Michael Jackson had a private zoo with elephants, lions, tigers, orangutans, and more. Michael Vick bankrolled and organized a dog fighting ring. But you don’t have to be named “Michael” to have an exploitative relationship with animals. Going back thousands of years, humans have exhibited a sordid history of abusing animals (and by extension, nature and the environment) often just for the purpose of showing off. The types and depths of exploitation have changed over time, and now we’re at a crossroads where we need to learn how to be part of the ecosystem, rather than trying to dominate it. Join Asher, Rob, and Jason as they sort through some terrible human behavior, suggest encouraging ways to change our views and habits regarding our fellow Earthlings, and try to figure out what the hell “estimativa” is (hint: it’s not a new wonder drug or a strain of cannabis). Warning: animal cruelty is discussed at length. For episode notes and more information, please visit our website

Transcript

Rob Dietz  

I’m Rob Dietz.

Jason Bradford  

I’m Jason Bradford.

Asher Miller  

And I’m Asher Miller. Welcome to Crazy Town where Joe Exotic is the leading candidate for mayor. Go Joe.

Melody Travers  

This is producer Melody Travers. In this season of Crazy Town, Jason, Asher, and Rob are exploring the watershed moments in history that have led humanity into the cascading crises we face in the 21st century. Today’s episode is about the domination of animals, the way people regard themselves as being above nature, and how we can change the story from control to coexistence. The watershed moment took place 6,000 years ago. At the time, the estimated carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere was 263 parts per million, and the global human population was 17 and a half million.

Rob Dietz  

Hey Jason, Asher, I want you to hold that watershed date in mind for a few minutes because I’ve got a little preamble here for you — a little prelude, an intro story. 

Jason Bradford  

Alright. 

Rob Dietz  

Okay. So you know that I love animals. I love seeing them in the wild. And I’ll even every once in a while break down and go observe them in a zoo. 

Jason Bradford  

Sure. Yeah. 

Rob Dietz  

And I used to live in DC. And it’s really cool, hey got the Smithsonian Institution and the zoo is free there. Yeah. So every once in a while, I’d be biking home from work. And I actually would pass the zoo, and I’d be like, “Ah, I’m gonna stop in and see some animals.” 

Jason Bradford  

Yeah, I could do that in St. Louis, too. 

Rob Dietz  

It was free there?

Jason Bradford  

Yeah, it was free there, too.

Rob Dietz  

So this one day, I locked up my bike, I go into the zoo, and I see there’s a little crowd gathered around this exhibit. And I’m like, “Oh, I wonder what’s over there.” So I wander over and I’m at the back of the crowd, but I’m kind of up on this little sloping hill and so I can see into this exhibit. And it’s not one of these good modern ones with habitat. It’s seriously like concrete walls with a little cage that you could see through. 

Jason Bradford  

Easy to clean that way. 

Rob Dietz  

I guess. And the animal that’s in there – I have a direct view to it. It’s a pygmy hippopotamus. 

Jason Bradford  

Fantastic. 

Rob Dietz  

Beautiful little. . . . I mean, it’s just what it sounds like. It’s a miniature hippo. I mean, it weighs a lot more but it’s sort of the size of a big dog. Okay? So all these people are like crowded right around the gate looking at this pygmy hippo and I’m behind them thinking, “Wow, I wonder what that hippo is feeling.” And then it decided to tell us. It backed up away from the people into one of these concrete walls so it’s just like backing away and it’s but then hits this wall. Then what I could only describe as a disgusting brown waterfall of diarrhea poo just starts pouring out of this animal’s butt

Asher Miller  

Every story from Rob involves. . . 

Jason Bradford  

You got to expect the unexpected.

Rob Dietz  

It follows me. Well, and so that was bad enough, but then it turns out that this hippo tail, it can flap it faster than a metal drummer can hit a drum. It starts paddling its tail against this wall in this waterfall of poo just sprays out over the crowd. 

Asher Miller  

That’s awesome. 

Rob Dietz  

And I’m just out of range, thankfully, and I’m just laughing. And all these people are just like, “Oh god!” And they just start running and making a mess. I couldn’t tell you for sure, but I think that the hippo then had this self-satisfied smile on its face.

Jason Bradford  

Well, I can tell you that that is the territorial behavior of hippos. That’s how they mark their territory. 

Rob Dietz  

Well, there you go. 

Jason Bradford  

So it had claimed that zoo yard

Rob Dietz  

And the reason why this is a good preamble for this is that the zoo is often a shit show.

Jason Bradford  

Yes, yes. Well, that brings us then to the watershed moment, right? We’re talking long before Pharaohs came into power. 4000 BCE. The city of Nekhen. I hope I said that right. Are the ancient Egyptians going to be upset? 

Asher Miller  

I think they’re not around to be upset. 

Jason Bradford  

Okay, okay. 

Rob Dietz  

Well try the Greek translation. 

Jason Bradford  

Also known as Hier-a-kon-polis.

Asher Miller  

Hierakonpolis.

Jason Bradford  

Thank you.

Rob Dietz  

I think it’s just Hierakonpolis.

Jason Bradford  

Oh wait, I… here’s an English version of this – City of the Falcon.

Rob Dietz  

Oh, I think you got that one right. 

Jason Bradford  

I like that one. 

Rob Dietz  

Or is it “fall-con”?

Jason Bradford  

Well, it was one of the most thriving cities in predynastic Egypt. South of Luxor, great name, and located along the Nile River. Well, archaeologists, they discovered something quite fascinating. There were elite members of society. So not Pharaoh elite, but you know pretty good. Kardashians or whatever

Rob Dietz  

Okay.

Asher Miller  

The Kardashian scale

Jason Bradford  

Yeah, the Kardashian scale. They found among the these dead elites bones of baboon, elephant covered in, get this, cosmetics and ivory bracelets and amethyst beads.

Asher Miller  

They put makeup on the elephants?

Jason Bradford  

Makeup elephants, oh yes. 

Asher Miller  

Oh wow. Are you sure this wasn’t one of these person’s wives?  . . . I stumped him. 

Rob Dietz  

He doesn’t know about the culture. He can’t even pronounce the name of the city. As if he has insights into what was going on there.

