sorry for their rhinos. They only have one now (the other one died at the age of 35 a couple weeks ago). They are/were kept in small, solitary enclosures with nothing but packed dirt. On my visit, one of them was hurrying back and forth to the limits of its pen: 5 seconds one way, turn and 5 seconds the other, ad infinitum. It was like someone pacing during a stressful phone conversation.

I'll definitely defer to HeyAllie on what goes on behind the scenes. I guess my only thing to add would be that no matter how caring the staff, not many animals are going to thrive living in tiny old beat down enclosures.
posted by cl at 9:28 AM on August 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

EmpressCallipygos, I don't think too many animals are deterred by their "comfort level" when the urge strikes!

I have also seen the tortoises gettin' it on at the Philly Zoo, with small kids in tow. It drew a big crowd whose reaction was split: The adults were fascinated by the slow, grim passion of tortoise love, the kids were fascinated that, daddy, that turtle is trying to get a piggyback ride, look, look!
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 9:39 AM on August 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

In defense of the Zoo, you have to know that because of its physical location, its SIZE will never grow. It is America's First Zoo (one of its many claims to fame), and so some of the exhibits are old and need to be refurbished. They are doing it slowly - budget constraints will always make running a nonprofit tough.

cl, ironically, I got an email from a former keeper today telling me about Xaviera died recently. She was a hot little rhino mama in her day, hence her name. Again, the key is that she lived to be 35, much longer than she would have in the wild. I remember when Xaviera had one of her babies - she was an excellent, gentle, loving mother, and she trusted her keepers enough to allow them access to her baby from the get-go.

OK, I'm not going to turn this into a WHY DO ZOOS EXIST thread, sorry.
posted by HeyAllie at 9:41 AM on August 9, 2011

I don't think too many animals are deterred by their "comfort level" when the urge strikes!

I thought some are, though; hence my mention.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:42 AM on August 9, 2011

They are AZA-accredited, which is a higher standard of accreditation than is required by the USDA to operate a zoo or other animal exhibit.

You can read through the standards yourself and see if those standards are high enough for your comfort with the institution.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:05 AM on August 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Of the two times the kuanes family has attended the Philadelphia Zoo, we were all impressed by all of the staff (not just the 'handlers'). I was surprised at the level of freedom the larger birds have (flamingos and a peacock that wanders about for most of the day). The lions made a huge impression on my son (~5 y.o. at the time), as one of the handlers brought out a large truck tire for the lions to gnaw on/throw about.

As I mentioned before, we were very impressed with everyone who worked there, top to bottom. All of the animals seemed content, well-fed, and humanely treated. One of the only zoos where we got really good pictures of various animals, since space is limited and up-close moments are the norm.
posted by kuanes at 12:28 PM on August 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Do you know about ZooChat? Specifically the US forums: ? It's quite an active forum and perhaps they could shed more light.
posted by TrinsicWS at 1:41 PM on August 9, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks again, everybody. These are the exact sorts of responses I feel like I needed.
posted by smirkyfodder at 5:31 PM on August 9, 2011

They are/were kept in small, solitary enclosures with nothing but packed dirt.

This was not my experience when I visited in April. The rhino certainly didn't have vast savannahs to roam, but s/he had a very large enclosure near the zebras and giraffes (there is a baby giraffe, who is pretty adorable), and the other animals all seemed to be in size-appropriate, well-cared for environments, with a lot of knowledgeable staff nearby.

Obviously there are good arguments on both side of the zoo debate, but I think as zoos go, you'll find Philadelphia to be among the better ones.
posted by judith at 9:59 PM on August 11, 2011

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