How evil is this idea?

A couple of friends and I were watching s TV show dealing with some of the behind-the-scene workings at major zoos. Most of the show talked about the things the keepers do to keep the animals they care for entertained and mentally stimulated. Things like hiding food or introducing unusual toys into their environment can go a long way towards the zoo animal’s health.

As part of the diet of some of the large carnivores, the zookeepers would place already dead but whole creatures (usually rabbits) into the trays for the animals to consume. One of my friends commented that once in a while (maybe once a year) the keepers should toss in a couple of live rabbits into the enclosure and let predator and prey fulfill their natural functions. The lions would like it and I doubt it would take even the most cage bound and domesticated tiger very long to figure out what this wiggly and yummy smelling thing is for. It’s easy to make more rabbits and while they may not be in favor of the plan I’m more concerned for the big cats.

I can imagine the ASPCA would raise up a fecal-storm of complaints and lawsuits.

It’s probably not the best thing to do in front of the kiddies but I guess that if I heard my local zoo instituted this practice then I wouldn’t object. Would you?

It seems cruel, but “Nature is red in tooth and claw.”

While looking at the price of cat toys, my wife and I remarked that it would be cheaper, and more entertaining for the cats, if we were to buy live mice and set them loose in the house.
It’s not something we’d do, of course. Not only is there the risk of the damned things getting loose and setting up house in our walls or somewhere beyond the reach of cats, but it’s inherently cruel. I don’t have a problem with raising and feeding live mealworms or brine shrimp to animals as food, but using live mammals kicks it up a notch – I believe that the “pinkies” (mouse babies) they sell as food for snakes, owls, and the like are all dead.

I worked at a zoo for a while. Live animals were never used because a) Zoo patrons really don’t want to see blood and gore and guts and veins in their teeth and b) the animals in the enclosures were born in zoos (the vast majority of zoo animals, in fact, are bred there) and really don’t have the practice or the experience to hunt wild prey. In fact, c) there was a non-trivial chance that the zoo animals would end up getting hurt and probably going hungry.

We fed a lot of dead baby chicks. We got them in garbage bags from some chicken breeder who didn’t need all the males so they went in the bag, bless their souls, and ended up on the platter next to the Purina Wild Cat Chow.

You may well be right about this. I certainly can’t prove that you’re not. I’d wager that they would figure it out but but that’s just a WAG at best.

It was also suggested to me that live feeding would stimulate predatory instincts and make life for the keepers more dangerous.

I guess my point is that if the keepers thought it was a good idea for the predators then go to it. Rabbit lovers and the ASPCA, your opinions are noted.

It’s not just a matter of instincts. Wild animals learn hunting skills from their mothers when they’re just babies. Zoo animals learn that the humans in beige clothes will bring a tray around twice a day. It’s why you can’t just toss a zoo animal or a “wild” animal that was raised as a pet back out into the wilds and expect them to fend for themselves.

Some animals can’t figure it out. When my parents first got our turtle about 25 years ago they put fish in his tank for him to chase and eat and he wasn’t able to. I tried that with him again a few years ago when we pet sat another turtle who liked to eat fish and I could see that my turtle is very clumsy and has poor timing. He’d starve if it weren’t for turtle chow.

And I was not suggesting that they do so. What I was thinking about was once a year, putting zoo tiger and a domesticated rabbit in a relatively controlled confined area with no obstacles or cover and away from public view and potentially giving the cat a special treat ---- if he can figure out what to do with it. At no point was I suggesting a steady diet of this. At no point was I suggesting giving the rabbit a chance to evade, room to run or places to hide.

In which case I think it is cruel - and I’m no animal lover. The difference is that in the wild, the prey always has a (better than even, usually) chance to escape - in your scenario, they don’t. So yes, I would be against this idea.

It does raise the interesting point of exactly how zoos/safari parks that attempt to introduce carnivores back into the wild go about this. Presumably it does involve some form of this or it wouldn’t work.

That’s nothing. As part of the children’s outreach program at the Smithsonian NAtional Zoo, they do this overnight with kids 8 and older. One of the big projects is to make these Zebras out of cardboard. IT’s basically a bunch of boxes attached with non-toxic glue and colored by the kdis with zebra stripes.

