April 17, 2022

"Racism, dead penguins and retaliation: Why the Vilas Zoo lost its only Black zookeepers."

That's the headline for a Madison.com article about the zoo here in Madison. You might think racism is somehow killing penguins — those birds who might seem to embody the peaceful harmonization of black and white.

There were 2 black zookeepers, and each left to take a job at a zoo in another city. But their exit interviews contained some criticisms, including some things about the treatment of animals, most notably the decapitation death of a penguin. Who would decapitate a penguin?! A raccoon. Wild local raccoons take the liberty to come and go as they please, including slipping into the enclosures of captive animals. 

We're told that, according to an exit interview, the zoo's general curator, Beth Petersen "decided to stop trapping raccoons that got onto zoo property and instead put Epsom salts on the ground in an attempt to repel them." At least one raccoon was insufficiently repelled, got into the penguin exhibit, and bit the head off Alice, the "elderly African penguin."

Petersen then, it was said in the interview, switched back to trapping, but the trapped raccoons tried to dig out of the traps and ended up with torn up hands and had to be euthanized.  

Other African penguins died too: one from a fungus infection and others "from capture myopathy, an often fatal disease for animals in captivity caused by overexertion and handling." With too few penguins for "a successful penguin colony," the zoo used "stuffed animals and mirrors to make them think that they are in a larger colony." Again, that's the assertion in the exit interview. 

Moreover: "A capybara named Shrek jumped into a drained pool while it was sedated, breaking its legs.... A hornbill was introduced into a meerkat exhibit and was later found dead and partially eaten by the meerkats. A young seal named Lucille had a common intestinal issue, yet died within a week after Peterson declined to take the animal to the vet. Two green aracaris, a species of toucan, drowned after being introduced to an exhibit with an aquarium."

Perhaps this is a normal or even exemplary record for a zoo. I don't know. But where's the racism? The 2 black zookeepers both asserted that racism drove them away. One of them said she's "been the victim of many microaggressions" and has "witnessed racism." But neither interviewee specified the instances of purported racism. There's also this:

[O]ther documents show [complaints] to county officials... that [Joseph] Darcangelo, the zoo’s deputy director, was accused by other zoo staff of referring to a Chinese restaurant in February 2020 as “Ching-a-Ling’s” and said it served “Ching-Chong” food....

34 comments:

Lloyd W. Robertson said...

The Toronto Zoo used to have peacocks strutting around just inside the front entrance. Maybe they still do. One other great attraction: they had semi-wild birds that you could see close up, and then they would fly around. Many raptors or predators, a hawk, an owl (with one eye), a peregrine falcon. I think it was the falcon that at least once "took" one of the peacocks up front. The bird keeper was making the point that the peregrines will take prey quite a bit bigger than themselves. At any rate, it was quite a mess, and I'm sure the childen learned a valuable lesson that day. Sure, you may be the one with gorgeous plumage, and may be strutting around today looking fine, I mean really fine, but ....

The Drill SGT said...

Another example of self inflicted racial strife?

You can bet that a government activity in Madison has an aggressive DEI program, with lots of mandatory training in recognizing racism and microaggressions.

If there are not enough microaggressions, more will be found as the staff is sensitized to all kind of hurts. Which can only be mitigated by more DEI training

rcocean said...

IOW, the head zookeeper is an incompetent. And killing animals based on the usual liberal stupidity of refusing to control things like Raccoons.

JaimeRoberto said...

It's racism because African penguins died.

Ice Nine said...

>>...said it served “Ching-Chong” food.<<

Oh no!
What a wonderful world it would be if someone's calling Chinese food “Ching-Chong” food were as bad as "racism" got.

Yancey Ward said...

Just think about how intense the competition is between American zoos to acquire, keep, and display black zookeepers.

Hey Skipper said...

@Drill Sgt: You can bet that a government activity in Madison has an aggressive DEI program, with lots of mandatory training in recognizing racism and microaggressions.

Just because they call it DEI doesn't mean you have to.

In my humble opinion, DIE just has a ring to it.

The Drill SGT said...

my favorite Chinese (Sechuan) dish is Chong Qing Chicken.

sort of crispy popcorn chicken with a chili sechuan pepper sauce

ga6 said...

Is there an African slave trade in penguins?

n.n said...

Diversity, Inequity, and Exclusion. A pride parade would keep the predators at bay.

Skeptical Voter said...

I'm surprised that no one claimed that the penguin decapitating raccoon was a Republican who had voted for Trump! Well enough with the sarcasm.

A couple of years back the Los Angeles Zoo had a visitor--a mountain lion who lives in the hills above Griffith Park. The lion managed to kill and partially eat a Koala.

Now the cry of the animal lovers in Southern California--faced with a sort of mini epidemic of coyotes attacking and eating cats and smaller dogs is that "the coyotes were here first". The same cry goes up when mountain lions kill German Shepherd size dogs. Three such attacks have occurred within 2 miles of my house (I live just at the brushline of the Verdugo Hills--about 3 miles as the crow flies from the Los Angeles Zoo).

