As a kid, I spent a lot of time in zoos. I loved our dogs and cats at home, and I enjoyed feeding the cows up at my grandparents’ farm, but there was nothing like seeing “storybook” animals like monkeys and elephants up close.
As an adult, I find, zoos depressing. Even the more “open concept” facilities, like the Audubon Zoo here in New Orleans, make me sad.
As I became a vegetarian, then a vegan, I tried to tell myself that zoos were still important, because they preserved species, introduced people to exotic animals, and made people aware of the importance of conservation. But now, whether it’s because I’m older and bitterer or because I’m truly sensitive to the plight of animals, I’m pretty sure that zoos are just a racket designed to sell t-shirts and stuffed animals and overpriced popsicles.
Dan Parker has written an interesting piece about the pros and cons of raising animals in captivity. He doesn’t officially come down on one side of the argument or the other, but this excerpt neatly debunks many of the arguments in favor of the practice:
Your attitude to keeping animals in captivity will almost certainly change depending on your philosophical outlook. Some may say that as long as the animals are happy, there isn’t a problem. But how do you measure happiness in a captive animal? And does the reason for the animal being in captivity make a situation more or less ethical?
Let me use the example of large carnivores in captive and semi-captive facilities in South Africa. Almost all of these facilities will tell you that their animals are contributing towards the conservation of the species.
Some may also tell you that their animals will be released back into the wild once they reach a certain age. But both of these statements are false and misleading. It is extremely unlikely that captive-born carnivores will ever be successfully re-wilded.
Also, if you cannot re-wild a captive-born carnivore, then it cannot effectively contribute towards the conservation of the species. So, what then is the motivation behind these captive facilities and can this be considered ethical? The answer, quite simply, is money. Tourists are willing to pay huge money to “walk with lions” or “pet a cheetah”. To me, this is unethical and certainly does not promote any form of carnivore conservation.
Such facilities cannot be considered ethical if there is any risk whatsoever to human life. Recent events in KwaZulu-Natal involving cheetahs attacking people indicate there often is a significant risk and this is related to the animals losing their fear of humans.
All in all, it’s well worth a read.