Jason Bradford  

Yeah, I just had a frozen moment there. Anyway, the idea . . . that he had leopards and crocodiles and aurochs and hippos.

Rob Dietz  

Yeah. See, maybe the hippo needed to mark its territory a little better. 

Jason Bradford  

Yeah. All kinds of stuff. So this site has now become recognized as the oldest zoo. The oldest zoo.

Rob Dietz  

The beginnings of the zoo.

Jason Bradford  

Yes. So it’s likely it wasn’t exactly like current zoos, you know, where it’s this institution with all these barriers They probably had these animals tied up, you know, in some way, and penned.

Rob Dietz  

I love what these archaeologists do. They’re like, “Oh, the baboon had a broken hand.” And then they described like a Forensic Files type scene in which they know exactly what happened to this animal is as if they’ve got that much insight.

Jason Bradford  

A lot of inference about how the animals were kept based upon, you know, wearing and tearing of limbs. But anyhow, it’s considered then this place where people kept these kind of wild animals close to these elites.

Asher Miller  

And we’re talking about 1000 years before the pharaohs basically?

Jason Bradford  

Yeah, okay. It’s a long time ago.

Rob Dietz  

Okay. But before we continue down this path, I have to issue a warning that maybe I should have done at the top of the episode. But we don’t tend to warn our listeners about our filthy language, or our doom and gloom, attitudes.

Asher Miller  

Or your constant reference to bowel movements.

Rob Dietz  

Yeah. Poop jokes are all over the place. But I do want to issue a warning early in this episode that we’re going to talk about some pretty hard to take treatment of animals. And even though you know, we’re still going to try to keep our light hearted nature here there’s some pretty gnarly stuff.

Jason Bradford  

Yeah, people can be pretty shitty themselves. Sometimes it’s kind of hard, you know, to think about what we’ve done to others.

Rob Dietz  

So anyway. So back to ancient times, and our mistreatment of animals.

Asher Miller  

So you’re saying that . . . Is there actual evidence that these animals were somehow abused? Is that what you’re saying? 

Jason Bradford  

Yeah, yeah. There’s definitely suggestions that based upon broken bones and lesions, whatever, you know, that they may have been tied up or whatever. Or beaten.

Rob Dietz  

I think finding a cosmetically adjusted elephant suggests abuse right there, too.

Jason Bradford  

That’s like people dressing up their chihuahua, right? Okay. You know, they do it out of love. And so, I think . . . Okay, anyways, don’t make too many assumptions.

Rob Dietz  

Right. 

Asher Miller  

Well, I mean . . . I think, you know, so you’re talking about 4000 BCE, quite a long time ago. We’ve seen evidence from societies across the world, across the globe, that similar types of things were happening. It wasn’t just in what is now thought of as ancient Egypt, but all over Mesopotamia, in what is now China, and Persia, and even Mesoamerica, right? 

Jason Bradford  

Yeah. 

Asher Miller  

There’s evidence of, of animals being kept as displays of wealth and status and imperial ambition. All kinds of animals in different places, you know. So it seems like it’s quite a commonplace phenomenon.

Jason Bradford  

I think it creates a sense of awe. Think about it. You’re an emperor on a throne and  one of your subjects comes in, maybe it’s a Lord you Emperor over, and they don’t have a frickin’ elephant sitting next to them. You know, or a giant panda. You’re feeding little bamboo scraps. It must be pretty awe-inspiring.

Rob Dietz  

It even happened a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away when Jabba the Hutt had that rancor monster in his palace.

Jason Bradford  

There you go. It’s throughout the galaxy this issue. This is a galactic issue.

Asher Miller  

And it stretched all the way up to you know Michael Jackson’s “Neverland Ranch,” right? He had his own little zoo there. 

Yeah. 

Asher Miller  

I think I heard a story about some teenager in Dubai whose family is uber wealthy and he’s got his own little zoo. Actually, I shouldn’t call it a little zoo. It’s a big fuckin zoo for this. 

Rob Dietz  

Oh, BFZ.

Asher Miller  

Yeah. You know, you know. You’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a million times.

Jason Bradford  

And our favorite drug kingpin Pablo Escobar, you know, he was into this. 

Asher Miller  

Right, hippos baby, hippos.

Rob Dietz  

Yeah. I want to talk about one of the first sort of modern zoos which popped up in Vienna. The Tiergarten Schönbrunn.

Asher Miller  

Tiergarten Schönbrunn.

Jason Bradford  

 Okay, you’re good. You’re as good as I am.

Rob Dietz  

So this is in the the late 18th century You had this guy, of course royalty, Franz Stephan I. He was the son of this Emperor Franz I. So the emperor of course had one of these menageries. He had like the rancor monster under his throne.

Asher Miller  

You can’t be an emperor without one. 

Rob Dietz  

Yeah, you must display your power. But apparently he didn’t have a lot of carnivores. Why? Because he did not like the smell of them. 

Jason Bradford  

Oh, interesting. 

Asher Miller  

Carnivores? 

Rob Dietz  

Yeah, I guess, you know, maybe those cat have a musk? I don’t know. I do not sadly have a collection of carnivores. So I don’t know what the smell is. I do know the smell of pygmy hippo waterfall and that’s not good. But I digress. So this son, after I guess Papa left the earth. Son decides, well, we got all these animals and I could add to this. I could bring in some of those carnivores because the smell doesn’t bother me. And he basically takes that collection and then his son works on it. And basically they make this public display. So you got the the first zoo running there in the 1800s.

Jason Bradford  

So this is a transition to keeping animals in these sort of private zoos to suddenly like, oh no, we’re gonna let the public in.

Rob Dietz  

Yeah, I’m gonna let people see them. And, you know, of course, that’s utterly expanded over the ages and in modern times. You’ve got well over. . . Gosh, I don’t have the number in front of me. Well over 200 accredited zoos and aquariums in the in North America. And that’s just accredited ones. 

Jason Bradford  

Now the accreditation, that sounds kind of nice. Like there’s some standards being set for treatment? There’s professionalism? But we also kind of have the dark side of this with — I don’t know anyone ever watched what’s it called, “Tiger King?”

