www.whyville.net Jul 4, 2003 Weekly Issue

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Zoos: Imprisonment or Preservation?

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Zoos have become a controversial issue in our society. Animals from all over the world are held in captivity and imprisoned for the rest of their lives for our viewing pleasure. Can we morally justify this?

Many animals that are in zoos require thousands of kilometers of space to roam comfortably. For example, the tiger: they're meant to travel the African plains but instead they're forced to live in cramped cages. Can anyone say that their lives have been fulfilled? I don't think so.

Zoos aren't the natural habitat of the animals, so therefore they cannot have a natural life. Recent studies show the artificial captive environment can generate intrinsic animal welfare problems such as:

  • Abnormal behaviors such as self-mutilation; feeding disorders; and stereotypical behavior (e.g. pacing, neck twisting, or rocking).
  • Reproductive disorders.
  • Physiological unbalances.

An example of this behavior is the polar bear in the Dublin zoo who was moved because of signs of stress and boredom. This magnificent animal had nothing to do but walk from one side of the enclosure to the other (pacing); it was eventually moved to the Czech Republic to a much larger enclosure.

Many people think that zoos are preserving endangered species or subspecies, but in fact they are wrong. Ninety-five percent of animals that are kept in zoos aren't endangered. Ninety-seven percent of these animals aren't part of the European Captive Breeding Programs, and less than 1 percent of endangered animals have been introduced back into the wild. Research by the Born Free Foundation has brought these facts into the public domain. (BFF is an organization dedicated to the welfare of animals by demanding that they be kept in their natural environments.)

Zoos seem to be friendly environments, but what many people don't know is that since 1990, 42 people have been killed and 100 others injured by elephants worldwide in zoos. In the year 2000, more than 400 rhesus macaques (monkey) -- found to be carrying herpes B -- were required to be shot in UK zoos. Although not lethal to the monkeys, herpes B can be fatal to humans. In the last two years, 13 people in the UK have contracted salmonella from pet reptiles. In some way, these facts prove that animals shouldn't be kept in zoos because they carry diseases that can't harm themselves but can kill humans.

If the animals are kept in zoos, their skills will be lost. The cheetah, for example, is the fastest land animal in the world, but when it's confined in small cramped cages, it isn't able to run at those speeds. Therefore, the skill won't be needed and it will eventually wither away. Another animal like this is the tiger: its teeth are among the most powerful in the world, used for ripping flesh from the bone but if it is kept in zoos there's no need for them and they'll become weaker and wither away also. You could say that zoos interfere with Mother Nature.

In this day and age there are many different ways to learn about animals, apart from going to a zoo. Television is the best medium for this. There are documentaries such as The Life of Animals and The Blue Planet. These documentaries enable you to see animals as they are in their natural habitats. Many other means to view and learn about these animals are on the Internet. You can interact and play educational games on the BBC's web sites -- they give you a great deal of information about exotic animals and animals that have never been in zoos. In that way, you won't be taking animals from their natural habitat and you can learn about the amazing creatures.

Another negative point is climate change. Is it right to put a tropical animal into a Russian zoo or a polar bear into the Australian zoo? It's even more important to keep animals where they belong because the climate is changing due to global warming and they need to evolve naturally.

On The Other Side:

I understand that zoos can be a good thing. They give less affluent people who couldn't afford to travel across the globe the opportunity to see these exotic creatures. It also gives children the opportunity to learn about these animals and to see them face to face.

If kept in zoos, these animals won't have to go hunting for food; they won't starve because they'll be fed all the time, which is a good thing. But it doesn't make lions and tigers the hunters they are naturally, and if they're released into the wild they won't be able to fend for themselves.

Just as a collection of art is housed with great care and attention, reflecting it's value and artistic worth, so also the present day attitudes of zoo administrators reflect the value, concern and care that a more enlightened public demand regarding the zoological housing of animals. Animals have feelings and no one more so than their keepers are aware of this. Many of them develop an emotional bond with the animals specifically under their care and would under no circumstances accept the depravation or cruelty to an animal. On the contrary, they ensure, as far as possible, that the animal is as comfortable and as content as it can be.

When I started this essay, I had mixed feelings about animals in captivity. I thought that endangered animals were being saved, but I was horrified to find that only 5 percent of animals held in zoos are in endangered. The facts I found while researching for this essay (most from http://www.bornfree.org.uk) amazed me. It is cruel to keep animals locked up in zoos just for our pleasure. I have come to the conclusion that zoos are immoral, unjustified and totally wrong. I hope that I persuaded you into thinking the same.


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