Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A REAL Wild Animal Kingdom

Back in May my wife and I went the Wild Animal Kingdom near San Diego. I had never been there before and it was fun. I like to see animals. Looking back now I realized I hadn't blogged about the great idea I had. Robb's blog reminded me of it.

One of the things they pride themselves on in the Wild Animal Kingdom is helping to reintroduce species back into the wild. After hearing about this idea for the umpteenth-jillion time, my wife casually asked me, "I wonder how many of those animals died in the first year back out in the wild?" A great business opportunity struck.

In zoos, the animals are pampered. They get 3 square meals a day, plenty of water, toys to play with, doctors, dentists, and are completely free of the stresses of being eaten alive. Even the predators have it easy. We were rather disappointed when we hiked up the trail to see the tiger at feeding time. They had set out a large meaty bone on a stand, and some birds were picking at it. I imagined them opening the gate and the tiger coming roaring out to devour the bone (maybe taking a bird with it). No such luck, he meandered around and even though there was nothing else resembling tiger food anywhere in his pen he occupied himself with some plant that was no where near the food. Oh yeah, and he certainly looked like he could afford to lose a few pounds.

The Wild Animal Kingdom costs $35 to get in and then they have some tours to get up close to the animals (and feed them) for an additional $75. We didn't do those. The zoom on our camera got up close enough to count their nose hairs. So let me tell them how they could really make some money (if you are a PETA lover, stop reading NOW! Death and carnage follow.)

First, I like the set up, they have large pens that span dozens of acres and usually have multiple animals that would normally be together in them. So this is a good start. I would however expand this by about a factor of 10. There would be one large central pen (on the order of 1000-2000 acres). This would be the prey pen - so gazelles, zebras, elephants, giraffes, etc. Around this pen on slightly higher ground would be the predator pens. Predators usually don't live together so no need to combine them, although if they hunt in packs, then you would need to have a pack - not a single specimen. The key here is there are only chainlink fences (or some other suitable see through barrier) between the predators and prey. The predators have to be able to do reconnosance.

Next, all of the best plants and water source are nearer to the predator pens than the center. There should be enough food for the animals to survive, but not neccessarily enough to get fat. The key here is you want to raise the prey to be cautious while eating and also foster a healthy dose of competition for the food sources. The predators don't get any food.

Now the fun part comes. Predators don't eat everyday, some of them go for weeks between meals. So the real money maker is scheduling the release of the predators into the prey pen for a hunt. The prey pen needs to be big enough that there is a challenge for the predator (but also contained enough that visitors can see - maybe even put an observation tower right in the middle). So the prey is allowed to hunt, kill and eat whatever it likes. The key would be to have a constant supply of prey and keep the predators just hungry enough that they are motivated to catch something. Then you could always have a supply of scavengers in the prey pen that would do the clean up work.

The major environmental advantage is you would have both predator and prey more adapted to the "real" world than a typical zoo provides. It wouldn't be perfect, just better. So when they are released into the wild, they would have a fighting chance. From an economic standpoint, I would be willing to pay $75 or $100 to see a tiger take down a gazelle or a giraffe kick the snot out of a lion while protecting her baby. I might even be willing to pay $200 for that. The park could charge based on what hunt was going on and what time of day (i.e. if the lion hunt is in the afternoon, morning rates would be a base of $35, but after noon, the rate shoots up to $100). No readmittance allowed (that way the people that come in the morning are forced to stay in the park all day and spend money if they want to see the lion get something). The Wild Animal Kingdom could make a fortune!

Now some people will object to this, they don't want to see animals killed. But this is nature. And if the goal of your organization is to reintroduce animals back into the wild, don't you think we should give them the skills so that they have a fighting chance? Sad as it may be, the young, old, and infirm all die in disproportionately higher numbers. That is nature. That is being environmental.


  1. A great idea, tho as a Biologist I'll have to piss in your cornflakes a little. Sadly scale will be a HUGE problem with this. Overall in nature you have a massive land area that supports both predator and prey, and a HUGE stock of prey animals to breed, while predators keep fairly low numbers and reproduction rates.

    I don't think it would be very possible to keep a Gazelle or Zebra population large and healthy enugh to allow such a display to continue indefinetly. Essentially you'd either need some ultra-nourished brood-stock (think commertial farming) or constant import of new prey animals.

    Also the number of predator animals would have to be kept so artificially low that if a Hippo or a Giraffe were to critically injure a lion it would almost instantly collapse the ballence.

    Certainly a good idea tho. I had a pet turtle for about 18 years, and I'd feed him a live goldfish about once or twice a month. I'd let my friends know when the magic day was going to happen, and there would always be a full house of gawkers watching my turtle doing what predators do. I also blogged a while back about watching a Perigrine take a pidgion out of the sky. It was fucking awesome.

    Also whenever I find a large spider on my property I like to introduce an insect to the web just to watch the awesome specialization of nature.

    Probably one of the reasons why I'm a biologist.

  2. Yeah, I understand the predator/prey numbers game. But it would just be so cool to see. We had a kiddie pool that we would put goldfish in and then let our dogs loose. That was some fun to see. Our dogs we're scared to death of having a bath or getting into the water - until it was time to hunt the goldfish. A dozen usually lasted about 15 minutes.