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State 15: Nebraska - September 5, 2017

“Someone told me it’s all happening at the zoo. I do believe it. I do believe it’s true”

Simon and Garfunkel

Nate

We woke up in Vermillion, SD with a very heavy heart, because today was our last day in the Dakota's. We had a blast over the past 2 weeks, and were sad to say goodbye. Today, we drive 2 hours to the far southeastern corner of South Dakota, and enter the 15th state on our year long cross country trip to discover America and find a new state to call home; Nebraska: The Good Life. When one thinks of living “The Good Life”, states like Hawaii, New York, and California, traditionally come to mind. Who would have thought “The Good Life” was here in Nebraska all along? We try to enter every state with an open mind that it might become our new home. However, I must be perfectly honest, and say I am not looking forward toward to my week in Nebraska. Nebraska had so much going against it even before we stepped foot in the state. Not only is the Nebraska income tax, and sales tax higher than our former state of Connecticut, but the state is ground zero in tornado alley. For Nebraska to end up being our new home, the state would need to blow us away! (figuratively and not literally, at least I hope not!) Nonetheless, Nebraska is our home for the next week, and I love an underdog! Let’s see if Nebraska’s “good life” can persuade the Cross Country Couple to make the state our new home.

Lori

Our first stop was the Cross Country Couple's chosen “Can’t Miss Attraction” for Nebraska; Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo. The Henry Doorly Zoo is rated by Trip Advisor as the #1 zoo in the US, and they also claim to be the "World's Best Zoo". As vegetarians, Nate and I have never visited a zoo. We object to zoos as they hold wild animals in captivity, and exploit them for profits. We were especially wary of this attraction as it would require paying admission, and thus providing financial support to the zoo. However, we felt it necessary to visit the #1 ranked zoo in the country, because surely they would provide the best representation of zoo operations. Below is what we found during our visit on Tuesday September 5, 2017.

We parked in the parking lot, and made our way to the front gate. Admission was $19.00 per person. Although Nate loves and respect all animals, giraffes are his favorite, so we headed to the giraffe encounter first. Below are the pictures of what we saw.

At first glance, you might not see anything out of the ordinary with the above pictures, but consider the following. There were 5 giraffes, and 3 of the same type of trees present within the enclosure. Not a single one of the 5 giraffes present were tall enough to reach the leaves on the 3 trees. It was heartbreaking to watch the giraffes extend their neck as far as they could over and over again in an attempt to eat leaves that were out of their reach. Giraffe's diet consists of leaves and buds on trees hence the reason they have a long neck. On average a giraffe eats 200 pounds of leaves a week! Where were 1000 lbs of leaves to feed 5 giraffes per week coming from? In a small kiosk nearby, zoo employees were selling 2 branches of leaves for $3.00 to feed the giraffes. There were not many people at the zoo the day we visited, and we did not see anyone buying branches. However, one of the giraffes stood near the feeding area the whole time we were there just waiting for someone, anyone to feed him a branch. We even saw a few of the smaller giraffes unnaturally contorting their legs, so they could reach their mouth to the ground to chew on the scant dry patches of grass, which is not part of their natural diet.

Now please look at the same pictures again with a fresh set of eyes taking the above into consideration.

The giraffes in the zoo appeared underweight, and we could clearly see their ribs. The first picture is a giraffe we saw at the zoo, and next to it is a picture of a giraffe in the wild. Do you notice any difference?

I was looking forward to seeing the elephants, so we headed there next. Below are the pictures of what we saw.

At first glance, you might not see anything out of the ordinary with the above pictures, but consider the following. There were 6 elephants present, and none appeared to be fully grown. Elephants diet in the wild consists of leaves, twigs, fruit, bark, grass, and roots in excess of 200- 600 pounds per day. Where were the elephants getting the 1200-3200 pounds of food per day they needed? The elephants were fed a small bundle of hay within a net attached to a rope suspended from a pole. Only 2 of the 6 elephants could reach the dangling hay nets, although it was heartbreaking to watch the other 4 elephants repetitively try unsuccessfully. We did see the 2 elephants who could reach the hay share with the other 4 who could not. This was heartwarming to see, and indicative of the kind nature of elephants. If you look closely at the elephant’s spine, there is an unnatural accentuated curvature from repetitively attempting to reach the hay suspended above their heads barely within their reach. The enclosure used to house the elephants was a barren wasteland consisting of a dirt ground with little vegetation, and a tangled mess of fallen trees. In the far right of the enclosure was a small filthy watering hole insufficient to meet the 300 gallons of water a day needed for 6 elephants. Now please look at the same pictures again with a fresh set of eyes taking the above into consideration.