Rob Dietz  

Never heard of that. Yeah, yeah. Talk about in the cultural moment. Like Zeitgeist.

Jason Bradford  

Yeah. Ah, oh, gosh, fantastic. But there are other situations I’ve been in where it’s sort of like — I was walking through Louisiana State University one time. This was in the mid ’90s. And they had this tiger, because it’s the LSU Tigers, just in this concrete cage. And they would walk it out for football games. So even beyond zoos or like these private animal parks there are these displays that we have as a culture.

Rob Dietz  

Yeah, I saw the same thing. Like I said, I used to live in DC and the royalty there, of course, are the politicians. And this friend of mine was working on one of the committees on Capitol Hill, and got invited to this New Year’s party and he invited me. It was such a weird scene. It was actually at the Hilton, the hotel where Reagan got shot. This was years after that. 

Asher Miller  

I was going to say, maybe there’s somebody who’s just hunting animals, and Reagan got shot.

Rob Dietz  

Yeah. Well, so I go in this big, you know, crummy hotel ballroom with all these politicians and all their staff. And everybody’s just getting totally drunk. It’s New Year’s Eve. And on display is this huge glass case with a little bit of water in it and one of those albino alligators.

Jason Bradford  

They brought it there?

Rob Dietz  

Yeah. 

Jason Bradford  

Did they like take it from the Smithsonian? 

Asher Miller  

For what purpose?

Rob Dietz  

To show status and power probably. Maybe throw somebody in if they get out of line?

Asher Miller  

Maybe that’s the swamp that Trump was talking about draining? 

Jason Bradford  

Oh, that is funny. 

Rob Dietz  

It is bizarre how many of these kind of like, let’s just have some crazy abuse of animals,” for what? I gotta say, you bring up the name Michael Vick and obviously you go to the dogfighting scandal that he was a part of and — 

Jason Bradford  

He was an American football player by the way.

Rob Dietz  

He was my guy. So I went to school with Michael Vick. 

Jason Bradford  

You did? 

Rob Dietz  

I was a grad student at Virginia Tech. 

Jason Bradford  

Did you play catch with him? 

Rob Dietz  

I wish. I was a grad student at Virginia Tech when he was a freshman on the on the football team and became this national phenomenon. Probably the best running quarterback in history. He was super elusive. He was like Barry Sanders, but could throw the ball 60 or 70 yards. So anyway, he ends up having this professional career, gets drafted by the team I grew up watching. The Atlanta Falcons. And I was like, “Oh, I got this connection with this sports star.” 

Jason Bradford  

Yeah. 

Rob Dietz  

And then his career gets derailed because it turns out he’s bankrolling and participating in a dogfighting ring. 

Jason Bradford  

Didn’t see that one coming? 

Rob Dietz  

No, no. 

Jason Bradford  

Oopsy daisy.

Rob Dietz  

So yeah, it goes on and on.

Asher Miller  

You know, we’re talking about status. And in the transition, maybe from private zoos  to public zoos there’s a status thing for cities, too, right? I mean, there’s something about a city being able to say that we have this destination, this tourist destination. Or some kind of important gem in our community is to have a zoo, right. I mean, San Diego is known, it’s famous world over, for its zoo. And kinda like if you’re a major city, and you don’t have a zoo you’re like a piece of shit or something, right?

Rob Dietz  

Yeah, yeah. It’s amazing how you just — like I’ve never been to the San Diego Zoo, but I just know of its fame. And I swear, if I were starting a new city, and I needed to make it prestigious, that’s one of the first things I’m doing.

Jason Bradford  

It’s on the checklist with the football stadium.

Rob Dietz  

 Give me a world class zoo with lots of exotic animals. 

Jason Bradford  

Oh yeah, St. Louis is proud of its zoo, as well. So I totally get it? 

Rob Dietz  

Well, while we’re on the subject of the dark side of this kind of capturing and display of animals I want to take you two on a little tour with one particular species. It’s the  beloved elephant. So, I mean, I think every, almost everybody loves elephants. I mean, they look like no other animal, except maybe a mammoth, but those aren’t around anymore. They are one of the most intelligent mammals on the planet. 

Jason Bradford  

Yeah, super intelligent, long lived. 

Rob Dietz  

And they can get in these relationships with people pretty well. And so they became very popular and starting back in the 1800s in the United States. Thye became popular as display animals and circus animals. Yeah, but there’s this horrible history of mistreatment, and there’s an article, and we’re gonna get more into this, by Jill Lapore in The Atlantic. And she kind of went through some of this history. So I’m just gonna share that with you guys. So PT Barnum. Everyone knows him as the great circus ringleader? Well, he executed a couple of elephants in the 1880s. 

Asher Miller  

Executed?  

Rob Dietz  

Yeah. And one – 

Asher Miller  

He executed them?

Asher Miller  

Yeah, one was by firing squad in front of 2000 spectators. 

Jason Bradford  

Yeah, so it’s not just like a lethal dose to make them go to sleep quietly because they’re old or injured or something. It’s more like let’s make a spectacle out of this..

Asher Miller  

Was there like a trial of the thing? 

Rob Dietz  

Well think about Barnum the showman. He’s not gonna miss this opportunity to put on another show.

Asher Miller  

So you’re saying that families, parents took their little kiddos — They went up and they got a ticket? Like, “We’re here to get tickets for the elephant massacre.”

Rob Dietz  

Right. I don’t know. Maybe so.

Asher Miller  

“Get up front Johnny so you can see the blood splatter?”

Rob Dietz  

Yeah. “Hey, little Beth, your birthday is coming up. You want to see an elephant face get blown off?”

Asher Miller  

A beautiful majestic creature get shot?

Jason Bradford  

Oh god. 

Rob Dietz  

Well, okay, it gets worse, so. . . 

Jason Bradford  

Thank you. 

Rob Dietz  

So there was a an elephant named Tip that was on display in Central Park, and was actually tried and convicted for murder. I can only assume that was in sort of a sham. 

Rob Dietz  

Of our peers? 

