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:
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”.