The news that the commune of Ixelles had issued a ban on school trips to the zoo has caused an uproar in public complaints, not least from one of the zoos in question.
Meanwhile Ixelles mayor Christos Doulkeridis spent the day yesterday explaining his council’s decision.
The decision by Ixelles was taken last September, but only revealed by the Sudpresse papers yesterday. In a joint statement with his councillor for public education, Romaine De Reusme, Doulkeridis said, “This decision was taken in September and was not the subject of a communication by the commune as we did not wish to organise any sort of war against certain recreational animal establishments,” the statement reads.
The decision was the result of a broader discussion on the type of activities the commune planned for its pupils in relation to its educational mission. As far as activities concerning animals and nature, the statement said, the commune favoured educational farms, the honey museum and various parks, but “not wild animals in detention”. The decision was not a ban as such, but a choice made in the limited context of the organisation of school outings.
Among the commentators on news articles online, opinions were divided. “How many children became enamoured of animals during a visit to the zoo?” asked one, who described the decision as “very questionable”. Another pointed to the work done by zoos and animal parks for breeding and returning animals to the wild.
But there were also those who support the decision by Ixelles. “Fantastic decision,” wrote one. “Displaying animals locked up is not education. We don’t teach liberty by showing cages.” Another said, “There are enough magnificent documentaries allowing us to admire wild animals at liberty in their natural surroundings. What can we learn from zoos, apart from the fact that animals are being imprisoned?”
Among those directly concerned by the measure, the management of Pairi Daiza responded in public, as did the Antwerp Zoo. “This is a disturbing decision,” commented Claire Gilissen, spokesperson for the park. There is enough literature to explain on the one hand that many animals in the wild are under threat, and that speaking of the well-being of animals in the wild was in itself a misunderstanding. “And on the other hand, [the decision] ignores the extremely important role played by animal parks in making the public aware of the need for preservation of nature, as well as the concrete actions animal parks can take to protect and conserve species.”
Ilse Segers, spokesperson for the Zoo of Antwerp and the Planckendael animal park near Mechelen, commented: “Every year we received 140,000 children on school visits.” And she expressed surprise that the two establishments were being attacked, while Flanders region has “the strictest animal welfare legislation in Europe”.