Vic Hariton is “the Zoo Guy”. He has worked at the New York City Zoo and most recently at the Austin City Zoo. He shares his reflections. He primarily worked with big cats, and will share stories of some “wild” experiences.
Vic has a heart for animals and developing relationships with them to the point where if you leave and come back years later, they still remember. The bonds he developed are just incredible. Vic brought a Coati with him (pictured), which is in the raccoon family. His wife says he is the only one that Vic has a “magical” ability with most of the animals he works with, as in this Coati. He is able to get near the animals and have relationships with them.
Zoos have a really hard time balancing what is good for the animals, and what is good for the audience.
There’s a database that many zoos subscribe to where information on all the animals (including illnesses) is entered to help zoos address concerns that crop up faster and easier. Registrars at each zoo are the keepers of this information.
Caretakers of animals are so attached they will risk their lives to save the animals in their care.
Vic’s philosophy is that because zoo animals are not going to the wild, they need to be comfortable with humans who are taking care of them. So he develops trust through contact and love in order to help them, and the other humans they will encounter, to overcome the barriers.
Vic addressed the question of why so many animals are in captivity and do they really need to be there? His answer was that it not only helps humans to become advocates for animals, but you cannot allow most animals raised in captivity to return to the wild as they will not survive. Plus, with many animals, their “natural” environment is very dangerous (i.e. poachers, declining habitat).