The St. Louis Zoo cares deeply about the health and well-being of animals. PETA does not.

Commentary, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
By Jeffrey P. Bonner
June 27, 2005

Apart from what you read on their editorial and opinion pages, newspapers report facts. Those facts are conveyed principally through words. Therefore, newspapers have a special obligation to use words with precision.

The Post-Dispatch recently ran a story that described People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals as an "animal welfare" organization. I think that zoo professionals and, for that matter, representatives of PETA would disagree vehemently with the characterization.

PETA is an animal rights organization, not an animal welfare organization. There's a big difference.

The philosophy of animal rights says, in essence, that animals have the same rights as humans: For example, we don't keep other humans as slaves, so we shouldn't keep dogs as pets, and zoos should not confine exotic animals that are threatened with extinction. All medical testing on animals should be banned. Because we don't kill and eat human beings or use human byproducts for food, we should ban the consumption of all meat and other animal products, including milk and eggs. We don't use human hides for clothing, so we should not use leather for shoes, fur for coats or even the silk from silk worms for blouses.

Animal welfare organizations, including reputable zoos like ours, are deeply concerned with the physiological and psychological health and well-being of animals, but they also are concerned with the welfare of animals in the wild. Animal rights adherents contend, in sharp contrast, that as long as animals are in the wild, their rights are not being violated by humans.

The second profound difference between an animal welfare group such as the St. Louis Zoo and an animal rights group such as PETA is that zoos care about the fate of entire species, whereas PETA focuses on individual animals. This allows them to argue that it is better for a species to become extinct than for individual members of that species to be preserved in zoos.

For animal welfare groups, extinction is the ultimate cruelty, and it is no small irony that in the majority of cases, animals go extinct because of the direct actions of humans. Animal rights groups, therefore, should be concerned with extinction in the wild. Tragically, they are not.

I think that animal rights groups and animal welfare groups both care about animals, but they represent two very different philosophies. If you are a supporter of PETA, you support an animal rights group that does not care about the fate of animals in the wild and does nothing to stop the loss of species worldwide. If you are a supporter of the St. Louis Zoo, you support an animal welfare organization that provides outstanding care for animals in the Zoo and devotes enormous amounts of time, energy, expertise and money to saving wild things in wild places.

By the way, unless you are a vegan, don't own a pet, wear only plastic shoes and are willing to forego insulin if you ever become diabetic, you either do not embrace the real animal rights philosophy or you are a hypocrite.

I, for one, hope that people never consider PETA an animal welfare organization. It most certainly is not.

Jeffrey P. Bonner is president and chief executive of the St. Louis Zoo.

Republished with the permission of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
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