Rob Dietz  

Right. And then publicly poisoned. Okay, here’s another one named Topsy. This was the first baby elephant that was ever held in captivity in the United States. And the elephant had actually killed three men in three years and then was sold to a park in Coney Island where she was executed in 1903. And they really made sure on this one. They tied a noose around her neck, and then they attached electrodes to her feet, and then they fed her a bunch of cyanide laced carrots, and then hit the switch on the electrodes and electrocuted the animal.

Asher Miller  

I’m sorry, what the fuck is going on?

Rob Dietz  

I don’t know. I do know that the Edison manufacturing company was behind the electrocution and made a film out of it. 

Jason Bradford  

Jesus. 

Rob Dietz  

You know, because . . . 

Jason Bradford  

It’s an elephant snuff film?

Rob Dietz  

Yeah. 

Jason Bradford  

For godsakes. 

Rob Dietz  

I know the film is available. I’m not going to put it in our links because this is not something I care to see or have people go watch.

Asher Miller  

Just the whole idea of saying, “You know what, maybe this elephant is too dangerous to have in captivity,” right? Go from that to all of a sudden, we’re gonna publicly execute this thing. And we’re going to do in all of these horrific, horrific ways. 

Rob Dietz  

Okay, I’m going to give you the last one here. I think you can tell these are getting a little worse each time. So Mary was an elephant with the Sparks World Famous shows, which was a traveling circus. And they went to Kingsport, Tennessee, which is really weird, that’s a town that I lived in for like a year or two when I was like four years old. So I guess my stomping ground. But a trainer was riding on top of Mary and sort of leading people in a parade down to where the circus was going to be held. And at some point, he hits her in the head with a stick. I don’t know what the reason was, but Mary did not like that. And she grabbed him with her trunk around his waist, pulled him in front of her, smashed through him with her tusk, and trampled this guy. Which, it actually I don’t know if you guys have ever seen that documentary “Blackfish” about orcas and how you keep them in captivity, they can go insane basically. I think we’re looking at that on some level, you know.

Asher Miller  

Well captivity and then cruel treatment.

Rob Dietz  

Right, right. But of course, the publicist of this wonderful circus decided to stage a public execution. And the railroad company in Kingsport was generous enough to donate a derrick from which they they hanged this elephant with. Of course, the spectators coming out to see it. 

Asher Miller  

So, the lengths you have to go to hang an elephant. . . Which weighs, God knows how much. 

Jason Bradford  

It’s just pulleys. 

Asher Miller  

What is it? Do they think it was like a lynching or something?

Rob Dietz  

Railroad companies have plenty of engineers? 

Jason Bradford  

Yeah, they can figure it out. 

Asher Miller  

They thought this was just a great challenge. Ooh I’ve never had to do this before. That’s great. I could put it on my resume. Jesus Christ.

Rob Dietz  

Yeah. No, it was obviously rough. There was something going on there with horrible treatment of elephants.

Asher Miller  

Okay, so can I, lest we just go down this road of the darkest shit, which may be our tendency – Just step back for a second because it’s sort of easy to look at what we presented and say, “God, you know, for the last 6000 plus years, we’ve been capturing wild animals, and keeping them, and putting makeup on them, and breaking their limbs, and then displaying them for things, and hanging the,  and doing all this awful, awful shit. Which is all true. And there are probably many, many horrific stories that we don’t even know about. But I guess I don’t want to paint zoos with this broad brush of,  this is just pure evil or something. Right? I think it’s worth talking about.

Rob Dietz  

Are you suggesting there might be nuance to a topic that we’ve raised?

Asher Miller  

Maybe? Well, and think about, you know, there are people, I’m sure we’ve all encountered people who are zoologists, people who work at zoos.

Jason Bradford  

Yeah. They love animals. 

Asher Miller  

They love animals, right? And they do it out of just incredible passion and love for the animals that they’re caring for.

Jason Bradford  

Yeah. My grandmother was a docent at a zoo. And I remember as a little boy, she would take me there and take me backstage a little bit. So yeah, I mean, I was just enthralled with animals. I didn’t see cruelty at all. 

Asher Miller  

So I think we should talk a little bit about, certainly in the modern context, like what are   some of the positive reasons or motivations behind zoos? What some of the good that maybe they offer to the world? And I guess the first place I would start is just simple education. Right? I mean, we’ve got kids growing up in urban environments, industrialized countries. Let’s just talk about here in the United States, you know, who aren’t exposed to nature on any level. And being able to encounter – And obviously people, there’s something about megafauna that clearly resonates deeply in humans. I don’t know if it sends us back to the savanna or something. But there’s something that you could take a kid from anywhere and put them in front of a giraffe, or an elephant, or a tiger, or a lion, and there’s this incredible reaction to looking at the majesty of these animals. And I think the people who offer that want to offer those experiences to young people. I would venture to say in many cases, they want to instill a love of nature and wild animals.

Rob Dietz  

Yeah, yeah, no. It definitely happened. When my daughter was really young I took her to the Portland Zoo. And the education was great. They had in front of – When you got to somewhere around where the the big cats were on display, they had this scale that you would step on and get your weight. And then it would tell you which carnivore would likely eat you. So, she was gonna get eaten by a cheetah, I was gonna get eaten by some lions. It was great. Yeah, really educational. But no, she loved it. Like you could see it, right. You could just stay there and stare. Like they had fruit bats, and you’re just watching them and the behavior and just taking it all in. I do think that’s amazing. But I’ve also seen some other really cool things. Back to the Smithsonian for a bit, I was part of a program and they did a couple things there. They grew food for the zoo. You know, you were talking about getting hay earlier today.

Rob Dietz  

Like, they bring in a lot of vegetation to feed the animals. But they also had an endangered species propagation program there. So you could see, they were trying to figure out the genetics and trying to build up populations of maned wolf and red pandas. And I think now they have cheetahs there at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. It’s a definite conservation mission. I also have run into some people in other parts of my career. There was one guy who has become a friend of mine named Carl Traeholt who works for the Copenhagen Zoo, but he lives in Malaysia and they do all kinds of amazing biodiversity conservation work. And you know, he’s like the program director for Southeast Asia conservation, and that’s funded entirely by this European Zoo.

Jason Bradford  

Yeah.

Jason Bradford  

Yeah. In St. Louis, they had an affiliation of the zoo with the university and early sort of population genetics where you could test these animals. And there’s all these accredited zoos that would start flying sperm around. Like, you should have your cheetah breed with our cheetah sort of thing.

