We are aware that humans are a major cause of animal unhappiness. Even when there is an absence of neglect or abuse being captive can cause pain and trauma to animals. There are many humans devoted to making animals well, such as Dr. Vint Virga, also fondly known as the Animal Whisperer.
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key
Excerpt: Zoo Animals and Their Discontents By A. Halberstadt New York Times
“Dr. Vint Virga likes to arrive at a zoo several hours before it opens, when the sun is still in the trees and the lanes are quiet and the trash cans empty. Many of the animals haven’t yet slipped into their afternoon malaise, when they retreat, appearing to wait out the heat and the visitors and not do much of anything.
Virga likes to creep to the edge of their enclosures and watch. He chooses a spot and tries not to vary it, he says, “to give the animals a sense of control.” Sometimes he watches an animal for hours, hardly moving. That’s because what to an average zoo visitor looks like frolicking or restlessness or even boredom looks to Virga like a lot more — looks, in fact, like a veritable Russian novel of truculence, joy, sociability, horniness, ire, protectiveness, deference, melancholy and even humor.
The ability to interpret animal behavior, Virga says, is a function of temperament, curiosity and, mostly, decades of practice. It is not, it turns out, especially easy.
Do you know what it means when an elephant lowers her head and folds her trunk underneath it? Or when a zebra wuffles, softly blowing air between her lips; or when a colobus monkey snuffles, sounding a little like a hog rooting in the mud?
Virga knows, because it is his job to know. He is a behaviorist, and what he does, expressed plainly, is see into the inner lives of animals. The profession is an odd one: It is largely unregulated, and declaring that you are an expert is sometimes enough to be taken for one.” Read more.
Level: Intermediate – Advanced
Language Skills: Reading, writing, speaking and listening. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.
Time: Approximately 2 hours.
Materials: Student handouts (from this lesson) access to news article, and video clip.
Objective: Students will read and discuss the article with a focus on improving reading comprehension and learning new vocabulary. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.
I. Pre-Reading Activities
Analyzing headings and photos
Directions: Have students examine the titles of the post and of the actual article. After they examine the photos, ask students to create a list of words and ideas that they think might be related to this article.
II. While Reading Tasks
Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.
- Many of the animals haven’t yet slipped into their afternoon malaise.
- A profusion of recent studies has shown animals to be far closer to us than we previously believed.
- An unprecedented document was masterminded by Low .
- It asserted that mammals, birds and other creatures like octopuses possess consciousness.
- It is not the habit of researchers to speculate broadly about the implications of their work.
- Virga’s convictions about animal individuality predate the recent science.
- Hypotheses about animal cognition is fascinating to consider but they aren’t always germane to a behaviorist.
- On my first visit there, Virga and I found ourselves in the middle of a good-size commotion.
- Still, there’s no denying the public qualms about the entire project of keeping our animal friends captive.
- Yet avoiding anthropomorphism at all costs may be the main cause of the schism between scientists and the public.
Directions: Review the following statements from the reading. If a statement is true they mark it T. If the statement is not applicable, they mark it NA. If the statement is false they mark it F and provide the correct answer.
- Dr. Vint Virga likes to arrive at a zoo when it opens to observe the people interacting with the animals.
- Sometimes he watches an animal for hours, hardly moving.
- The ability to interpret animal behavior is easy.
- Dr. Vint Virga is a behaviorist.
- Virga believes that his patients possess unique personalities and vibrant emotional lives.
- He follows the research, and Virga, 56, is a researcher.
- Zoos contact Virga when animals develop difficulties that vets and keepers cannot address.
- Dr. Vint Virga lives in California and has worked with the zoo for six years.
- Virga happens to be a veterinarian whose full-time job is tending to the psychological welfare of animals in captivity.
- Dr. Vint Virga may take the animals home with him to study.
Structure and Usage
Directions: The following groups of sentences are from the article. One of the sentences in each group contains a grammatical error. Students are to identify the sentence (1, 2, or 3 ) from each group that contains the grammatical error.
