Monday, 23 October 2017

Linguistics in Aviculture - Updating for the times?

This post is not directly related to aviculture and could indeed be applied to any discipline involving wild animals in captivity. Wild animals in "captivity" being the issue being discussed here.

Just to outline for anyone looking forward to an ethical lecture, this certainly isn't one and the aim here is to look briefly at the linguistics of aviculture, not the ethics themselves.

OK... If you are certain you want to go with this then lets crack on...

The ethics of keeping animals in captivity is a minefield for anyone not initiated in animal cognition, welfare an perception. This can be particularly tricky with birds as they behave and perceive the world quite differently to mammals and most other taxa in fact. It's also important that we remember that like many subjects in which the target's thoughts and feelings are subjective only to themselves and said subjects have no means to easily translate them in any human language, everyone and their grandmother is free to consider and transpose what they imagine the subject might be feeling. This produces endless (and often erroneous) well meant guesses and in turn plenty of strong emotional opinions. What I ask today is that for those without previous experience but good intentions, is the very outdated language which we still frequently use within aviculture as a whole helping form these opinions for them?

You say potato, I say... "in aviculture"

 For keepers It's OK to be using casual terms, they almost slip out on the tongue as we hear them so regularly but seldom do we consider the very counter productive implications they make to the general public. This is important, because as we move forward in developing the standards of aviculture it's critical that the "lingo" evolves with us. Lets have a look at some of these terms.

In the first instance there are just words which outright imply something in their use, here is an example.

From the dictionary -

noun: captivity
the condition of being imprisoned or confined.

The definition of a term so casually used is no longer reflective of the lifestyles of many birds, of course there are still some situations which could be easily termed captivity, birds kept in small, non stimulating environments without interaction from their own species or at least a similar species with which they can feel comfortable, but these situations in the 21st century are certainly not the norm and are the result of either outright neglect to address the individuals needs or general ignorance. On the whole conditions for birds living in the company of mankind are generally far removed from the times when the term "captivity" was coined and almost certainly derived from an anthropomorphic connection to human imprisonment which again could be misplaced to begin with. 

Once we start to consider that we are entrenched in outdated language which implies a certain level of inherent compromise and suffering it is not a surprise that bird keeping has something of an image problem, one which we could be producing ourselves. To an outside observer the term "captive" conjures up visions of oppressive misery which in the majority of cases is just not there.  

Let me take a moment to highlight the fact that in my opinion some conditions for birds are terrible still and I would not want the reader to come away with the idea that in my advocacy for updating language that I presume that all welfare in this era is acceptable, it is not.

For me, this represents a "captivity" for birds, but is certainly not reflective of how most birds in zoos or private collections live, should we still be using the same term to describe such far removed welfare levels?

So the next time we talk about "captive bred birds" or "bred in captivity" or "rare in captivity" we should consider how that may subconsciously influence the general public's understanding as a whole of what we do.

An easy interchangeable could be "in aviculture", "bred in aviculture", "rare in aviculture" etc...

As well as simple words, some regularly used phrases could have a double barrelled effect in their use, when used by professionals they mean something very obvious to us, but to to the layman there may easily be more wiggle room for interpretation.
 The term "IN THE WILD" 

So here's a tricky one, whilst it is understandable that this term is used often, this term unintentionally implies a welfare baseline for birds to be matched with the lifestyle they might live in the wild. Life in the wild is of course filled with danger and birds in captivity have a considerably easier time if kept stimulated. But we would be foolish to think that just because a species does something in the wild that this is the ideal situation for it to be in with us. In the wild there are predators encountered daily, the foods that are eaten in the wild are often nothing like the nutrition given in captivity, and sometimes this is the right thing to do. A prime example would be the Hyacinth Macaw, in the wild this species exists on an incredibly high fat diet, one which if fed to a bird in an aviary would sooner or later result in severe illness or even death. Pretending that our baseline for welfare is what happens "in the wild" is embracing madness. The point here is that again, the casual use of this term in irrelevant contexts could leave the general public with the idea that an aviculturalists baseline should be identical to how that species might live in the wild, again an often erroneous assumption. 

We need to ensure that the connections between the wild, conservation efforts both in and ex situ are maintained and strengthened, but somehow we must avoid creating more confusing pre formed perceptions outside of avicultural circles.

 The Cliche - Do nice people even use tiny round victorian cages anymore? I'm not sure. 

There are of course some frustrating cliches in pop culture and society in general which do us no favours, including the idea of a caged bird that longs constantly for freedom (usually from a cage that no respectable keeper would even use these days!). Whilst there is little that can be done to remedy this, it is worth an honourable mention even as an example, again it gives the illusion that all birds want to be free when as most keepers over all disciplines will be painfully aware that birds like to be where the food water, safety and shelter is and that escape is usually a fear driven accident rather than a calculated decision.

As versed individuals it's easy to bypass the obvious, but once we start using modern relevant terms as a collective, we may see a positive improvement in society's view of aviculture and its relevance to protecting and increasing numbers of birds in need. 

I hope this has been a brief eye opener, have a think for yourself, I'm certain you can think of other instances where inappropriate or outdated negative terms are still being used to no real benefit, maybe think about the implications of our daily language to those outside of aviculture. 



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