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Noah’s reality check

by Donald Prothero, Dec 11 2013
The grandiose "artist's conception" of the Ark Encounter. Already, many of these elements have been canceled due to problems in fundraising

The grandiose “artist’s conception” of the Ark Encounter. Already, many of these elements have been canceled due to problems in fundraising

A few weeks ago, I blogged about the problems that creationist minister Ken Ham is having with his proposed “Ark Encounter” project, to be built near his Creation “Museum” in northern Kentucky. Fundraising for the “Ark Park” is woefully behind schedule so his organization is trying to finance it with junk bonds. In the meanwhile, his original Creation “Museum” is losing more and more money as fewer visitors bother to show up to a carny act that is five years old and has nothing new to offer. His organization may have risen rapidly to become the loudest and biggest of all the major creationist ministries in the United States, but now it looks like they’ve gone beyond their level of competence. Not only do they mangle science with their “Museum”, but it appears they mangle finance as well. 

It comes as no surprise then, that his organization also has no clue how to take care of animals. Apparently, they figure if Noah could keep two of every animal alive on the ark for months, surely it would be easy to park a bunch of lions and giraffes in their giant stable for many years so the local yokels can gawk at them. Fortunately, the rules of how to keep animals in captivity are well understood, and there are plenty of regulations to prevent animal abuse. The “Ark” was apparently designed to fit Noah’s specifications, then a bunch of wooden stalls and cages were packed in it by architects with no concept of the requirements of animal enclosures, or zoo design. After all, if Noah could fit millions of animals into this tiny boat into stalls the size of a breadbox, it should be easy to keep a few dozen in slightly larger stalls.

As Gwen Pearson of the Organization of Biological Field Stations, writing for Wired magazine,  points out, however, these designers seem blissfully ignorant of the very specific needs of each animal in order to keep it healthy and thriving. As she says:

Artist's conception of the stalls and cages inside the ark, all with hard wooden surfaces that would absorb feces and urine, and hurt animals who cannot stand on hard surfaces too long without health issues.

Artist’s conception of the stalls and cages inside the ark, all with hard wooden surfaces that would absorb feces and urine, and hurt animals who cannot stand on hard surfaces too long without health issues.

If I saw something like that in my neighbor’s garage, I’d call animal welfare. The wooden poop diversion system shown in this photo will not hold up under a constant bombardment of feces, uric acid, and ammonia. I’ve helped manage and care for a wide assortment of wild and domestic animals, big and small, over the course of my career. There is a HUGE amount of paperwork, documentation, and inspections involved in having captive animals. It is, frankly, a gigantic pain in the ass, and the animals are healthier and receive better care because of all the annoying, complex rules. That’s why the Ark project set off all sorts of alarm bells in my head. Keeping animals in captivity is really, really difficult. By gathering animals together in an artificial environment you concentrate all the poop and pee, and just make it easier for diseases to rapidly spread. (Got a kid in daycare? You know exactly what I’m talking about.) As caretakers we have an ethical duty to provide captive animals with the food and environment they need to stay healthy. Doing that takes specialized knowledge. If you have raptors or game birds, they can get bumblefoot just from the wrong kind of perches. Feeding an imbalanced diet, or just not noticing a raptor is off its food, can tip a bird into a metabolic crash. Ducks can get a fatal type of herpes that spreads rapidly, despite our best efforts.

Apparently, the managers of the project have finally realized that their overly optimistic plans about packing so many exotic animals into a wooden dungeon were not going to work, and have drastically cut back the original conception. The original plans showed areas for bears, sloths, koalas, deer, monkeys, bats, owls, and “possom” [sic], among other animals. (Spelling doesn’t seem to be their strong suit, either). Instead of real giraffes and lions, they plan to have animatronic robots or taxidermied mounts instead. Pearson was relieved by this, since hoofed mammals develop hoof problems after standing for weeks on boards soaked with their own urine.

As Answers in Genesis Senior VP Mike Zorvath told her:

“We originally thought about a lot more exotic animals on the ark, but as we got into the design and the code restrictions, we realized we weren’t going to be able to do what we wanted to do. Because the ark is what it is, people do expect to encounter some live animals while they are walking around… but we had to modify what we planned do with large animals on board. We’ve gone from trying to have an actual zoo inside with exotic animals to mostly farm animals. Little farm animals, like mini-cows.”

But there is more to keeping a small domesticated animals, however, than they realize, since hoofed mammals develop laminitis after standing on hard floors too long.

Even more revealing, Zorvath admits that the animal part of the project was an afterthought: build the ark first, then allot some space to animals, rather than the proper method: build the space around the needs of the animals, then fit everything around them. As Zorvath told Pearson:

“Those were some early ideas about how we’re going to lay things out, and we are going to fine tune those as we get the final plans back from the architects. The architects are planning the building, lighting, air conditioning, ventilation. Once that is done, then our display design team will take those plans… we have 132 bays that we’ll have available for exhibits.”