Rob Dietz  

Okay, Jason. That’s as much as you get to talk about flying sperm.

Jason Bradford  

Well you get to talk about flying poop. Gosh, you guys. . . 

Rob Dietz  

I know. I’m a hypocrite.

Asher Miller  

Hey, I was just thinking about – I don’t know what your guys’s experiences have been,  but for me, I remember when going to zoo – I was born in in Rotterdam in the Netherlands. And I would go back summers to visit my family there. And there’s a zoo in Rotterdam. And my grandparents who didn’t speak very much English would take me there a lot as a kid. And I just really wonderful memories of being there. I also had a traumatic event where there was a big bird – I don’t know what kind of bird it was – escaped, and it was taller than me. It was like a movie. I was walking down one of these paths, and it came up to me, must have seen a bug in my hair, and went pecking my head. 

Rob Dietz  

It’s probably just a peacock. 

Jason Bradford  

Yeah, you’re a little kid, right . . 

Asher Miller  

Who knows? I don’t know. I was like three or something. You know, it drew blood. It was a dodo, guys.

Rob Dietz  

There were like 37 cassowaries running wild. 

Asher Miller  

Chasing after me. They’re just going out right after me. 

Rob Dietz  

Yeah, no. I remember it too. We took a school trip to the Atlanta Zoo. And I remember  the lowland gorilla. Its name was Willie B. I totally remember that. It was named after I think the mayor of Atlanta, William Hartsfield, or something like that.

Asher Miller  

They would do that. But no, I was just wondering – I’m trying to remember. At what point did I start having ambivalence, or mixed feelings, or sadness going to zoos? I know with my sons, my youngest loves animals, just loves them. He’s  grown up saying that he wants to be David Attenborough in his life. And the love is so pure. And so, going to a zoo to experience these animals, maybe some of which he’s seen on David Attenborough documentaries or something like that, in person really is a profound experience. But then you can also see this sort of sadness of seeing them in cages and all that.

Jason Bradford  

Yeah, yeah, I think that’s what  we should turn to is sort of like, why are we talking about this? What’s the reason? I think this is a good lead into that because it’s about both this love but also then the sense of disconnect. And how did that happen? Now there was a historian Vernon Kisling who really dove into this and looked at human societies, and the nature of the relationship of the societies to animals. And so he sort of describes the evolution of this. So you go back pre-civilization, you have these hunter gatherer periods, right? We’re talking 10,000 years ago. In many places in the world that’s all there was, pre-agriculture. It’s small social groups, you had minimal impact on natural resources, and people would mostly just be gathering from the wild. And so, then you move into the idea of kind of proto-agriculture. You’ve got some early domestication of crops and livestock, but it’s still pretty small. There’s villages, kin groups, maybe some chief like things going on and you’re starting to get then more of a sense of, we’re exploiting the environment, we’re doing more to control of the environment. And there’s a little more of an us versus them going on. 

Rob Dietz  

Yeah, that’s probably the era that this first zoo was implemented, right?

Jason Bradford  

Right, right. Exactly. 

Rob Dietz  

Where you’re like flaunting your power with this display of exotic animals.

Jason Bradford  

Yes, that could have been starting about that period of time, as soon as you get the side of social hierarchy developing. But then, of course, we could become even more disconnected, right? Urbanization starts to occur, the rise of city states, and suddenly now you’re creating these park like environments. So you’re not necessarily out in nature, but you can kind of still get nature in these parks, and game reserves and menagerie sort of stuff developing. And this is then when we really, you know, maybe you start getting more of these abusive relationships forming. And then finally, more of the modern era full of large nation states. And it becomes more institutionalized even. Not just the rich playgrounds and these sort of things.

Asher Miller  

And even seeing them as educational institutions, part of the social fabric in the sense of a community.

Jason Bradford  

Yeah, and this is of course the time now when, boy, we are really dominating nature in many ways with global trade, and in previous episodes, we talked the feather hat craze. So the ability to shoot animals en masse – 

Rob Dietz  

Is causing extinction. 

Jason Bradford  

Yes, yes. So that’s sort of how he kind of breaks down the human relationship between nature, and animals, and our social organization.

Asher Miller  

Yeah, and I guess I want to flag something we talked about earlier, which is it appears that this is pretty widespread, this dynamic of capturing and displaying wild animals. Not for the purpose of domesticating them for food production, or for you know, resources or whatever, but purely as a form of status, representation, or entertainment, or whatever it is. Seems like it was spread through societies all over the globe. But really, before that, you know, as you were talking about kind of hunter gatherer stage, we didn’t really see that. You know, the relationship with animals, and I’m generalizing here obviously, seems to have been more reciprocal low-scale, low-grade, and if anything, a reverence, a sense of connection that all animistic beliefs, that all other beings in nature have spirit.

Jason Bradford  

Yeah, origin stories about people came from the animal world, these kinds of things, too. So they’re one with us. But like you’re saying, it seems like no matter where you go, as soon as you start getting the notion of, there’s a chief, there’s a king, the status displays can be quite dramatic. I, for example, remember visiting the Hawaiian Islands, and there’s this reverence for the Hawaiian culture, which is part of the Polynesian culture. And they spread sort of a proto-agricultural form with pigs and things like this throughout the South Pacific. And when they get to these islands, there was a really big die off of a lot of the species. And then today, you can go to these sites where they explain what happened. So I remember being at this forest, this montane forest, where there are these birds, these honeycreepers, which have these incredible, bright red feathers. And they’re really rare now, of course. But the Hawaiians would come up from the lowlands and en masse, they would just slaughter 1000’s to make the red, almost like red-royal, right? Royal red capes of the kings, and the tribal chiefs, which are huge. You can see them in like the Bishop Museum and stuff like that. And I’m thinking like, oh my gosh. The 1000’s of birds that were just massacred for the status symbol. Even among the so called beautiful little island civilization living in quote-unquote harmony.

Asher Miller  

Right. We sort of tend to romanticize. 

Jason Bradford

Romanticize, right.

