There are debates going on about whether zoos are good for the animals that keep them or not. There are always two sides to every coin and in this case, both sides have their fair share of arguments to keep the discussion on the path to nowhere. Unlike circuses, which are strictly for entertainment purposes, zoos have a side to them that is ethical, and gives opportunities that aren’t so negative.
As much as we would like to only bash all those zoos with our vegan love for animals, we have to admit that several house endangered species and even have programs to put the newborns back into the wild when they’re ready. This sort of zoo, however, often also offers a diverse range of positive aspects, such as near-wildlife habitats and mixed settings where several species that get along well live together in the most natural way possible. Not always, though, as I have already seen a video online about how China tries to save their country’s iconic symbol, the pandas, by keeping them locked up in concrete and metal cages – and they seemed sorely depressed. However, as we all know, many animal rights activists rescue animals from circuses, factory farms and other hazardous locations and at times there just isn’t a shelter for them. Elephants, for example, can only be placed in zoos, and as much as these animals need to roam continuously in order to keep their paws healthy, as much as this is the only option available for them. The goal of rescuing this enormous beast from the zoo in the first place was to keep it from dying a miserable death… not to have it euthanized, which is the only alternative to a caged area in places like North America. In Africa, the elephants will be hunted for leather, ivory and meat. What’s left?
The other supporting argument of the pro side is that children learn in zoos. As much as I would prefer they learned about the animal in its most natural environment possible, we all know that this is impossible for several species and definitely not recommended for several others (yes, let’s bring these kids in the wild, freezing cold North Pole next to those gigantic polar bears, shall we?). So, if it wasn’t for zoos and other animal exhibits, we would have no clue what they look like up close, nor see them in action live (although this argument is weak what with all the advancements made in filming wild animals in their proper habitats). There are also learning opportunities in biology, science, ecology and preservation of the wild.
And now, for the downsides. Animals DO suffer. It’s obvious. Most become depressed and several become almost motionless from not receiving the type of stimulation they would normally get from being in the wild. Some are used to choosing who from their species they live with, in exactly which part of the territory by marking it themselves, and hunting or gathering their own food. No one brings them a bucket of fish in the wild! They also swim, roam or fly at their leisure, and in the zoos they are confined to such a small area compared to their natural living space (zoos purposely keep their cages small so the visitors can always see the animals.) Furthermore, they often have parts clipped in a way that, although isn’t painful, it still hinders their freedom, such as clipping part of birds’ wings. When this is done strictly for entertainment purpose, it’s considered absolutely unethical.
Also, although some species can be saved by keeping them in zoos, this doesn’t keep their habitats from disappearing. Loss of their usual living space is the main reason most of these beasts end up in those cages in the first place, and no zoo works at protecting wildlife habitat. And, since there is such a limited number from each species, birth defects become common and weakens the breed altogether.
And, although zoos promote education and research, they actually don’t do that much. The type that is done in the wild is far more beneficial and accurate because zoos change animal behaviour. Furthermore, the education side is always second to the entertainment for the visitor. And although they claim to want only the best for all the animals, why are most of the endangered species in their business are the adorable or wildly dangerous ones that everyone wants to see, and not the hundreds of amphibians that are dying? And when’s the last time you saw a Weta or a Dugong at a zoo?
Animal cruelty, at times, is an issue in zoos as well. It doesn’t reach the level of circuses or factory-farming, of course, but not all zoo-keepers are angels, and at times they are downright cruel. On top of that, the sale of animals tears families apart, and some species fall into a depressive state when torn from families or even just sent to a new home, such as is the case for pandas and elephants.
As for me, I see little advantage to supporting zoos. I promote wildlife and habitat preservation over captivation any time. Take me to the park, a museum, a dance show anytime… or better yet, Cirque du Soleil (which is French-Canadian owned and operated, by the way!), over any circus or zoo.
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Image credit: Tobias Akerboom (at hutmeelz)