- Dr. Vint Virga likes to arrive at a zoo several hours before it opens.
- Virga chooses a spot and tries not to vary it.
- The abilities to interpret animal behavior is not easy.
- Virga know, because it is his job to know.
- The profession is an odd one.
- He works with zoos across the United States and in Europe.
- The notion that animals think and feel may be rampant among pet owners.
- These day, moats and glass have replaced cages.
- Clouded leopards are among the most solitary of the large cats.
Reading Comprehension Check
Directions: Have students use the WH-question format to discuss or to write the main points from the article.
Who or What is the article about?
Where does the action/event take place?
When does the action/event take place?
Why did the action/event occur?
How did the action/event occur?
Directions: Place students in groups and have them answer the following questions. Afterwards, have the groups share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the following discussion topics.
1. The following 3 statements are from the article. Put them into your words then discuss the issues with your group members.
“The notion that animals think and feel may be rampant among pet owners, but it makes all kinds of scientific types uncomfortable. If you ask my colleagues whether animals have emotions and thoughts,” says Philip Low, a prominent computational neuroscientist, many will drop their voices to a whisper or simply change the subject. They don’t want to touch it.”
“Often, the animals suffer from afflictions that haven’t been documented in the wild and appear uncomfortably close to our own: He has treated severely depressed snow leopards, brown bears with obsessive-compulsive disorder and phobic zebras. Scientists often say that we don’t know what animals feel because they can’t speak to us and can’t report their inner states, Virga told me. But the thing is, they are reporting their inner states. We’re just not listening.”
“Much of the residue of mistrust that clings to the roughly 250 accredited zoos and aquariums in the United States stems from their less than picturesque past. Zoos have changed incredibly in the last 30 years… These days, moats and glass have replaced cages; there are education departments and conservation initiatives. And full-time vets, antibiotics and better diets have doubled and in some cases tripled animals’ life spans in captivity.”
2. If you own pets how do you treat them? For example like members of your family where they reside in the house or remain outside? Are you aware of your pets’s moods? If you don’t have a pet is there any particular reason why? Not all people like animals.
3. In your opinion, can animals experience emotions like humans? For example, sadness, joy, or anger?
IV. Listening Activity
Video Clip: Sad Eyes & Empty Lives
“Sad Eyes and Empty Lives is a clear and eloquent argument against the practice of imprisoning animals in zoos. All the major justifications put forward by the modern zoo industry are destroyed here, from the ‘con’ in conservation, the myth that zoos serve to ‘educate’ people about wild animals, and the lie that zoo prisoners are adequately protected by the law in the shape of the 1981 Zoo Licensing Act.”
While Listening Activity
Directions: Students listen for the correct word or phrase to complete the sentences taken from the video. They are to choose from the options presented.
- Is the zoo really any place to keep/kept animals such as these?
- Should we really be keeping while/wild animals in captivity just for our entertainment?
- What quality/quilt of life can we hope to offer them?
- And in real/reality what life do they really get?
- Space rarely/rare if ever, matches the animal’s natural range and more commonly is reduced instead to virtually nothing.
- Animals which left to themselves would roam/room for tens of miles a day, tread the same few paces daily.
- Some of the fastest animals on earth live in pens so small they could not gather pace to a trot/tot, let alone full speed.
- Birds are virtually stripped/strip of their most precious gift, flight.
- But it is not just a matter of space it is also the quantity/quality of the environment.
- Even some zoos are starting to admit/admitted that certain animals like Polar bears shouldn’t be there at all.
Questions for Discussion
Directions:Place students in groups and have them discuss the following questions.
- List at least 3 reasons why captured zoo animals are upset.
- Did you agree with everything the speaker said? Discuss which comments you agreed with and which ones you tended not to agree with. Explain why.
- Can you think of ways to provide comfort to captured animals?
- With your group members, make up questions that you would like to ask the speaker or Dr. Virga.