HSUS—AZA: Golden Bridge to Zoo Obsolescence


Sun Tzu, the famous Chinese General who wrote the classic text ‘The Art of War,’ said ‘Build your enemies a golden bridge’. He meant corner your enemy, and then rather than fighting, create a path of escape in the direction that you want them to go. The Golden Bridge works by closing off all options except the one you have strategically chosen.

A Change in Tactics
Why has Wayne Pacelle and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) taken such a proactive interest in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA)? After decades of opposing zoos and all forms of captive conservation, Wayne Pacelle appears to have changed tactics in his bid to close the book on zoos. What if he could harness the active cooperation of AZA? He may then be able to influence a change of direction from within. To that end Pacelle spent the summer of 2017 speaking about how collaboration between HSUS and AZA is the way of the future. With long time friend and political ally, Dan Ashe, now at the helm of AZA, Pacelle may be empowered to usher zoos into a self enforced obsolescence.

The new twist in the HSUS—AZA partnership was unveiled when Dan Ashe announced that Wayne Pacelle, CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, would be the keynote speaker at the AZA Annual Conference 2017. Ashe added, “[Wayne] Pacelle has an important perspective to share with conference attendees.” Facebook blazed with opposition posts, and an online petition to disinvite Pacelle from the conference garnered more than 700 signatures. Nevertheless, Wayne Pacelle was welcomed as the keynote address.

Will Wayne Pacelle be “invited” to join the AZA Board of Directors?

The HSUS stance on zoos had been straight forward until recent years. HSUS had always opposed zoos and all captive breeding. In the 1990’s HSUS said that, “if the right policies were pursued, we would need no zoos at all.” In 2004, Nicole Paquette, Vice President of Wildlife Protection for HSUS, told the Los Angeles Times that she opposed “keeping animals in zoos.” However in his 2017 address, Wayne Pacelle declared, “The AZA and The HSUS have many shared ideals.” 

As has become his signature, Pacelle couldn’t resist reaching into his bag of dirty tricks. He has targeted the zoo community, lawmakers and government agencies with a smear campaign designed to brand any non-AZA facility with the pejorative of “Roadside Zoo.” Near the close of his keynote speech at the AZA Annual Conference, there was a moment reminiscent of Star Wars— when Darth Vader appeals to Luke Skywalker to, “feel the power of the dark side.” While calling dissenters “divisive,” Pacelle openly urged AZA members to turn on their zoo colleagues, and join him in condemning the Zoological Association of America (ZAA), the second largest zoo accreditation organization in the U.S.— Keep in mind, these are well respected, fully accredited zoos, duly licensed and inspected by the USDA.

There is no doubt that for the last decade, HSUS has been pressuring and using the AZA as a surrogate to advance animal rights based legislation and zoo policy. Ron Kagan, the Director of the Detroit Zoo, has spearheaded the HSUS crusade to win hearts and minds at the AZA, and he has been actively forging stronger ties with more radical members of the animal rights movement. While many AZA members have been more than dubious of Pacelle and Kagan’s efforts to co-opt the organization,  the cooperation of AZA leadership has lent much needed zoological legitimacy to the animal rights behemoth— and in exchange HSUS has exempted AZA from ongoing anti-zoo legislative initiatives at the local, state and federal level.

“I believe the animals on exhibit [at zoos] should be rescues.” —Wayne Pacelle, 4th International Animal Welfare Congress 2017

The Golden Bridge
According to their own statements, Kagan and Pacelle believe zoos should “transition to the sanctuary model,” and forgo the keeping of any large charismatic species in captivity— in this vision of the future, zoos would cease to exhibit cetaceans, elephants, great apes, and large carnivores. Under this “sanctuary model” zoos would become “last stop” sanctuaries, and conservation based captive breeding programs would be terminated. The AZA Species Survival Plans (SSP’s) have been vital to conservation, and a return to the wild, of endangered and even previously extinct species like the scimitar horned oryx, but captive breeding is a sin in the world of animal rights.

The reality is, animals are rarely taken from the wild for exhibit, especially endangered animals. So if there is no breeding, there are no zoo animals. If the transition to the sanctuary model combined with the dissolution of captive conservation projects (SSP’s) becomes policy, in 20-40 years AZA zoos would not have any animals to exhibit, nor would they have the archive of genetic stock for hundreds of endangered species. The long held HSUS paradigm of “one generation and out” would come to pass. This is the “Golden Bridge” that Wayne Pacelle, Dan Ashe and Ron Kagan envision for the AZA to retreat across—a strange new land where zoos are sanctuaries, and SSP’s are a memory— and anyone who is not on board is “cruel,” a “bad actor,” or a “roadside zoo.”

Andrew Wyatt, of Vitello Consulting, is a government affairs and policy consultant dedicated exclusively to the wildlife sector. Vitello Consulting for the Win!

WyattP1“In an arena known to be dominated by powerful special interest groups such as the Humane Society of the United States and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PeTA), Vitello Consulting has created a niche providing powerful advocacy strategies that are leveling the playing field for it’s wildlife clients on Capitol Hill.  In 2014 we began to offer state level advocacy that has negated most of the legislative and regulatory initiatives pushed by HSUS and PeTA against our clients in state capitols across the country. Please follow ‘The Last Word on Wildlife’ for insight and analysis particular to the 21st century wildlife sector. If you would like to discuss the potential advantages of creating a comprehensive business/government affairs strategy, or a more targeted issue campaign, please call or email me.” — Andrew Wyatt

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