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Animal-Rights Activist Keynoting Zoos Convention Dumbfounds Critics

“I don’t want to see another cat or dog born.”

Wayne Pacelle, the author of those few, strange words, does not officiate over a pitbull-fighting ring or binge-watch cartoons of Jerry torturing Tom. Pacelle delivers the keynote at the annual conference of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) later this week in Indianapolis.

“We invited Wayne because AZA’s reputation and the reputation of our 230 members is dependent upon the public confidence that they provide exceptional care to the animals in aquariums and zoos,” Dan Ashe, president and chief executive officer of the AZA, tells Breitbart News. “Animal welfare and care is a foundational issue. We believe it’s important that they hear from the leading voices in the animal-welfare community.”

For critics, a Twilight Zone quality colors Pacelle delivering the keynote address at the AZA convention, like Huck Finn’s anti-book learnin’ father winning the Nobel Prize for literature or naming Charlie Brown the kicker at the Pro Bowl. Pacelle serves as the president of the Humane Society of the United States, and regularly inveighs against institutions that keep animals in captivity for educational purposes.

“Several of the zoos that are members of the AZA are not happy with Dan Ashe’s decision to have Wayne Pacelle be the keynote speaker because he is the enemy of all zoos,” Dave Duquette of Protect the Harvest tells Breitbart News. “They’re afraid to say anything because they’re afraid of the Humane Society. Look what they did with the circus or with Sea World—the orcas are no longer allowed to breed in captivity. They take a little at a time, and they just keep going.”

Ashe, director of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife for almost six years during the Obama Administration, concedes some internal dissent from AZA membership regarding the controversial keynote speaker.

“We definitely have heard from members that are enthusiastic about Wayne coming to our annual conference and some that have some degree of discomfort with Wayne coming to our annual conference,” he acknowledges. “Our board of directors is unanimous in support of Wayne coming to our conference.

Pacelle’s lengthy track record, according to his critics, puts him in the animal-rights rather than animal-welfare camp.

“Animals are no one’s property, and they have the right not be ‘taken,’ ‘harvested,’ or ‘culled’ or any other euphemism for murder that wildlife managers use,” Pacelle wrote in a college op-ed. “They are no one’s property.”

He divulged in the 1990s, “If we could shut down all sport hunting in a moment, we would.”

“We have no problems with the extinction of domestic animals,” Pacelle later stated regarding the possibility of extending the endangered species act to animals bred on farms. “They are creations of human selective breeding.”

Critics see in such statements both an incrementalism that hides the ultimate goal and an overall view that rejects human interference, even for educational or nutritional purposes, in wildlife. Supporters of Pacelle speaking at the AZA conference contend that his record boasts no blanket condemnation of zoos, just a condemnation of ones that disregard the welfare of animals.

“I believe that Wayne’s remarks will be uplifting and supportive of AZA-accredited facilities,” Ashe tells Breitbart News. “When people say ‘zoo’ or ‘aquarium’—that represents a broad range of institutions. Our members represent the best of the best. I suspect Wayne’s remarks will support them.”

But Duquette and other critics of Pacelle regard the invitation to such an outspoken activist working against institutions holding animals in captivity as a step toward the abolition of zoos in the distant future.

“They’re not going to have a zoo,” Duquette insists, if Pacelle achieves his goal. “This is the farmer letting the fox in the henhouse.”

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