Sharon Deem DVM, PhD & Stephen Blake MSc, PhD

                                            Presenting a toy to Henry

Sharon Deem is a wildlife veterinarian and epidemiologist, and the director of the Institute for Conservation Medicine at the St. Louis Zoo. Prior to joining the Saint Louis Zoo, she worked for the Wildlife Conservation Society and Smithsonian National Zoo and lived and worked in the Galapagos as a veterinary epidemiologist. Her work studying disease patterns in wild animal populations has focused on the spread of disease between domestic animals and wildlife and the impact of environmental change and human contact on wild species. This research has taken her to some of the most wild and remote regions of the world, and her equally extensive experience with animals in captivity provides a special lens on understanding the impacts human activity has on other species. You can learn more about Sharon and her work on her website and blog.

Shortly before meeting Sharon in the late spring of 2015, Henry and I met her husband Stephen Blake, a Conservation Biologist Studying Large Animal Ecology and Large Animals Movement Ecology. We encountered each other at a park in St. Louis when their dog Dixie hit it off with Henry, and I was intrigued to learn about their combined experience looking after the interests of animals in both wild and captive environments. 

Along with his work at the St. Louis Zoo, Stephen is the coordinator of The Galapagos Tortoise Movement Ecology Program, and he is an adjunct scientist with the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, as well as the University of St. Louis in Missouri and the State University of New York, and he is a visiting scientist with Washington University in St. Louis. Before starting his work in the Galapagos, Stephen studied forest elephant conservation for the Wildlife Conservation Society in the Congo Basin. His research focused on "movement ecology" which applies understanding of species' movement patterns to their conservation and protections to their ecosystems. And with the St. Louis Zoo Stephen has also developed a Box turtle program at Tyson Research Centre in St. Louis. 

A few months after that first meeting in the park we sat down together at Sharon and Steve's home in St. Louis to talk about their perspectives on zoos and the relationships humans have with animals in general. In the changing afternoon light our conversations ranged from rationales for having animals captive in zoos, what that captivity means, and the ecological impacts of human dependence on animal industry on a global scale.

 

Interview Excerpts

(Click the "expand" icon bottom right of each clip for full screen.)

Introduction to Sharon's Work

The Question of Using Animals

The Influence Context Has On Respecting Animals

The Changing Definitions of Cages & Zoos

Weighing Whether Captive Animals Would Suffer In the Wild

Telling Ways People Allocate Support of Animals

An Imperative for Change

The Underlying Issues

Steve's Early Influences

Human Health Parallels With Planetary Health 

Considering Human Use of Animals

Is There a Physiological Need to Eat Animals?

Being a Humane Omnivore

Introduction to Steve's Work

Personal Responsibility and Human Impact on Wildlife

The Value of Seeing Animals In Person

The Role of Context at Zoos

Addressing the Social and Physical Needs of Animals In Zoos

Squaring Actions With Desires

Drawing Lines Between Humans and Animals 

Can Humans Not Be In Conflict With Nature and Animals?

Influences That Shaped Sharon’s Beliefs 

A Rationale for Eating Animals

Pressures on Animals Worldwide

Taking Responsibility

A World That's Gone

Scale and Patterns of Animal Consumption