Pills, Acupuncture, Live Rabbits: When Zoo Animals Need Psychotherapy

This sad-looking Bonobo lives inside the San Diego Zoo
This sad-looking Bonobo lives inside the San Diego Zoo
Chico Felitti

SÃO PAULOWhen Jorginho wakes up in the morning, he has a breakfast of fruits and yogurt to get his bowels moving. Then he takes an anxiolytic to ease the worries of a stressful day ahead in the big city. Around the corner is Bino, who has a weekly session of acupuncture on his back, as well as a relaxing massage to deal with the pain caused by scoliosis and lordosis.

Jorginho and Bino would be just two common overwhelmed fellows living in São Paulo, if they didn’t happen to live at the zoo. Jorginho is a tamanduá, an anteater mammal native to South America with a long snout and narrow tongue. Bino is an albino alligator from Pantanal, a large swamped area in central Brazil.

They live in São Paulo Aquarium, which is actually a zoo, despite the name. Eight years since opening, this unique urban habitat has about 300 species of animals. “All of them are here for a very sad reason,” says biologist Laura Ippólito.

These animals are undergoing a therapy called “enrichment,” which simply means providing play and activities to help them deal with boredom. “Isolated animals tend to have a stereotyped behavior. Some of them practice auto-mutilation,” says biologist Bruna Schwarz.

The five bugios (howler monkeys), known in nature for screaming out loud and throwing excrement, are quiet here. For all these animals, captive breeding means they will not be able to return to their homes.

Animals rights activists say zoos are the same as prison. “Not all the species are there to be saved,” says activist Hélio Aron. “Some were purchased for exhibition. We should see the aquarium as a company charging 40 reais ($20) for entrance and turning profit out of it.”

The aquarium argues the animals are there for educational purposes. “The animals are used to show what has gone bad,” Ippólito says.

Ants, yogurt, anxiolytic

Jorginho could have joined the 45% of Brazilian humans who have used medication for depression or anxiety, according to a study last year. Life has been too tough for this orphaned tamanduá-mirim, who arrived in São Paulo after its mom died in a fire.

Rescued and taken to the aquarium, Jorginho met Lipe, a same-aged female of his species whose mom was killed by dogs. “They ate only one spoon of pap a day,” says Bruna Schwarz.

Lipe has a fondness for a special brand of yogurt aimed at helping the intestines to work better. Instead of ants, this tamanduá eats a pap made of beetroot, tomato, meat, banana and spinach.

Their happiest day takes place once every two weeks, when they get a whole termite house. “They explore it the whole day, eat a lot and sleep in peace,” says Bruna.


Bino and Albi will soon have babies. They are albino alligators born from the same mom about eight years ago. It is not a problem, though, for them to copulate with each other and become parents. Biologists say this is very common among reptiles.

Their kids are going to be albinos. The difference is not only the color. Bino has lordosis and escoliosis, which makes him a hunchback. He suffers from chronic pain and needs acupuncture and massage to get some relief. The reptile is kept still while the veterinarian punctures its skin under the scales. Its mouth is kept closed with masking tape, just in case.

The alligators take phytoterapic medicines for pain and vitamins that compensate for the lack of sunlight exposure.

Traumatized snake

Bebel, 10, is on a diet. He goes up to two months without eating a thing, then breaks the fast with either a 15-pound turkey or a whole rabbit — still alive.

The secret for an anaconda like Bebel to maintain its weight is to take on such digestive battles.

He was taken to the aquarium after being found in the countryside breaking the bones of a calf. To force the snake, which is second in the world in size, to let the baby go, locals hit it with sticks and knives. All the violence traumatized Bebel, who did not eat for months after coming to São Paulo.

Now it has gradually started to accept a few appetizers, such as whole live ducks. After two years, it is now eating mammals again: a whole rabbit takes half an hour to be fully digested.

Good intentions, bad results

As many tourists love to do, Thunder was resting under the sun on a nice Rio de Janeiro beach. But some people saw the seal, panicked and called the firefighters.

The animal was taken to the zoo. He was perfectly healthy, but after having contact with humans, it could not return to Antarctica, where it belonged. “It is dangerous because the seal could carry diseases that would affect all its peers,” says biologist Marcos Helund.

After being sentenced to life in prison, the animal was offered to the São Paulo aquarium. He has wounds on his back and head because of auto-mutilation. “It hits itself against the rocks,” says Schwarz. Those born free do not get used to living inside walls.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.

But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!