Rob Dietz  

Well, stepping further up in time and I guess level of exploitation, if you get to the Middle Ages, you can start to see almost like a blatant attempt to rationalize this kind of behavior. So there was this this philosopher Albert the Great . . . 

Jason Bradford  

Okay, yeah. His ideas were just amazing.

Rob Dietz  

Well, I mean, you don’t get “The Great” added to your name without doing some at least really, really, really good stuff.

Asher Miller  

We’re gonna find out he named himself.

Rob Dietz  

Well check out this great observation of the difference between humans and animals. 

Jason Bradford  

Okay, here we go. 

Rob Dietz  

Animals are hairier. 

Asher Miller  

Good observation. 

Jason Bradford  

Yeah, except there’s a naked mole rat. 

Rob Dietz  

Their temperature is cooler. 

Jason Bradford  

Not goats. Goats are hotter. 

Rob Dietz  

Their heads are heavier. They are earthy. They don’t laugh. And animal sperm – don’t talk about flying sperm – 

Jason Bradford  

Hey, hey, hey 

Rob Dietz  

– was unaffected by the heavenly bodies. 

Asher Miller  

What does that even mean?

Jason Bradford  

As opposed to human sperm, which is right highly affected by heavenly bodies. 

Asher Miller  

I mean, the phases of the moon. Oh my god. 

Jason Bradford  

When Venus is retrograde I’m nuts

Asher Miller  

No pun intended.

Rob Dietz  

Albert the Great made these observations. Okay, now Albert the Mediocre, you don’t want to know what his observations were. So then there’s this historian, Joyce Saulsbury, who kind of documented some of this medieval philosophy of this Western thinking about animals and the nature of animals. And they’re so determined to separate humans as these intelligent rational creatures, which we well know from previous episodes, we are highly irrational, or just examining ourselves. And animals are these beasts, these instinctual, don’t feel emotions, just don’t have feelings. And they would go to great lengths to point this out.  So, this one’s crazy to me. So, they were talking about a sheep that sees a wolf coming along, it doesn’t feel fear, like fear for its life and try to get away. What it has is some kind of like sixth or seventh sense that they called estimativa, which could perceive the intention of this wolf. So it’s like some sort of – 

Asher Miller  

That sounds like a pharmaceutical drug. Side effects may include getting killed by wolf.

Rob Dietz  

I think that’s a pot strain. Isn’t it? 

Jason Bradford  

Haha. Sativa. 

Rob Dietz  

Estimitiva. So it’s basically a way to say, “Oh, the sheep has no higher thought process. No ability to think or feel.” And yeah, they just kind of believed this.

Jason Bradford  

It makes it easier if you’re slaughtering sheep, I guess, on your conscience. 

Rob Dietz  

Yeah, that’s kind of the middle ages. Let’s rationalize away our crummy behavior.

Jason Bradford  

Wow. 

Asher Miller  

Right. And then of course, we just ramped that up with industrialization. As all that accelerated, we’ve taken out both rationalization and the scale of our impact, and put it on steroids or whatever, estimitiva. 

Rob Dietz  

Yeah, I mean, like so many other things in the fossil fuel era, you commoditize. It’s pretty hard to have a big empathetic relationship to a cow when the cow is a red thing in a styrofoam package that’s been shrink wrapped at your Walmart grocery store.

Asher Miller  

Well we do everything in our power to not even associate that with a cow.

Jason Bradford  

Well, what happens if you’re working in a slaughterhouse and you are just getting truckloads of these living creatures everyday showing up, and your job is to kill them in hundreds and hundreds? I think that is got to be really difficult for the psyche. And it’s nice to have some sort of philosophy mythology that says, “Well, this is okay.” And I think about this from the idea – like even people that fish for fun, often were told the story that the fish don’t feel pain, or something like that. It’s completely bogus. They have same nervous systems kind of thing we all evolved from as vertebrates, but it makes us feel better. And I think it’s just a form of self protect.

Rob Dietz  

It does not make the fish feel better.

Jason Bradford  

No. So yeah, once you get to the scale of . . .

Rob Dietz  

So you’re saying, a fisherman today needs to buy into the estimitiva theory,

Jason Bradford  

Yes. Right. We need to promote that in the fishing industry and the fly catching industry.

Asher Miller  

Yeah. And then you just think about the future, right? I mean, here, we’ve done this at this scale. You know, we’ve got animal feedlots. And using barbed wire over everywhere. We’re industrializing, basically, manufacturing, mindset to animal food production. And by the way, destroying wild nature in order to support the animals that we’ve domesticated in that way. But just thinking about what is the future for our relationship with maybe more exotic animals, animals that we’re not just relating to because they’re part of our economy, or our food system or whatever. And it’s these visions of using modern medical technology, gene sequencing, cloning, to bring back extinct animals.

Jason Bradford  

Yeah, so that’s the ultimate display, right? I mean, jeez, you’re going beyond the hippo, or the panda, or the Tiger King situation. It’s like, I’m bringing on an extinct animal.

Rob Dietz  

You’re making me want to bring on a never having existed animal from Star Wars. 

Jason Bradford  

That’s right. Yeah, no, I mean, but you know, getting back to the history of all this – As these societies get more complex, and hierarchies start forming everywhere, whether it’s between individuals or cities showing off, or drug lords. This becomes then this this display of wealth and power at all kinds of scales, actually, and groups of organization?

Asher Miller  

Yeah, I think our consciousness of animals has changed. 

Jason Bradford  

Yeah, we’ve learned more. 

Asher Miller  

It’s changed a lot. Partly through the education about wild animals in through zoos and through other kinds of programs. I mean, think about the profound work of someone like Jane Goodall to help us understand. And on the one hand, we’ve kind of anthropomorphized animals maybe on some level, but on the other hand, I think we’ve learned to appreciate wild nature and animals in nature in a different way. We’ve certainly gone past thinking, well, the only difference is, they’re hairy, we’re not. 

Jason Bradford  

Right.

Rob Dietz  

Maybe even a decent chunk of people out there accept that we ourselves are animals. That would have not entered the conversation previously, right.