All 6 of the elephants were underweight with their ribs visible. The first picture is an elephant we saw at the zoo, and next to it is a picture of a elephant in the wild. Do you notice any difference?

Nate

The 6 elephants in the zoo were not rescued animals. The elephants were taken from their natural habitat in Africa, and brought by airplane to the zoo on March 11, 2016. I know this because surprisingly the zoo had one of the exact small, filthy and rusty metal crates publicly displayed that was used to transport the largest of the 6 elephants. I closed my eyes and stood inside of the metal crate for 10 minutes imagining what it felt like to be taken from my home, locked in cage and flown halfway across the world. I felt scared, vulnerable, sad and claustrophobic. I can’t even begin to image how traumatic it must have been for an 8-foot-tall 6000-pound elephant, who had no idea what was happening. Please see the pictures below, and image yourself inside of that cage.

Next, we continued to wander around the zoo, and came across an enclosure with 2 African Spurred Tortoises pictured below.

At first glance, you might not see anything out of the ordinary with the above pictures, but consider the following: African Spurred Tortoises can grow over 30 inches in length, and can weigh between 100 to 200 lbs. in the wild, but the tortoises pictured in captivity are clearly on the lower end of spectrum for weight and length. The average lifespan of this species of tortoise is 50-150 years. However, the oldest tortoise to live in captivity lived only to the age of 54. In their natural habitat, tortoises burrow underground tunnels within the earth as deep as 10 feet to escape the suns heat. This species does not seek shelter under logs. The 2 tortoises we saw were unable to burrow because the dirt beneath them was too compact. They just sat motionless in the dirt, and baked in the 90-degree heat with no source of water available within their enclosure. In the wild, the African Spurred Tortoises eats grass, flowers, weeds, and cacti, and the sign right next to the enclosure reads their diet is succulent plants and grasses. However, not only was there no water within their enclosure, there was no vegetation whatsoever, just dried compact dirt. What I found most disturbing was the large variety of lush green vegetation right outside of the tortoises enclosure, which was close enough to be seen, but just far enough away so it could not be reached. Now, please look at the same pictures again with a fresh set of eyes taking the above into consideration.

Next we came across the polar bear exhibit, and the pictures below are what we saw.

At first glance, you might not see anything out of the ordinary with the above pictures, but consider the following. According to the sign hanging on the enclosure, the natural habitat for polar bears is Northern Russia, Northern Canada by arctic sea ice, and continental coastlines. In layman’s terms, polar bears live in very cold environments. Whose bright idea was it to put a polar bear, in an outdoor enclosure in Omaha, NE, where it was 90 degrees the day we visited? It was absolutely awful to see that poor polar bear curled up lying motionless in the only tiny corner of shade available to him in an attempt to escape the heat. Now please look at the same pictures again with a fresh set of eyes taking the above into consideration.

A polar bear in its natural habitat is about 6.6 and 10 feet tall, and weight between 660 and 760 lbs. The polar bear pictured below clearly appears to be malnourished. Please see the below picture of a wild polar bear, and then compare it with the picture of the one we saw in captivity in the zoo.

Here are some more pictures of animals we saw on the day of our visit. What does their faces and behavior say to you?

Zoos promote themselves as a family fun experience. Do we possess the right to confine wild animals for our children’s amusement? Zoos say exposing children to live animals will cause children will be compassionate towards them. Not one of today’s children have seen a dinosaur, and have you ever met a child that didn’t love dinosaurs? If zoos are teaching children anything, it's that imprisoning animals for our own entertainment is acceptable. Zoos state they help saved endangered species from going extinct. Many reasons for species extinction is habitat destruction, and therefore they can’t be reintroduced back into the wild. Is a life of an endangered animal worth saving if they are doomed to a lifetime of captivity? Sanctuaries also rehabilitate wildlife and take in unwanted exotic pets, without breeding, buying and selling animals like zoos do. Whether you support animal rights or are indifferent to the cause, please make an educated decision regarding the philosophy of the business you are patronizing.

After leaving the Henry Doorly Zoo, we found a Walmart in Omaha where we slept for the night.