Wednesday, October 27, 2010

What if they COULDN'T swim?

Like probably a gazillion other animal-loving WaPo readers, I enjoyed reading about the swimming test that the National Zoo gave to four lion cubs that were born in August. The photos of the cubs in both this morning's article and the website photo gallery were suitably aw-inducing.

At least initially, the explanations by zoo officials for the test made some sense: they needed to see if the cubs would be able to swim if those cubs fell into the moat that surrounds the lions' home there. And the test was needed now, before the cubs get too big and dangerous for trainers to handle safely. Lions, like other animals, are born with the ability to swim--but that doesn't mean that some animals don't use that ability better than others. (Among those other animals, by the way, are dogs: some swim just fine, while others tend to flail about. Hence, the need for dogs to wear life jackets when boating.)

But then I started wondering: what if one or more of the cubs hadn't been able to swim? During the test itself, the zoo's trainers would have fished the water-averse cub out of the moat, but what about after that? Would they:

-- Give the cub swimming lessons? This hardly seems likely. If the cubs are almost too big to even test, they undoubtedly soon will also be too big to be taught how to keep themselves from drowning.

-- Outfit the cub with a life jacket? Somehow, I think not. First, the cubs are growing too fast to be outfitted with appropriately-sized life jackets for each stage of growth. Second, if the cubs will soon be too dangerous to be given swim tests or swimming lessons, they certainly will soon be too dangerous to put into life jackets, even if such garments were available for lions.

-- Fence the moat? Then, what about those sea-worthy lions who might want to use it?

-- House the non-swimming cubs somewhere else? Where, pray tell?

-- Hope that they won't fall in the moat until they're fully grown? That won't matter. WaPo says the moat is nine feet deep at its deepest point. That means an adult lion could drown, too.

Soooooo ... since apparently there are no options for dealing with a lion cub who can't swim, what on earth was the point of this test -- other than to perhaps provide a photo op?


Peggy Frezon said...

I just returned from my first visit to the National Zoo and enjoyed it (too bad the seal habitat was closed for renovations at the time.) Hmm, you present a good question. Maybe they could create a shallow end or splash pool for the non swimmers!

Susan said...

They could, I suppose -- but suppose the cubs fall into the not-so-shallow end?

My photo op radar are screaming at this one.

Anonymous said...

I'm inclined to think that there was a Plan B. Most respectable zoos wouldn't put any animal at risk just for a photo op. I wouldn't be surprised one bit if they did have provisions to teach the cubs to swim; the "backstage" operations of most zoos, especially large outfits like the National Zoo, are pretty staggering in the size and scope, and we the public only see a tiny piece of the prep work, habitat management, health care etc. that goes on there.
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Susan said...

If that's true, I wish it had come out in the article.