Lions’ roar echoes for MPs

Auck­land Zoo de­cides to end the suf­fer­ing of two great cats. Hu­man be­ings don’t get the same op­tion.

Sunday Star-Times - - NEWS -

On a still sum­mer night, soon af­ter we moved to Auck­land’s in­ner west, I was stopped in my tracks by a sound that did not fit. A rum­ble that started low and built in a wave – not a train, or a plane, or the thwack-thwack of the po­lice chopper that of­ten hangs above the city – not a sound made by a me­chan­i­cal thing. A sound made by a liv­ing thing. An an­i­mal lan­guage that did not fit with a sub­ur­ban set­ting.

It took a while to re­mem­ber we were liv­ing less than a kilo­me­tre from Auck­land Zoo, and the sounds drift­ing across the rooftops were the roars of Kura and Amira. There’ll be plenty of Ki­wis, whether lo­cals or oc­ca­sional vis­i­tors, who’ll be feel­ing as sad as I am at the news that the zoo’s last pair of lions were eu­thanised this week. Kura was el­derly, in fail­ing health, and los­ing her author­ity, which even know­ing as lit­tle as I do about the lives of lions, must be a sig­nal the end is nigh. Her daugh­ter Amira was also el­derly and deemed un­likely to thrive with­out the mum she’d re­lied on for com­pany all her life. So Kura and Amira were put to sleep, to­gether, early on Wed­nes­day. The choice, a wretched one for zoo staff, was made for the lions’ wel­fare. Zoo di­rec­tor Kevin Bu­ley told me late this week that early post-mortem re­sults showed both lions had os­teoarthri­tis in mul­ti­ple joints and Kura also had ‘‘changes in her kid­neys, liver, and heart’’.

It’s a shame we do not al­low peo­ple, at the end of life, to choose the time of their own death with such care and dig­nity. The dif­fer­ence is that we are hu­mans (the ar­gu­ment goes) and as a su­pe­rior species we must live to the ab­so­lute last – a last that has been pushed fur­ther and fur­ther as med­i­cal science has roared ahead in the past cen­tury. An­i­mal eu­thana­sia is al­most al­ways pre­sented as ‘‘the kind­est op­tion in the cir­cum­stances’’ be­cause ‘‘we don’t want to see them suf­fer any fur­ther’’.

What a pity we are not yet will­ing to al­low peo­ple to make that choice for them­selves, even when death is im­mi­nent. If David Seymour is to be re­mem­bered for any­thing at all, I hope it is for his End of Life Bill cur­rently mak­ing its way through the leg­isla­tive process, and not for his ap­palling danc­ing and un­fath­omable survival on Danc­ing With The Stars.

I haven’t been to the zoo in years, but when my ba­bies were ba­bies we seemed to be there ev­ery other week­end. I’m not a huge fan of zoos my­self. The sight of wild an­i­mals in faux habi­tats (no mat­ter how care­fully recre­ated) gives me the hee­bies, but the chil­dren loved it. And what did my opin­ion mat­ter? As an adult, I was just there to en­sure the wel­fare of the zoo’s prime clients – the kids.

FaceTim­ing my daugh­ter, thou­sands of kilometres away at univer­sity on Wed­nes­day night, I told her the sad news and be­cause I love a good de­bate, got ready for an out­pour­ing. Her re­sponse sur­prised me; the child­hood love of zoos has been re­placed by an even greater un­ease than mine.

Her most re­cent zoo ex­pe­ri­ence, she told me, was in the United States as part of her year 13 ge­og­ra­phy trip. She’d walked around think­ing – why? Why are we peer­ing through a chain fence at ex­otic an­i­mals cooped up in en­clo­sures? How does this help?

My daugh­ter’s an an­i­mal lover, par­tic­u­larly gi­raffes. As a tall, rangy gin­ger I think she feels an affin­ity with them in par­tic­u­lar. Wouldn’t you be sad if you could never see a gi­raffe for real again, I asked her. How would she show her fu­ture chil­dren what these crea­tures look like?

YouTube, she an­swered. The con­cept of fu­ture gen­er­a­tions of Kiwi kids miss­ing out on the face to face, seemed to her a rea­son­able pay-off for get­ting rid of zoos al­to­gether, when push came to shove.

It’s not a pop­u­lar stance, to crit­i­cise zoos. They are friendly places, and zoo staff tend to be those won­der­ful types who re­ally, truly, do love an­i­mals. This col­umn will prob­a­bly an­noy them. That’s not my in­ten­tion at all.

Bu­ley ad­mits to me that the vast ma­jor­ity of zoos around the world should be shut down. But a good zoo, he says, is more rel­e­vant than it’s ever been.

‘‘If we can’t make peo­ple con­nect to the an­i­mals in some way, we can’t ex­pect a fu­ture where wildlife is val­ued.’’

Not only did Kura and Amira have a much bet­ter, longer, life at Auck­land Zoo (one of the good ones) he says, but they were pow­er­ful ad­vo­cates for their own kind.

Bu­ley’s con­vic­tions are di­rectly at odds with in­ter­na­tional ad­vo­cacy group LionAid, which sent me a pretty un­equiv­o­cal state­ment.

‘‘The rea­son why zoos keep wildlife is for en­ter­tain­ment pur­poses, plain and sim­ple,’’ LionAid di­rec­tor Chris­tine McSween said.

‘‘Our ba­sic pol­icy is that there should be no lion kept in a zoo un­less there are clear con­ser­va­tion ben­e­fits for wild pop­u­la­tions by do­ing so.’’

Bu­ley re­jects this, call­ing it ‘‘out­dated’’ think­ing. He says that lions will def­i­nitely be com­ing back to Auck­land Zoo, al­though prob­a­bly not for a year or so.

In re­cent decades, Auck­land Zoo has turned its fo­cus to boost­ing num­bers of Aotearoa’s na­tive birds, which makes a lot of sense.

I’d ar­gue what makes less sense for a zoo with such a fo­cus, is their stated aim to re­place Kura and Amira with more lions. Bu­ley says they can do both.

This week must have been the most dis­tress­ing of times for the vets and keep­ers of Auck­land Zoo, who ob­vi­ously dearly loved Kura and Amira.

I’d rather re­mem­ber them (and their sum­mer evening roar­ing) with fond­ness, and leave cap­tive lions in Auck­land as a chap­ter past.

What a pity we are not yet will­ing to al­low peo­ple to make that choice for them­selves, even when death is im­mi­nent.

JA­SON OXENHAM/STUFF

Auck­land Zoo no longer has any lions af­ter Kura and Amira were put to sleep this week.

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