Then the next morning they fill the “zebras” with raw meat, toss them in the lion habitat, and let the kids watch as the pride gleefully rips them apart and eats the “innards.”

Fun for all!

I can’t find the photo, but here’s a similar group that built a toy just like it:

This was actually part of the plot of the movie Madagascar.

In safari parks where the animals live in large enclosures of natural vegetaion I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the predators don’t get the chance to use their instincts on small mammals and birds now and then.

That’s true, and the animals would never be able to properly hunt because of it, but domesticated cats and dogs that are far more removed from the wild and hunting still chase, kill, and sometimes eat lizards, mice, birds, roaches, etc. why wouldn’t a larger predator catch a rabbit or mouse in the same way?

J. Maarten Troost, in his book, “Lost on Planet China,” writes about his visit to a Chinese zoo, where at the tiger enclosure, visitors are sold live, trussed-up chickens along with a stick and a string so that they can lower the chickens into the tiger cage, dangling them and teasing the tigers until the chickens are finally, slowly, ripped to shreds.

It’s fun for the tourists. It’s fun for the tigers. It’s no fun for the chickens. This is one of many, many, many reasons why I don’t ever want to visit China.

While I don’t like your idea for the above reason, i.e., animal cruelty, it does suggest to me a novel approach to solving prison overcrowding.

It sounds a lot like bullfighting in Spain or cockfighting in Mexico. Ever been there?

Yep. Both places. Seen both. The distinction, though a small one, is that the bull and the cock are at least given a “fighting chance.” They behave in aggressive manners that are natural to them during the fights. The chickens are simply trussed up, tortured, and eaten.

I don’t like or approve of the killing of any animals for sport, though. I don’t even approve of hunting or fishing, except for food.

Good zoos nowadays do come up with enrichment activities for their animals. Here’s an example: of what one zoo does for their big cats:

Having them terrorize and chase live animals doesn’t really seem necessary, it could cause injury to the big cats (or maybe transmit disease), and most people would find it distasteful I think, just as many of us find it distasteful when humans hunt animals that don’t have a fighting chance to escape.

Domestication isn’t about teaching animals not to hunt or kill. It’s about teaching animals that, if they use their instincts - including hunting and killing abilities - in a way that humans find useful, then the humans will reward them with food, shelter and lovely lovely ear scritches. In many cases, a domesticated animal’s hunting and killing instincts are highly prized by the humans. It’s not surprising that some domesticated animals are still good at (or that many domesticated animals will never in a million years be able to catch that asshole squirrel.)

Zoo animals are neither wild nor domesticated.

Could a zoo tiger catch a bird or a squirrel? Possibly - if they bothered to get up off their well-fed butts. But they might not bother, since they know it’s almost dinner time and the beige human will be along soon. But there’s certainly no guarantee that a zoo animal will be good at a skill it never practices, even if its instincts are shrieking, “Kill it now!”

According to this article, the idea of enriching zoo animals’ environments really got rolling in the 1960’s.

Professor Hal Markowitz at UCSF did a lot of work in this area. For example, he designed some kind of meatball shooter that would shoot meatballs into the air, and the big cats had to leap and catch it if they wanted to eat. (I gather it was set up so if the cat didn’t catch it, it would land some place where the cat couldn’t get it.) He (or his students) also worked with the captive dolphins at the California Academy of Sciences museum at Golden Gate Park, who spent most of their lives swimming in small circles in a way-small tank (the dolphins, not the students). They tried to develop ways to make life at least a smidgeon interesting for them.

Here is an excerpt from the above-linked article:

I’m failing to see a distinction here. Yes domesticated animals have historically been bred and trained for various purposes and hunting, but that training is no more ingrained into kittens and puppies then hunting instincts in newborn lions, even less so I would hazard to guess. My point was that animals that have no training or incentive to chase and kill small animals still do, even if said animals have had a consistent meal given to them every day and never been anywhere wilder than a suburban yard. The same reasoning you give for zoo animals to not care apply equally and sometimes more so to your average pet. But most every dog and cat owner will likely tell you that they love little more than chasing down small and fast moving creatures for fun and food, and I don’t see why zoo animals wouldn’t either.