Putting aside the ignorance and arrogance of people designing a zoo without any idea of how to do it, the interior of the “ark” will be a pretty nasty place not only for the animals, but especially for the people. As Pearson points out:

I’m not, frankly, convinced that this structure is going to be a very pleasant place for human animals, either. It’s a wooden box about the length of 1.7 football fields, and it’s going to be full of people talking and stomping around. Add into that multimedia presentations, live non-human animals, all the bodily products of those animals, and multiple food service areas. It’s going to be pretty noisy and smelly, even with a state-of-the-art HVAC system. But the fact that how to house and care for their animals is the LAST part of their planning process — a plan to build what is supposed to be a historical artifact made specifically to hold animals — says a lot. This is an attraction that exists to promote a religious message. It’s not about animals at all. The welfare of the animals and their biology is less important than their ability to reinforce a religious myth.

This, in a nutshell, captures the absurdity of the Noah’s ark fantasy. Leaving aside the problems of fitting millions or even thousands of animals (or “baramin,” if you want to adopt that ridiculous non-biological concept), on a tiny wooden box, the bigger problem is what faces its modern counterpart: too much poop and pee, too many conditions that make confined animals get sick and die, all of which affects any real zoo even under the best possible conditions and care. Once again, creationists display their total ignorance of basic biology when they even take seriously the idea that animals could live this way for weeks or months. But we all know what their answer will be to yet another uncomfortable reality will be: “Goddidit”.

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14 Responses to “Noah’s reality check”

  1. Pete Moulton says:

    You’d think if their god is so powerful, then there shouldn’t be any problem with the funding, the care of the animals, or any of the rest of it. Guess their god is too busy smiting Asia for the ‘sins’ of the US…

  2. Rob says:

    I think the inside will be fine for humans.

    Well, mainly because there won’t be an inside because they’ll never finish this. It’s likely just a song and dance to get money.

  3. Karen says:

    I am overjoyed that they are having such funding problems, because if they had the money they *would* find a way to go ahead with the project… to the detriment of any poor critters involved.

    I would call them idiots, but they are not; the fact that they’ve raised as much money as they have for what is obviously a dumb idea indicates they can talk a very good story. They have a vision, and reality be damned. I would feel sorry for them if they weren’t so good at fleecing people.

  4. Oneyearmuse says:

    If “Goddidit” then I suspect he/she/it would have gone with the simplest solution possible. Which would be to put all the animals into a chemical induced coma and get Noah to stuff them into the Ark like sardines.

    Then wake them all up again when they hit land. Maybe leave a few doves awake for scouting missions.

    That would make a much more interesting exhibit, an animal version of tetris. With a nice little sign that says ‘No animals were harmed during the creation of the Ark’

    Perhaps a rollocoaster travelling the length of the Ark, I can just see it now: “OMG! We are going to hit the giraffes, duck!”

  5. DV82XL says:

    Half a century ago when I was a young Catholic schoolboy that asked questions about things like this, (like how Noah could stuff so many animals on something the size of the Ark) the Sisters would just give me a withering look and say, “Well that was obviously part of the miracle,” in a tone of voice that suggested I wasn’t being very clever not to have seen this was the case on my own.

    • Michael says:

      It was a Tardis-brand ark. All the room you need and it’s really fast, too.

    • tmac57 says:

      Miracles absolve all ‘sins’ of unreasonableness.

    • tmac57 says:

      I wonder what their response would have been if you answered the question of how life began on Earth with “Well that was obviously part of a miracle of physics”?
      Probably would have been whacked with a ruler.

  6. Timothy R Campbell says:

    Good article. Of course, the fundaloons and the AIG fundaliars will complain that the original ark only needed to float and hold the animals for year, and of course we must always leave room for divine miracles!

    They will never understand that the entire Book of Genesis is fiction; made up stories borrowed from myths created by the Assyrians and Sumerians hundreds of years before the Hebrew tribe even existed!

  7. Gwen Pearson says:

    Actually, *technically*, I am not speaking for the Organization of Biological Field Stations, I am writing for Wired.

    OBFS just employs me; I pontificate and pundit on my own time.

    Can you correct that? Thanks!

  8. Bill T. says:

    Well, again our logic-impaired friends at Creation Ministries diplay their lack of ability to perform the simplest of thinking. OK, suppose Noah actually got all those animals on an Ark (we’ll slide on the question of how the ‘roos swam back to Australia). The animals were supposedly on the boat for only 40 days, so the conditions would have been pretty ripe, but maybe not unbearable. So Ham and buddies apparently decide, well if animals can live in those conditions for six weeks, they should do just fine for six years. Another fine example of Creationist “reasoning”.

  9. Ed Graham says:

    Scientists who try to explain how the Flood could have happened, or how the Christmas Star appeared, or how someone lived in the belly of a fish – - are really doing a dis-service to truth and knowledge. Shame on them, and the Discovery Channel.

  10. Matt says:

    God must really hate them! All that money and manpower and they can’t even get duplicate made, let alone one that is actually world wide disaster ready. Noah apparently did it with a few family members and with the scorn of everyone known to him. I guess thats where the miracle is, but again i ask why is Noah so blessed and Ham-bone minion Ken gets no loves.