Well it's for danged sure that the Koala arrived in Los Angeles after mountain lions were here. So there is that. Look--these things happen out in the wild every day--and they also happen in and around city zoos.

TomHynes said...

At least in California, it is illegal to trap raccoons then move them and release them. Either open the trap or kill on site. (I am double licensed in California as an attorney and trapper. Passed bar first time, trapping test on my second attempt)

tim maguire said...

bit the head off Alice, the "elderly African penguin."

You know that wouldn’t have happened with a white penguin.

Balfegor said...

my favorite Chinese (Sechuan) dish is Chong Qing Chicken.

It would be amusing if the people complaining were so ignorant that when they heard Chongqing / Chongjing (after the city) they mentally converted it to "Ching-chong" and got offended.

Probably not the case here, but given that there are apparently people genuinely offended by terms like "black hole," it's within the realm of possibility.

Bob Boyd said...

I believe racoons are still good at heart.

tim maguire said...

TomHynes said...At least in California, it is illegal to trap raccoons then move them and release them. Either open the trap or kill on site.

Same where I live. It’s illegal the viciously trap the raccoons and brutally release them in the wild. Predictably, the infestation got so bad that the city redesigned the trash cans so that they would humanely starve to death. It worked, but it turns out the raccoons were keeping the squirrel population in check so that they have taken over and are much more destructive.

Amadeus 48 said...

We live in a truly demented time.

Someone, somewhere, is thinking warm thoughts about these two black, suffering gripers who are "speaking truth to power".

Dagwood said...

And here I was thinking that the eastern Asians had had their protective status revoked.

LA_Bob said...

Yancey Ward said, "Just think about how intense the competition is between American zoos to acquire, keep, and display black zookeepers."

Excellent!

And they're free-range, too!

Rabel said...

"Half of all animals in zoos die before reaching their median life expectancy, according to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums..."

That's horrible. Something must be done.

Narayanan said...

Passed bar first time, trapping test on my second attempt
========
trapped any lawyers yet er.. raccoons

walter said...

Dunno about racism. But it does seem like a poorly run zoo.
Toucans drowning? WTH?
"A young seal named Lucille"
I see what they did there...

Amadeus 48 said...

To Madison.com

Dear persons of whatever gender seems best to you,

I object to the references to raccoons in a story that purports to be about racism, dead penguins, and retaliation. Talk about microaggressions! You might as well called them Trash Pandas and dragged anti-Asian sentiment into it as well.

The accused animal assassins of the elderly African penguin should be entitled to the dignity of "alleged". As to the connotations and codings implicit in in extended discussion of the possible behaviors of Procyon lotor, well, the thing speaks for itself.

Madison.com must do better!

Sincerely, A Concerned But Virtuous Citizen

mikee said...

1. Just because the HR person in the exit interview did not document any microaggressions and racial harassment, beyond noting the employee's statement that it occurred, does NOT mean the employee did not provide those examples to HR in the exit interview.

2. Employee suggestions, their knowledge and complaints seem to have been ignored by supervisors and management, leading to the incidents of animal loss and harm. If the managers listened to other non-Black employees who said, "Don't put a gazelle in the lion exhibit, it'll get eaten," but ignored the Black employees who said, "Don't put the bird in with the meerkats, it'll get eaten," that is a racist response to employees. And stupid management. Same for the seal, and the raccoons, and the capybara, etc..

Employees leave because of (1) lack of sufficient pay, or (2) toxic management/coworkers.
I think the employees were right to find work somewhere else, where they won't have to put up with bad management.

gspencer said...

Who would decapitate a penguin?

A Muslim.

Joe Smith said...

Where's the lawsuit?

In Madison, there must be a heap of free money ready to scoop up by any minority, even one with a totally bullshit story.

Just think of the jury pool...all those white, middle-age, guilty liberals (the ones with 'This House Believes' signs in their front yards) yearning desperately to 'help' a poor, downtrodden PoC...

Don't be shy PoCs...feed at that liberal money trough...grab that cash with both hands!

exhelodrvr1 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
exhelodrvr1 said...

Penguin Lives Matter!

robother said...

"...bit the head off Alice, an African penguin..."

That gave me pause, just as I was preparing to bite the head off my chocolate Easter bunny.

Mary Beth said...

I think it was the falcon that at least once "took" one of the peacocks up front

That is unfortunate. Usually the worst the peacocks have to worry about is being chased by the children of moronic parents.

n.n said...

Penguin Lives Matter!

Black Lives Matter! White Lives Matter!

There's the source of progressive confusion: penguins are bitonal.

Howard said...

With no actual first hand knowledge of what actually happened, I conclude that the world is going to hell in a hand basket. Is that worst than going to hell in a bucket? Asking for a girl in Nantucket.

The Vault Dweller said...

The title of the article makes seem like the writer considered the Black zookeepers as almost an exhibit themselves. There is no reason given why it was extra bad for the zoo to lose its two Black zookeepers. But it was implied that it was really bad. Absent a reason given it is assumed the reason the writer thinks it is bad is merely because they are black.

Lars Porsena said...

And those two positions vacated by those black employees will forever be known as the Black Zookeeper Positions. To be filled only by black people, forever, and ever, amen.