In this week’s episode, Kathryn Sussman speaks with Rob Laidlaw, founder and director of the Canadian animal protection charity Zoocheck. Laidlaw uncovers a little-known zoo approach called framing. Described as a type of deception for zoo visitors, framing makes animals appear to be living in more natural-looking environments than they actually are. While showcasing a beautiful lush green ambiance surrounding their living quarters, it may actually not be the case on the inside in the animals’ environment that they actually have access to such greenery. Just like a picture frame, this practice is a design trick that caters to the humans viewing the exhibit rather than to the animal’s well-being, and is found frequently at zoos and aquariums around the globe.

Rob Laidlaw explains how to be sensitive when visiting zoos and how to discern framing from a naturalistic habitat. He urges us to do some research and to look closer at the actual living space of an animal. What does the animal actually have access to? Does it respond to their needs to engage in species-typical movements and behaviors? This is particularly important for large animals, such as gorillas or elephants, who need space and stimulation, who like to keep busy with vegetation, and instead are often kept away from it.

“I think what you’re seeing in many of these instances is more an illusion, it’s a lot more reminiscent of a movie set, or maybe an amusement park environment, than it is real nature.” – Rob Laidlaw.

Kathryn and Gen then discuss the occurrences where they visited zoos in the past without realizing that what they witnessed is indeed framing. This is the case in a lot of zoos, but particularly in smaller roadside zoos where living standards for animals are reduced to a bare minimum.

“There are different tiers of zoos. Most people love animals and especially love wild animals, and what they’re trying to do when they take their children to the zoo is educate their child. When I tell them they might actually be doing the opposite – miseducating – they are all ears on how they can do a better job.” – Kathryn Sussman.

Our message of change: Not all zoo exhibits are the same – speak out on behalf of animals if you see something wrong! Now you know!

Be part of the change!

  • If you go to the zoo, do some research on the animals you look at and learn what to look for in an exhibit that recreates their natural environment
  • Look at the animals and assess: are they in natural conditions that respond to their needs, do they have space to move and stimulation, do they have the opportunity to engage in species-typical movements and behaviors?
  • Apply critical thinking and be conscious about your surroundings, speak out on behalf of animals to ensure a high standard of animal welfare in these facilities
  • Simply don’t go to facilities that don’t respect animal welfare standards
  • Educate your kids about what is the right living environment for animals
  • Educate your friends and family that there’s more to the picture than what you can actually see in a zoo
  • Call a zoo or write to them about your concerns if you notice that an animal isn’t doing so well in their enclosure or that it is lacking enrichment
  • If you do visit a zoo, respect animals’ privacy – don’t take selfies with animals in an exhibit, or out in nature
  • Visit the new technology zoos that use animatronics or other virtual reality alternatives to educate about animals
  • Take part in ecotourism in order to visit animals responsibly, in their natural habitats
  • Reach out to elected officials to change the legal status of animals, create new legislation for the rights of animals held in captivity and enforce certification standards for all zoos
  • Help us spread the word by sharing this podcast in your network

What’s next?

Join us in our aim to reach actor Alex Harrouch, and find out about his view on zoo animals on display and how to respect their privacy. Ask him to step up for the rights of animals in captivity by tagging him on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook with a link to this episode.

Learn more

Listen to the full interview Framing in Zoos and Aquaria with advocate Rob Laidlaw.

If you’ve enjoyed listening to our podcast, we’ve a favour to ask. A lot of volunteering goes into making Now You Know, but it still takes money to run. If you’d like to help us make future Now You Know podcasts, please consider donating. Thank you!

Kathryn, Gen and the Now You Know team.

Pin It on Pinterest