In a pop culture world currently dominated by compassionate rats and caring and sharing chimps, “Zoo grapples with animals harming offspring,” a recent article in the Toronto subway litter press, Metro News (December 12, 2011), talks about real issues in zoo animal behavior:
Take Aurora, the popular female polar bear at the Toronto zoo, for example. She killed two of her cubs in October, and had a third one taken away by zoo staff for hand-rearing to prevent a similar fate.
She did the same thing the year prior, killing two of her cubs at birth by partially eating them.
We don’t know whether these attacks are the result of living in wildlife enclosures, as opposed to living free range.
We have very detailed information for zoo offspring but we don’t have anything like that for free range offspring. It isn’t enough to say that wildlife biologists have not observed a given behavior if they have observed only 1% of all the animals of that type over a limited period of time. From the longer Toronto Star article,
Tatiana, a Siberian tiger, gave birth to two cubs in 2000. One was found dead, the other alive but missing a leg that had been bitten off by mom. The cub was euthanized.
Most zoos use the more presentable of these situations as a PR opportunity, as in “Schoolchildren visit orphaned tiger cubs.” They don’t usually acknowledge the general picture, for obvious reasons: