Zoo taps shrink to cheer confined beasts

You probably won’t see animal psychologist Terry Maple placing a pair of gi-normous sunglasses on a horse’s face.

But you might see the former Atlanta Zoo director down at Sloat and Great Highway, working to improve the wellness of the animals currently living at the San Francisco Zoo.

In an effort that has been taking shape since the 2007 tiger mauling on Christmas Day, Maple will be working with the zoo to make its creatures, well, happier.

Maples talked to the Ex about the idea of “whispering” to animals like some sort of Dr. Doolittle:

“I’ll bet most of the keepers have a certain ability to communicate with the animals they take care of.”

While the zoo will still catch flack from animal activist groups, officials believe they are heading down the right track to making the zoo experience better for its creatures in captivity.

Sally Stephens, Commissioner of Animal Control and Welfare told the the Ex:

 “If people could be more convinced that the animals are as happy as they can be in their circumstances at the zoo, they’d be more willing to contribute money.”

The “people” she is talking about mainly are animal-rights groups such as PETA, who believe that the caging of animals alone provides a source of aggressive and unhappy behavior.

Maples, though, has methods for turning these animals’ frowns upside down. Both he and Stephens were present at a meeting Wednesday night at the Commission to discuss the best ways to go about improving the welfare of the Zoo’s creatures.

One particular technique Maples offered? Creating a habit where the animals have to search for their own food, instead of feeding them on a schedule like stereotypical house pets:

“Animals are really better off if they work for their food. If you just throw it to them, you’re creating a dependent couch potato.”