Asher Miller  

And so, if we are trying to be more mindful of that, maybe trying to see animals and wild nature as independent of us on some level, we are now still in this kind of predicament where we’re conscientious, for example, about endangered species, right. And we’re doing interventions to try to save the fate of endangered species, or maybe bring back ones that have already gone extinct. That’s still that sort of mindset of control. You know, whether in this case, we’re like, we need to do that because of all the damage that we’ve done. 

Asher Miller  

Right. Guilt. 

Asher Miller  

We’re still locked into this sense of that we control nature.

Rob Dietz  

Dammit, Asher. First you brought in the nuance. Now, you’re bringing in the paradox. When does it end? Can’t we just black and white this, simple, there’s always an answer?

Jason Bradford  

I know. This is a really, really shitty show to be a part of. 

Rob Dietz  

That’s how it started. It was a shit show. 

Jason Bradford  

I’m sorry, audience. Thanks for listening.

George  Costanza  

Every decision I’ve ever made in my entire life has been wrong. My life is the complete opposite of everything I want it to be.

Jerry Seinfeld

If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right.

Asher Miller  

So I’m going to set the bar really low for us to begin with, which is can we just maybe stop hanging elephants from railroad trestles? Can we just start there?

Jason Bradford  

Yeah, I think we can get a broad agreement on the political spectrum about that. 

Asher Miller  

Okay, we’re done. 

Rob Dietz  

You’ve got to take your derrick down that I saw when I approached the studio this moning.

Jason Bradford  

Yeah, no, no. I’m already halfway decommissioned.

Asher Miller  

I mean, being facetious here, we do have examples of, not quite the same thing, but on the spectrum, like bullfighting, and cock fighting, and dog fighting. 

Rob Dietz  

The cool thing is, when the bull wins, it gets its rewarded, right? It gets put out on the pasture. But the elephant just got hung from the frickin derrick.

Asher Miller  

I guess that’s progress. Is that progress? 

Rob Dietz  

Yeah. Well, I do want to give you guys some real progress. I had to go through those elephant torture scenes with you all. And that was reported by Jill Lapore, as I said, and an article she wrote in “The Atlantic” that we’ll put in the notes. But the article was not really there to just talk about elephant torture. It was there to talk about a really interesting development where there’s a case that’s about to be brought before the New York Court of Appeals that’s going to argue that an elephant named Happy is being unlawfully detained in the Bronx Zoo under U.S. law because Happy is a person. 

Asher Miller  

Oh, interesting.

Rob Dietz  

So this case is really about granting personhood. I don’t know if they would extend beyond elephants? What that incident might be if that case were to be won by the plaintiffs. But this is not a new thing of granting personhood to something that you don’t normally think of as a person. Like corporations, for example, have been granted personhood. You’ve got groups arguing that that embryos and fetuses should have personhood. The Yurok tribe in northern California pronounced the Klamath River as a person and 2019. So this would be extension of personhood to an elephant.

Asher Miller  

Yeah. And that gets to like broader things around legal rights of nature. So there’s been a whole movement under foot of giving nature itself more broadly, legal rights. And, you know, we saw that in Ecuador. In the show notes we will add a link to an article that talks about a lot of examples. National examples, but also localized examples, including ones here in the United States of local communities, trying to give elements of their natural environment these rights. And kind of similarly, there’s this half Earth idea and campaign to dedicate half of Earth to wild nature for biodiversity recovery. So these are in a sense, legal mechanisms. 

Jason Bradford  

Yeah. Well, it’s a total shift in our thinking from this notion from philosophers that we are so different and above and have dominion over these other creatures in nature to more of a coexistence. So I think that’s a critical thing to do. Like we’re all in this together.

Rob Dietz  

Yeah, some really interesting ideas of coexistence that you can see springing up. The one that captured my attention was a story on the leopards that live in Mumbai, one of the biggest cities in the world. And you know, your first thought, especially if you’ve grown up under this domination of animals mindset is, “Leopards in my city? We better go shoot all of them,” right? But really, there’s something going on there where I think people are learning to coexist. So there was this 2018 study of  the leopards following them around, and every once in a while there is a problem where a leopard might attack somebody’s pet or even a person. But this study found that the leopards are actually doing more good for public health than harm. 

Jason Bradford  

How so? 

Rob Dietz  

And it’s because these leopards prey on stray dogs and there’s a decent percentage of those that have rabies. And it’s much more common for somebody to get – 

Rob Dietz  

Yeah, bitten and injured by a rabid dog, or even killed, than it is to suffer a leopard attack or something. So they actually estimated that it could save up to 90 human lives a year by having this resident leopard population.

Jason Bradford  

Yeah, die of rabies. 

Asher Miller  

Walking around the streets of Mumbai sounds a lot more exciting than walking around the streets of Corvallis between, you know, dogs with rabies.

Jason Bradford  

Yeah, we’ve got wild turkeys. 

Asher Miller  

It’s true, we have wild turkeys in our neighborhood.

Rob Dietz  

I read this really good book called, “The Cougar Conundrum: Sharing the World with a Successful Predator” by this guy, Mark Elbroch, who’s a wildlife biologist. And it sort of had this call back to a cougar encounter that I had I told you guys about in a previous episode. And yeah, they are doing well. And they’re spreading. 

Rob Dietz  

They’re in Corvallis.

Rob Dietz  

Cougars are in Corvallis. People have seen them down at the park. And so his idea in this book is really, we’ve got to look at how do we foster peaceful coexistence with these animals. Now you may have to be more vigilant if you’re out walking with a small child in their habitat, or something. But the idea is to think about it as we’re in relationship with, rather than we’re going to dominate and kill you. 

Jason Bradford  

And I think that that’s the ecological view. You’re seeing that there may be benefits, there may be adjustments of your attitude and behavior. And this is happening a bit in the farming communities as well. Trying to coexist. Like if you run livestock. You know, I’ve got sheep out here and there’s coyote kills. And there’s a program with the county to try to do like a predator prevention as opposed to just going out and killing these predators. It’s to sort of learn how to coexist with them. Doing things like, having guard dogs, having scent things that basically mimic the scent of the coyotes because they’re very territorial.

Rob Dietz  

Helmets for the sheep, too. 

Rob Dietz  

Neck guards. 

Rob Dietz  

Like when those anvils fall out of the sky and then they can’t hurt them.

