Ham-fisted animal husbandry

Gwen Pearson, an entomologist formerly known as Bug Girl, has performed sort of a retrospective analysis of the Ark Park’s facilities for caring for its animals. You might have thought that the Ham-merheaded proprietors of the Ark Park would have performed a _pro_spective analysis but evidently you would have been mistaken. Cheer up! Here is Dr. Pearson’s advice to the Ham-itic designers:

[Providing captive animals with the wherewithal to stay healthy] takes specialized knowledge. If you have raptors or game birds, they can get bumblefoot just from the wrong kind of perches. Feeding an imbalanced diet, or just not noticing a raptor is off its food, can tip a bird into a metabolic crash. Ducks can get a fatal type of herpes that spreads rapidly, despite our best efforts.

Since the junk bond issue brought the Ark Encounter back into the news again, I thought it might be interesting to call the Ark folks up and ask some questions about their animal care. Mr. [Mike] Zovath [Senior Vice President of Answers in Genesis, the entity that has the illusion that it is building an Ark] was kind enough to chat with me on the phone this week.


I asked Mr. Zovath about the diagrams currently on the Ark Encounter website which show plans for bears, sloths, koalas, deer, monkeys, bats, owls, and “possom” [sic], among other animals. His response was that the diagrams were from the initial conception of the park in 2010, and that they are marked as “layout subject to change.”

Just for the record, Ark Encounter, not Dr. Pearson, misspelled “opossum.” Dr. Pearson continues,

Very specific, science-based guidelines on how to house captive animals exist. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), an international body of scientists and experts in animal care, has published their AZA Accreditation standards for 2014 (92 page PDF). AZA Accreditation is the gold standard for zoos; it’s not something all zoos can achieve. However, most reputable zoos do try to incorporate AZA Standards where and when they can. For many captive animal species there are very clear exhibit design guidelines about shelter, water, space, and behavioral enrichment.

As an example, let’s look at a skunk or a weasel, a likely small mammal candidate species for the Ark. [No Ham-sters?] The AZA Mustelid Handbook suggests 29 square meters (34.7 square yards) as a minimum exhibit size. Go back and look at that diagram above, or one of the ark schematics I’ve linked to. Nope.

Oh, well. Back to the drawing board!

Acknowledgment. Thanks to Gaythia Weis and Dan Phelps, both of whom referred me to this splendid article.