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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Leave Dory Alone

The start of the summer usually marks the end of the zoo-and-aquarium visiting season for me.  Part of it is that I'm so busy at my own facility that I can't get away for very long.  Part of it is also that all of the other zoos and aquariums are usually so crowded that I'd rather wait until the fall.  Still, this last week I paid one last aquarium visit before the long slog of summer sets in and, despite the crowds, it was enjoyable enough.

Out of habit, both when working at my zoo and when visiting others, I tend to keep an ear half-cocked at all times to hear what visitors are saying.  Are they talking about the animals?  Are they learning anything?  Are they enjoying their visit?  What do they like?  What didn't they?  What are they talking about?

On this trip, the answer was easy.  Dory.  Everybody was talking about Dory, and every bluish fish was "Dory."  When visitors actually found the blue tangs themselves, the crowds, as they were, went wild.

This happens all of the time when an animal is portrayed in movies, especially movies geared towards kids.  Meerkats and warthogs rocketed to stardom following Disney's The Lion King.  For awhile, every sloth was "Sid", from Ice Age, only to eventually fade into the sloths from Zootopia.  And, of course, when Finding Dory's prequel, Finding Nemo, came out, everyone was all about clownfish.  Now that Marlin's memory-challenged side-kick Dory has a movie of her own, tangs are all the rage.

The difference between The Lion King and Finding Nemo, of course, is that relatively few moviegoers will then rush out and buy a meerkat.  Clownfish and tangs, however, are another story.

There's plenty of precedent.  When I was a kid, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were the coolest thing ever (this being before Michael Bay came along and ruined yet another childhood memory for me).  Lots of kids went out and got pet turtles.  Then, perhaps becoming frustrated because said turtles did not talk, do karate, or thrive on shared pieces of pizza, the kids ignored their shelled charges, many of which died in squalid conditions.  The same has happened with clownfish and tangs.

I have nothing against people owning clownfish... or tangs... or turtles (meerkats I may draw a line at).  What I am against is people making impulse buys that will support an unsustainable aquarium trade in wild-caught fish which will then die due to inadequate care.  I'm an exotic pet owner myself, and as much as zookeepers like to complain about them, the truth is that many of us are.  But I researched my pets carefully, got them from someone I know and trust, and invest in their care.  Which is important to me... because I also have several enclosures' worth of former exotic pets with owners who failed to care for them correctly.

So if you enjoy Finding Dory a lot, as many people seem to, and decide that you want to get a pet fish, good for you.  It may open a new hobby to you that leads to a lifetime of enjoyment.  But make sure that this is something that you will stick with, for the sake of the animals who will be in your care.  Start small, with species with simpler care requirements - certainly freshwater fish over saltwater, for beginners.  Get them from a reputable, sustainable source.  Be willing to provide appropriate housing, diet, and care.

If you can't keep it properly, don't keep it at all.  I'm sure Dory and her friends would be just as happy to be left alone.

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