Human Animal Interactions: Ireland

The Human Animal Interactions trip to Ireland trip opened my eyes to how different environments and cultures influence what types of animals are kept there and how people treat them. I saw the same Irish specific problems and benefits throughout the trip. The places that we visited fell into three focuses, conservation, adoption or farming, based on the tradeoffs they had to deal with.
The Dublin Falconry, Dublin Zoo and Fota Wildlife Park focused on the conservation of animals. Ireland’s stable environment allowed most animals in conservation settings access to the outside for most of the year. This gives Ireland a welfare benefit (natural living) and they can save money on indoor facility investments. The giraffe facility in Fota was fairly small because Giraffes only use it for sleep. Ireland does struggle with space in comparison to America. Ireland’s size is comparable to Ohio and urban development limits the size of city zoos. Even when comparing rural conservation areas like Fota and the Wilds, there is an obvious size advantage that The Wilds has over Fota. Transparency seems to be a problem consistent between America and Ireland, most apparent at the Fota rhino exhibit. The rhino caretaker had found the best system of feed enrichment to be a large blue plastic tub filled with food. It improved rhino health by slowing their feeding rate and forcing them to take jogging breaks (allowing more guest-rhino interaction), they could enjoy banging it to naturally exercise their dominance, and plastic was the only material that could survive rhino hits. However, one of the higher ups did not like the idea because of its unnatural look, so they keep it hidden indoors. I think it’s a shame that something that a solution that works so well can’t be shown because it is not “natural”. I can sympathize a little with the higher-up because guest disapproval might mean less people going to Fota and funding conservation efforts, but I still think there should be more transparency. This could be a learning experience for guests into how zoos can simulate rhinos feeding in the wild (ironic because although it looks less natural, it might better simulate how food is takes longer to eat) and also to teach guests about rhinos making loud sounds to show off dominance for mating.
Dog’s Trust and Rehoming Centre, the Shelbourne Greyhound Racetrack and the Donkey Sanctuary all highlighted Ireland’s struggle with finding homes for their many homeless domesticated animals. Pets tend to be treated more like farm animals than as family members in Ireland. Dogs are expected to “work for their food” and many families there treat pets as more disposable or christmas gifts. Whether or not this is a right or wrong way of viewing animals, it has led to a large population of stray or neglected animals in Ireland. As a result, Dog’s Trust and the Donkey Sanctuary has stepped in to help relocate the animals.
John Renehan Sheep Farm, Sean Hayes’ Beef Farm and the Teagasc facilities for pork and sheep grazing gave me insight into how Ireland has different farming techniques. Rain seems to be their greatest resource and struggle. The rain combined with their stable environment allows grass to grow like crazy there, making grazing management their main way of feeding their animals. However, the large amount of rain also prevents them from keeping their larger animals outside so beef farms have to have much larger indoor facilities than in America so that the Cows do not destroy the muddy grasslands (something called pugging). Sheep farms do not have to deal with this because sheep are lighter and only cause superficial damage to their pastures. Politically, the threat of Brexit has caused a lot of stir there. I am still not an expert on it, but Ireland exports their food products heavily (for example, 90% of their beef is exported) and Britain is their greatest consumer of most of their product. Brexit is the threat of Britain leaving the EU, which means that they might place tariffs on food products coming into Britain, which would then threaten many of the markets, including the largest agricultural market in Ireland, beef.
It was interesting to see Ireland and learn about how their culture affects the way they treat animals. I think Ireland might have been the best choice for this trip since their culture is heavily intertwined within agriculture.