Jason Bradford  

Right. But it’s this ecological view. Like what are the benefits of coyotes? Oh my god, the rodents they eat. You know, it’s not like the sheep are attacking rodents, but coyotes do, and hawks do. And so there’s a lot going on in this ecosystem that the farm is just a part of. And so I think that that view of that story in Mumbai is a great one. Just look beyond the immediate, and look at those connections.

Asher Miller  

I think it does take some honest grappling and some thinking through. There’s this great story turned into a book called, “A Libertarian Walks into a Bear,” which is about this town in New Hampshire – 

Jason Bradford  

Yeah, I remember that – 

Asher Miller  

– that basically is like this libertarian enclave. A bunch of libertarians move there because they don’t want to have – 

Rob Dietz  

“Live free or die, man.” 

Asher Miller  

– anyone in their business at all, right? Yeah. And so everybody kind of does their own thing. And they  had a situation where bears are coming into the town there. I don’t know if it was like they weren’t doing enough garbage pickup because again, Libertarians . . . Or I know that some property owners in the area were like, “Oh, bears, cool. Let’s feed them!” So more and more bears are coming in. And some owners are like, “We’ve got to get rid of these bears,” and others were like, “Nah. Let’s have the bears here.” And it completely tore this town apart. 

Jason Bradford  

Well, there’s no government left to figure it out. 

Asher Miller  

Right. Exactly. So it does it does warrant some conversation and discussion.

Rob Dietz  

And I even think you see it creeping into our language all the time. I was watching this video of a guy building a log cabin. And there’s one scene where he drags some logs up by tractor. The whole point of the video was: Watch me build this thing just with my hands and hand tools. And it was really well done. But he had this caveat where he said, “Oh, I would not have used the tractor to haul these logs. I really wish I could have used a horse instead.” And I thought, “Oh, that’s cool.” But then I was thinking, “use” a horse instead of, work with a horse. It’s like, even our language is about domination often with animals rather than, this is a being that I’m coexisting with. So I think there’s a lot of change that needs to happen.

Jason Bradford  

I think a lot of it goes back to the scale. So if you’re a dairy farmer nowadays, to make it, you’re gonna have hundreds of hundreds of cows in a barn. You’re gonna be throwing feed on. You’re gonna hook them up to machines. And when that cow has a calf, you’ve got to take the calf away, because you got to get the milk out of her as fast as you can. And that’s using a cow as opposed to though, a family cow. We’ve got one called Willow here that I’m kind of fond of. And Willow has a calf with her on her side. And when you want some milk, you go up to the sweetest little cow you’ve ever met, and you take a little milk. But that’s all you need. So that’s working with Willow, who you just end up adoring and becoming part of your family. But that that can only happen at the scale of this relationship with the animal that we’ve kind of lost a lot of those connections

Asher Miller  

Yeah, and I guess maybe the last thing I would say is, I think I’ve talked to you guys before about Douglas Adams, one of my favorite authors. 

Rob Dietz  

Yeah, “Hitchhiker’s Guide.” 

Jason Bradford  

A great zoologist. 

Asher Miller  

I probably read “Hitchhiker’s Guide” –

Rob Dietz  

Do we have any celebrity zoologists out there that we’ve insulted accidentally?

Asher Miller  

Well, Douglas is no longer with us, unfortunately. But yeah, I read that series, maybe every five years or so. Kind of puts me right with the universe. And spoiler alert for people who haven’t read it is one of the stories in there basically is that the Earth is an advanced machine trying to answer the question, what is the question of life, the universe, and everything, right? So it’s basically like an experiment that’s being done. 

Jason Bradford  

Okay.

Asher Miller  

 And it turns out that we sit here and think that we’re running experiments on mice in cages, but it’s actually the mice who are the observers of human behavior as part of this grand experiment. So maybe we should all have a little bit of humility, and can take on the mantra of, what if the mice are actually the ones that are smarter and are observing us? How are we behaving?

Rob Dietz  

Yeah, yeah. Well, I know I’m dumb as a rock.

Asher Miller  

Well, that that’s already been established..

Melody Travers  

Thanks for listening. We just gave you a whole bunch of do the opposite ideas, so you can take action in your life and community. If that’s too much at this time in your life, do something real simple. Give us a five star rating on Spotify, or any other podcast app and hit the share button to let your friends know about Crazy Town.

Jason Bradford  

Alright, guys, with the perfection of CRISPR technologies, we now have the ability to revive the most awesome megafauna of The Late Pleistocene. 

Rob Dietz  

Sweet.

Jason Bradford  

What do you want to see? Saber Tooth? 

Asher Miller  

Yeah.

Rob Dietz  

Yeah.

Asher Miller  

I like Saber Tooth.

Jason Bradford  

Giant ground sloths?

Asher Miller  

Those are amazing.

Jason Bradford  

Those are all in the works. But coming very soon are mammoths. 

Rob Dietz  

Oh, nice. The woolly ones?

Asher Miller  

Coming where?

Jason Bradford  

Yeah, yeah. Well, okay, that’s what I’ll get into. The problem is there’s no ecosystem left to put these beautiful creatures in, so gotta keep them in captivity. 

Asher Miller  

Jurassic Park, baby. 

Jason Bradford  

Yep, yep. Now, it’s expensive. They’ve got vet bills, they got hay bills. 

Asher Miller  

Hay? 

Jason Bradford  

Yeah, hay. 

Jason Bradford  

And so, in order to fund all this, there’s got to be a return. There’s gotta be a way to get people to pay to want to see them. And this is where today’s sponsor for the show comes in, Mammoth Ring Enterprises. They have partnered with Luxor Hotel and Casino in Vegas and some of the greatest matadors in Spain today to bring spectators the most exciting experiences since the gladiator times in ancient Rome. This is gonna be huge. 

Asher Miller  

So instead of bullfighting, it’s mammoth fighting. Is that what you’re saying?

Jason Bradford  

That’s what I’m saying! Just imagine this, okay? Mammoth chasing after matadors. Who’s gonna win?

Asher Miller  

It’s gotta be a pretty big ring. That’s the first thing I’m thinking.

Rob Dietz  

I don’t know, man. I’m firmly rooting for the mammoths.