You can dress it up any which way you like, but using animals in a retail or entertainment setting is the equivalent of a zoo. It is the exploitation of animals for human enjoyment, often under the guise of conservation or animal protection.
My critique of the cat cafe in east London drew a huge number of responses, ranging from people who thought it was an unacceptable use of animals for profit through to those who branded me a cat-hating lunatic.
Now, almost a year on from that post, I find myself scratching my head at news of an owl-themed pop-up cocktail bar set to open in Soho.
Annie The Owl is a week-long event in the cultural heart of London. The experience will run March 19th until 25th and will feature live owls and cocktails. I’m not making this shit up.
Let me get the conservation part out of the way before I lose my will to write.
The Annie The Owl bar is raising funds for The Barn Owl Centre of Gloucestershire. This organisation works to promote the welfare and conservation of British owls and raptor species through environmental projects and research studies. Good for them.
Now the shit part.
Owls, as far as I can stretch my imagination, would not choose to be in a wine bar in Soho. These creatures are naturally drawn to quiet, dark and solitude. A seven day stint in the inner city is probably not their idea of a fabulous vacation.
Of course I believe the owl handlers have incredibly strict procedures in place to care for the birds and to alleviate stress, but the fact that these animals have been trained and trundled out for entertainment purposes cannot go unnoticed.
Animals are not ours to use for entertainment. Compassionate humans need to find alternative means of fundraising and creating awareness for at-risk species that do not involve captivity and exploitation. Just like the cat cafe and places like SeaWorld and zoos, the pop-up owl bar is normalising animals on show.
We need to champion a move away from the antiquated practice and zoo mentality of wildlife education shows. All animals deserve protection without being expected to work for it.
If you feel completely compelled to help wild birds, donate time and/or money without asking for a private petting zoo with cocktails in return. Make sure you research how animals are treated by wildlife sanctuaries and conservation groups before committing your resources. Maybe a simple email asking if birds have their wings clipped or if the centre has a welfare policy relating to human interaction.
In 2015, we need to learn to care for animals without expecting anything from them in return.
Extra note: Annie The Owl also sadly relies on tired and harmful notions of sexism and gender conformity to try and sell the experience. One female owl is referred to as:
The Cheeky One. Just look at her… She is the one everyone wants to talk to; always the centre of attention!
Of course it is a male owl framed as wise and all-knowing:
The Wise One. Bless this legend. He has been around for a long time and he instills his knowledge and wise words onto the rest of the pack.
You can see the Annie The Owl website here.
UPDATE – a petition has been started asking Westminster Council to withdraw planning/permits for the owl bar. You can sign it here.