Zoos Should Sink Noah’s Ark! by Bob Truett (December 1994)

The American Zoo and Aquarium Association, formerly known as the American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums, has adopted a Noah’s Ark theme to explain the role of zoos in the preservation of endangered species, comparing zoos to modern arks and zookeepers to Noah saving animals from destruction.

Alabama Foundation member Bob Truett, retired as director of the Birmingham, Alabama zoo, has long opposed this Noah’s theme as “an indefensible conflict with our educational goals.” Below he explains his objections:

Twenty-one hundred hummingbirds! Your job is to take care of them and keep them alive in confined quarters for almost a year. How will you do it? Frankly, you would need more expertise than can be found in any of the skilled aviculturists in America today. That is only one of hundreds of extremely difficult jobs that Noah and his small family would have faced if the story of Noah and his fabulous ark had any truth to it.

Why 2,100 hummingbirds? The popular misconception is that Noah took into the ark two each of all kinds of animals on earth. Actually, if you read Genesis 7:2-3 you will see that Noah was instructed to take clean beasts by sevens and fowls of the air by sevens. There are more than 300 species of hummingbirds and they are fowls of the air. In order to do as commanded he would have to take more than 2,100 individual hummingbirds. These are very pugnacious little birds that must have a nectar substitute prepared fresh daily. Meanwhile the ratite birds got shortchanged. These are the large birds that can not fly such as ostrich, rhea, cassowary, and emu. They are not fowls of the air, so Noah only took two of each. That is a pretty skimpy start for populating the wild spaces after the fabulous flood.

This brings us to one of the many serious flaws in the Noah’s ark story. Right now the zoos in America are fully cooperating with one another in their vital task of saving endangered species from extinction. This requires the combined expertise and dedication of hundreds of highly trained men and women including zoologists, veterinarians, geneticists, registrars, dieticians, and hard-working zookeepers. The task is made much more difficult because for some rare species all came from a very limited number of founders. To prevent inbreeding depression and the effects of harmful recessive genetic traits it is necessary to carefully maintain studbooks and accurate records on the animals in all zoos.

All of this and much more is the work of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA) and its professional membership in zoos all over this nation. The very survival of some kinds of rare animals depends on this work. AZA and its member zoos and aquariums emphasize that their purposes include conservation, education, and scientific studies. That is pretty serious business.

Yet AZA and many of its member zoos make themselves look ridiculous by comparing this huge job to the silly fairy tale of Noah and his floating menagerie. A viable population of animals can not be based on only one pair, nor even on just seven animals. In fact the entire combined expertise represented by all of the members of AZA could not do what Noah and his little family are said to have done. Education? The zoos may as well teach about the little mermaid and the huge bird that carried off Sinbad the sailor.

More on this shortly. But first, here is a good question for you to ask your fundamentalist friend. Assuming there is no such thing as evolution, how many giraffes did Noah take on his ark? Most folks will say two after which you inform them that Noah took 63 giraffes. Astonishment! So you explain that, as per the verses quoted above he took seven of each kind of clean animal. According to the laws handed down by Moses a clean animal is one that has cloven hooves and chews the cud. Giraffes have cloven hooves and chew the cud, therefore they are clean animals. Nine subspecies of giraffes are recognized. If there has been no evolution, Noah took nine times seven equals 63 giraffes. If you have ever transported giraffes, as I have done, then you will appreciate what a huge job this is.

There are hundreds of virtually insurmountable zoological problems in the Noah’s ark story. But there are also some problems that do not involve the animals. People who do not question things very carefully think that Noah and company were on the ark for forty days and nights. Wrong! That is how long it rained. Then, according to Genesis 7:24 “. . . the waters prevailed upon the earth an hundred and fifty days.” After that the waters abated from the seventh month until the tenth month and then the tops of mountains were seen. Then Noah stayed forty days and sent out a dove, stayed seven days, sent out another dove, stayed another seven days, sent out another dove and stayed seven days, and finally went forth on the twenty-seventh day of the second month. Count it all up and it comes to around a year of being cooped up in the ark with hundreds of thousands of beasts and birds and creeping things. No wonder that Noah got drunk when it was all over!

This all happened about 2,349 years before Christianity according to bible chronology. If the water covered the mountains it must surely have also covered the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. The Sea of Galilee is 696 feet below the level of the Mediterranean. It has sweet, fresh water and abundant fish. The Jordan River flows out of the Sea of Galilee and south to the Dead Sea which has no outlet. The surface of the Dead Sea is 1,292 feet below sea level. If you stand on the banks of the Dead Sea you are at the lowest spot you can stand on earth without being under the ocean. Water leaves the Dead Sea only by evaporation. Soluble minerals including salt accumulate in the Dead Sea as the water evaporates. This has been going on for millions of years so the Dead Sea has 24 percent of its volume composed of dissolved mineral salts. This is six times saltier than the ocean and no fish live in it.

We won’t worry about the flood covering the earth. Let’s assume it covered the “holy land.” All of this was covered fifteen cubits deep according to Genesis 7:20. Thus the Mediterranean, the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea would all be covered and united as one great body of water. All mineral salts would be diffused so that when the waters subsided the salinity in all three bodies of water would be equal. In the 4,343 years since the time of this event (following Bible chronology) it would not have been possible for the Jordan River and the few other streams that flow into the Dead Sea to have deposited so much mineral salt. That takes millions of years.

A whole book could be written about the foolishness of the story of Noah. Only a couple of the absurdities are touched on in the preceding paragraphs.

Let’s turn our attention again to AZA. How is it possible for a modern scientific and educational organization to justify comparing its work with this myth? In doing so AZA can not say it is a myth. If Noah’s ark is to be mentioned it must be done as if it were a fact of history. To do it otherwise would bring down the wrath of thousands of religious fanatics upon the heads of AZA leaders and members and their institutions. Therefore when AZA or a member zoo mentions Noah’s ark it must be done in a way that seems to imply that the story is true. Doing this destroys the credibility of AZA as a scientific and educational organization.

For about 33 years I was a professional member of AZA when it was AAZPA (American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums) and subsequently I have continued for the past four years as a retired member. During all of this time I have been very proud of the educational, scientific, and conservation work of this fine organization. But every time I have seen the work of this professional zoo organization and its member institutions compared with the Noah foolishness I have wanted to go hide somewhere.

Why can’t my colleagues erase this ridiculous lie from their literature? Why can’t they let their conservation efforts and successes be sufficient unto themselves? Why claim to be modern Noahs operating modern arks when there was never an ancient Noah nor an ancient ark? Why not present only genuine science and true education? Let us sink Noah’s ark in an ocean of truth!

Freedom From Religion Foundation