The worst zoo I ever saw

I feel sorry for my Harari friends.

During my stay in Harar, Ethiopia, they were so hospitable, so eager to ensure I had a 100% positive impression of their city and country. For the most part I did, and I left for the capital Addis Ababa with lots of great things to say about Ethiopia.

They should have warned me not to visit the Lion Zoo in Addis Ababa.

It’s billed as a natural wonder, where you can see rare Ethiopian black-maned lions descended from the pride that was kept in Haile Selassie’s palace. In reality, it’s a sad display of animal cruelty and neglect.

The lions, primates, and other animals are kept in undersized cages with bare concrete floors. They look bored, flabby, resigned. Several of them look sick. Visitors shout at the listless animals or even throw pebbles to get them to move. Some toss packets of chocolate or potato chips to the monkeys and laugh as they tear the packages apart to get to the food inside.

The worst are the lions, proud carnivores, kings of the wilderness, reduced to trapped objects of amusement for bored city dwellers who don’t give a shit about nature. The lions lie around most of the time, doing nothing. Occasionally one will get its feet, shake its dirty mane, take a few steps before realizing there’s nowhere to go, and then sit down with an air of defeat.

The whole place made me feel ill, yet I can’t feel morally superior. I come from a country where people freak out if someone beats a dog but cheer when a Third World country gets carpet bombed. Where a zoo like this would be a national scandal but people eat meat raised on factory farms that make Ethiopia’s Lion Zoo look like a nature reserve. Only vegans can talk about animal cruelty from any moral high ground, and I’m not a vegan. Meat tastes too good.


But a travesty like this zoo is totally unnecessary. Ethiopia is anxious to promote itself as a tourist destination, a friendly, civilized country where Westerners can feel at home. Well, if it wants to do that, it better do something about the Lion Zoo.

Like shut it down.

So to my Harari friends, I’m sorry. You came close to getting a 100% positive series (well, except for my bumbling around Ethiopia’s Somali region) but it was not to be. I understand Ethiopia has bigger priorities than a few animals in a zoo in Addis Ababa, but if you want to make a positive impression on Western visitors, this place has got to go.

Don’t miss the rest of my series: Harar, Ethiopia: Two months in Africa’s city of Saints.

Coming up next: Tomoca: the best little coffeehouse in Africa!

Adventure travel company accused of killing 100 sled dogs

Yesterday a disturbing story made its way out of British Columbia, Canada, where an adventure travel company has been accused of killing more than 100 sled dogs last April after suffering a poor travel season. The incident first came to light when a former employee with the company made a claim for workman’s compensation based on his suffering Post Traumatic Stress after he was ordered to kill 70 dogs. That number was later raised to 100 by the company in question.

According to this story, adventure travel company Outdoor Adventures Whistler is under investigation for animal cruelty following the alleged event, which took place around April 21-23 of last year. The report says that the dogs were shot to death then tossed into a mass grave, the site of which is now being investigated by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Reports seem to indicate that the travel company suffered a poor season last winter with very few travelers electing to take their tours. As a result, they fell on hard times economically, which forced them to make the decision to kill their sled dog teams rather than finding alternate solutions.

Animal lovers should use caution when reading the full story on this incident. Some of the descriptions of what happened is a bit disturbing to say the least. This report underscores a bit of a dark side to some kinds of travel, where animals can be seen as a commodity used for profit, then discarded when they are no longer useful. Obviously not all adventure travel companies, or even dog sled tours, operate like this, but it helps to underscore the need for researching who we choose to travel with.

This is a sad story and if the allegations are found to be true, I hope those involved are held responsible for their actions.

[Photo credit: Zeledi via WikiMedia]

American Airlines kills puppies

Seven out of 14 young puppies died yesterday after flying American Airlines flight #851 from Tulsa, Oklahoma to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. High temperatures and long flight delays were likely contributing factors, though further investigation is necessary to determine the exact cause of death.

American Airlines says they ship over 100,000 live animals a year. Some airlines refuse to ship dogs in the summer months due to the likelihood of heat exhaustion. American Airlines claims to adhere to temperature restrictions of 86° F when shipping live animals, which in this particular case, were overlooked. News reports put yesterday’s morning temperatures in Tulsa at 87° F and climbing, while the plane spent over an hour waiting on the tarmac.

The Humane Society of the United States highly recommends against ever shipping animals by air unless absolutely necessary. The following guidelines specify that pets should not travel during the summer months or during any busy holiday travel season.

(Photo: Flickr/Richard Stowey)

Will Model T replicas replace horse-drawn carriages in NYC?

Animal rights groups have long been trying to put an end to the carriage rides offered in New York City. Essentially, they argue that the horses are mistreated and exposed to unsafe conditions. Supporters of the carriages maintain that the drivers care about the animals and treat them humanely. The issue has been discussed in the New York City Council and now ideas are being suggested for how to replace the carriages. One concept: Eco-friend Model T replicas.

The cars would be electric or hybrid and tour the city much like the carriages do now. Unlike the carriages, however, the cars won’t defecate on the street. But the cars will also lack the historical connection that the carriages have to the city (yes, I understand that Model T’s once existed in Manhattan, but no one waxes nostalgically about their Model T ride around Central Park).

Thankfully, the matter is being discussed by our esteemed local politicians and activists, who continue to raise the level of discourse. Take Carolyn Daly, spokeswoman for the Horse and Carriage Association, who said that “no one wants to replace clip-clop, clip-clop with chitty chitty bang bang.” Quite the wordsmith.

Councilman Tony Avella is trying to push a ban on the carriages through the City Council, but this fight has been going on for a few years now and promises to get even more contentious before any laws are passed or alternatives launched.

[Via Gothamist]

Donkeys have rights too!

A beach holiday in the English tourist town of Blackpool just isn’t the same without a seaside ride on a donkey for the little one–it’s one of those quirky traditions that has made Blackpool such a famous vacation spot in the UK. But new animal cruelty rules will soon ban overweight kids from taking the traditional donkey rides. According to this article from The Daily Mail, riders must weight less than 8 stone (112 lbs) in order to ride the donkeys, meaning the ride is open to normal-sized children and Nicole Richie.

And that’s just the beginning of the new labour regulations for the Blackpool beach donkeys — they also must have one day off a week, they must be cleared for labour by a vet and they must be allowed at least an hour’s rest either at lunchtime or in the evening.

It’s hoped that these regulations will help set the standard for the rights of asses around the world (sorry, I couldn’t resist.)