|Zoos often claim they are modern day arks, saving species from the brink of extinction, educating the world about wildlife and providing vital research into the lives of animals. But are zoos really the champions of animals they purport to be?
The conservation claim
Of the 5,926 species classified as threatened or endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, only around 120 are involved in international zoo breeding programs.
Many species, including endangered species such as pandas and elephants are notoriously difficult to breed in captivity. For example, to date no elephant has ever been bred successfully in an Australian zoo and even captive populations numbering in the hundreds in Europe and the United States are not self sustaining.
There is also the problem of genetic diversity. In small populations there can be problems associated with inbreeding, which can result in genetically weaker offspring. These offspring are more vulnerable and less likely to survive in the wild.
The concept of re-introduction is plagued with serious difficulties. Species threatened by poaching will never be safe in the wild until attitudes change and the culture of poaching is eradicated.
Species threatened by habitat destruction will have no home to be re-introduced to unless suitable areas for these species have been protected.
Even if the above problems can be overcome, there are still difficulties with the process of re-introduction. Captive bred animals have often missed out on valuable lessons their wild parents would have taught them and therefore often do not have the instincts or knowledge to survive in the wild.
Zoos claim they provide the opportunity for people to see and learn about wild animals and that this will inspire people to contribute to their preservation. But what are they really showing us?
Keeping animals in zoos sends the message that animals are commodities and that humans are justified in locking them up.
The conditions under which animals are kept in zoos typically distort their behaviour significantly. Animals in zoos are merely shadows of their wild counterparts. Nature documentaries and books allow people to gain a true and complete knowledge of wild animals, by depicting them in their natural habitats.
Research conducted in the artificial environment of the zoo teaches us very little about the complex lives of wild, free-ranging animals
Most research done in zoos serves merely to teach us more about wild animals in zoos and if zoos did not exist then such research would not be necessary in the first place.
Life in a zoo
Zoo enclosures are typically inadequate for the animals needs. For example, the average enclosure size for mammals in UK zoos is one hundred times smaller than their minimum home range in the wild.
Confining animals in artificial and often small enclosures inside zoos is stressful and causes them harm. Animals in zoos are bored and lonely creatures who spend their days shuffling, swaying and pacing back and forth, their eyes sad and empty.
Other stereotypic behaviours displayed as a result of intense boredom and suffering include rocking, over-grooming, mutilation, neck twisting, chewing and bar biting, hyper-aggression, abnormal maternal behaviour and feeding disorders.
There is a better way!
Instead of funnelling money into zoos, money should be redirected to wild animal conservation. For example the money could be better spent:
-Establishing protected reserves
-Funding anti-poaching patrols
-Educating people about wildlife and the need for conservation
-Lobbying for legislation to protect wildlife (from poachers and habitat destruction)
If you visit zoos you are contributing to this suffering. Today's wildlife programmes can give viewers a much greater understanding and appreciation of these animals than zoos ever could. If you truly care about animals and conservation turn on the T.V and make a donation to one of the many wildlife charities working to save animals in the wild.
If the possibility of re-introduction of the species into the wild is a farce, then zoos only exist to preserve those species in captivity. Keeping animals in zoos harms them, by denying them freedom to carry out their lives naturally. While humans may feel that there is some justifying benefit to their captivity, there is no compensating benefit to the individual animals. Should a handful of individual animals be forced to live out life sentences just so humans can simply satisfy their curiosity?
Think about this...
The zoo is a prison for animals who have been sentenced without trial and I feel guilty because I do nothing about it. I wanted to see an oyster-catcher, so I was no better than the people who caged the oyster-catcher for me to see. - Russell Hoban (1925- )
An individual animal doesn't care if its species is facing extinction it cares if it is feeling pain. - Ronnie Lee (1951- )
We cannot glimpse the essential life of a caged animal, only the shadow of its former beauty. - Julia Allen Field (1937- )
The saddest thing about zoos is the way they drive animals mad. Much of the behaviour we take for granted in zoo animals repetitive padding up and down, head banging, obsessive paw swinging, or just plain moping is actually psychotic, the sort of thing humans get driven to when they are kept in solitary confinement. - Bill Travers (Star of “Born Free” and co-founder of Zoo Check)