New Bedford Zoo Director Repulsed by Lions Being Euthanized
How can anyone living around here in 2016 not remember the "largest animal abuse case in New England history" when dead and near-dead starving animals were discovered on the late Richard Medeiros's tenant farm off Route 177 in Westport?
I couldn't help but think of that tragedy when I read that 30 beautiful lions had to be euthanized after they were found starving and untreated for serious injuries they sustained when a wildfire swept through their captive living area in South Africa.
One animal welfare organization called it "one of the worst cases of animal abuse" they'd ever witnessed. Thirty tormented lions, all laid in one spot, with their paws turned upwards in surrender.
Keith Lovett, Director of the Buttonwood Park Zoo, has spent time in other countries, including some on the continent of Africa.
"I want to say I'm surprised but there are a lot of lions kept in these kinds of farms in South Africa," he said. "It's not an ethical business because the cubs are separated from their mothers and used for photo shoots or for tourists to pet them, and then they put the animals in breeding or hunting ranches, where hunters are guaranteed a kill."
Lovett said while the lion may be the king of the jungle, in Africa, they are considered a material object.
"Over there, lions are looked at like a commodity and not a living creature. They only see dollar signs. When they die, they'll sell the bones to the Asian markets," he said.
Every country has wildlife laws, and one would think that the United States wouldn't have that kind of problem – but shockingly, there are more tigers in roadside zoos here than there are in the wild.
"We have our own problems here," Lovett said. "I used to live in Florida and you'd come across these kinds of establishments all the time. It's horrid!"
Lovett said not every place responsible for keeping animals such as lions do so responsibly, especially outside of the United States.
"Part of what's great about the Buttonwood Park Zoo, is that we are an accredited zoo and with accreditation, you have to meet the most rigorous standards in the world," he said. "But there are only 240 accredited zoos in North America and there are over 3,000 licensed facilities, so sadly, there are some really horrendous facilities, not only here, but particularly in South Africa and other parts of the world."
"It makes me sick to my stomach when you see people who can't even be bothered to provide the most basic veterinary care because it's not worth the money to them. It's despicable," he said.
There are a lot of good websites that talk about responsible, ethical tourism, but you have to search them out.
"I know it might be a lifelong dream for someone to hold a lion cub in your lap, but you have to ask, where are these animals going after?" Lovett said. "I was in Zimbabwe once watching a whole group of naïve tourists pack into a bus, to go to a Zimbabwe 'petting farm.' So I would recommend if you're going to Africa, it really is an absolutely amazing place, but go to the natural areas, go to the wildlife park, be patient. You'll see a lion. Don't take the cheap way out and pay extra just to be close to a lion. There are ethical ways to see wildlife in Africa and there are some horrific ways to see wildlife, this story of the 30 lions is a perfect example of that."