The paradigm shift regarding zoos around the world starts today in Barcelona. The ZOOXXI platform is launching the city’s first Citizens’ Initiative, an approach of participatory democracy that will mark the first step in a long road to reforming zoos across the globe.
ZOOXXI is a social and academic platform that works to restructure and reform zoos throughout the world. Its aim is to bring about a change in philosophy and to adapt these centres to the sensibilities and scientific knowledge of the 21st century, leaving behind the practices of current zoo models, which have become stuck in the past. The platform has garnered a great deal of support from figures in the city’s science field and beyond.
A few key aspects to understanding ZOOXXI’s critique of 19th century zoos:
Conservation ex situ: The vast majority of animals in captive breeding programmes at the Zoo do not have an effective reintroduction programme. The disappearance of animals does not stem from difficulties in reproducing, but from vanishing natural habitats caused by human pressure. Breeding in captivity makes little sense if efforts are not made to conserve habitats. ZOOXXI proposes an outward-looking zoo, able to protect its habitats and apply pressure in order to change environmental policies (conservation in situ); to move from selling captive animals to selling habitat conservation by means of advanced immersive technologies. Of the few successful reintroduction programmes currently carried out by the Zoo, most are for indigenous species.
Slaughtering animals: The reproduction of animals in captivity does not answer an ecological strategy, but an economic one. The animals reproduce so that there is something to exhibit in the future. When this mass reproduction becomes an “inconvenience” in park management, the animals are killed. This practice is known as culling and is found in the good practice manual followed by the two international associations EAZA (European Association of Zoos and Aquaria) and WAZA (World Association of Zoos and Aquariums) of which Barcelona Zoo is a member. For ZOOXXI, it is paramount to dispense with the commercial and colonialist vision of the current zoo model; to halt the reproduction of exotic animals that are not in danger of extinction and will never be reintroduced into the wild. To stop exchanging animals among zoos for commercial purposes, and start exchanging multimedia images of natural habitat conservation. To move from being a mere exhibition space to becoming a space for conservation and the protection of indigenous fauna over the long term. According to the president of EAZA, over 3,000 animals are executed in Europe each year for management reasons, within the framework of the culling practice.
Crowd culture: Weddings, parties and concerts are held at the Zoo. There is a train which runs around the park constantly ringing a bell; there are works that go on for 24 hours a day… The Zoo is designed for the visitor’s enjoyment, not for the wellbeing of the inhabitant: nocturnal animals are forced to change their habits and those who wish to hide away, to disappear from human sight, find it impossible. The platform wishes to move from exhibition to observation; to introduce an educational model based on empathy towards animals, which has been demonstrated to reduce school bullying and boost cooperative and positive social behaviours.
Transparency: The Zoo is a public entity, but it is not one to divulge information; it does not explain or justify anything it does. One example of this was when the Síndic de Greuges (Catalan Ombudsman) was obliged to intervene in order for the Zoo to reveal its number of animal deaths and the causes thereof, which the NGO Libera! had spent two years requesting. The initiative urges a greater involvement of universities, NGOs, neighbouring associations and educational bodies to make up a Foundation that is able to make decisions based on science, ethics and the common good.
Furthermore, ZOOXXI proposes to make full use of installations and trained professionals to provide shelter for animals that are not cats or dogs, and who need rescue and recuperation. This will include the Centre for the 3Rs (Rescue, Recuperation and Relocation), where rescued and/or injured animals, animals seized from illegal trafficking, abuse, etc. and who do not have a public policy geared towards their own needs will be treated. A new location will be sourced for them, whether through reintroduction (where possible) or at the same zoo but in the best possible conditions.
As of Tuesday, they have 120 days to collect 14,000 signatures ‒ a figure which they hope to triple, considering the fact that they have over 400 people already registered as certifying officials and over 80 campaigners linked to more than twenty work groups. What is more, they already benefit from the experience of having put an end to bull fights in Catalonia in 2010, using the same mechanism of participatory democracy.
For the first time, there is the possibility of leaving behind the zoo policies that change with each candidacy, so that Barcelona can obtain a state policy concerning its Zoo. The Catalan capital could become the first in an extensive network of zoos throughout the world, the first zoo to apply the 21st century model; a global conservation strategy the like of which has never been seen before.
Barcelona enjoys great international prestige due to its public policies on animal protection. In the metropolis, bull fights have been banned since 2010, an aim that was achieved by putting into action the same mechanism of participatory democracy and civil empowerment that will be used to reform the zoo. At the same time, it is the first (and only, for the moment) city in the world to be declared “Veg-Friendly” and the only big city in Europe to sterilise pigeons, having abolished the capture/killing method practised in other cities around the world. Due to all this, including many other noteworthy measures, it was pleased to receive the Fondation Franz Weber Award for Public Policies on Animal Protection in 2014. It is now facing a new challenge: on the 28th March, signatures will start to be collected for the City Council to open a debate on applying the ZOOXXI model, a springboard that could change global zoos as we know them today.