Why Do We Have Zoos Still?

Chooseyourownfoodchain’s thoughtful post on Zoo’s really got me thinking, why do we even have Zoo’s?

Zoos are intended to provide entertainment and sometimes, education, to the general public (who are paying for this, either in the form of a ticket or, I assume, through taxes).

When it comes to conservation,  a nature preserve seems far wiser and infinitely more humane.

This historical observation really struck me hard:

Here’s a thought: DID YOU KNOW THAT HUMAN BEINGS USED TO BE DISPLAYED IN SOME ZOOS**!??? That’s right. In both America and western Europe, people who were considered “different,” namely those of non-European descent, were kept in small areas for the paying public to watch.

Why the hell do we perpetuate that kind of legacy on animals?  So bored parents have someplace to take their kids on a Saturday?  For educational purposes?  Let’s put an end to zoos.  We can encourage parents to be active with their kids on Saturdays, and watch nature specials that are far more informative than staring at caged animals.

We can do better, for ourselves and for animals.

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2 Responses

  1. I’m sympathetic to this argument, but I’d be curious to hear from experts on how practical it is–especially since a typical zoo houses lots of species that require different habitats, and that many of those species are threatened or endangered.

    Based on my limited zoo-going experience, I’ve also noted a move toward more space for the resident species, and more exhibits being built to provide greater space and comfort for the inhabitants.

    I’m absolutely opposed to wild animals being kept for the amusement of people. But providing a space to protect biodiversity seems a noble goal, and right now zoos seem a decent way to help toward that end. As long as that goal is kept in sight, I’m personally okay with people being entertained as a secondary goal.

  2. Evil Bender, thanks for taking the time to consider this argument. I’m really glad to have opened up a dialogue about the rights of our animal friends, who often slip under the proverbial radar.

    You say, “I’m sympathetic to this argument, but I’d be curious to hear from experts on how practical it is–especially since a typical zoo houses lots of species that require different habitats, and that many of those species are threatened or endangered”

    You’re right about the vast variety of species, each of which requiring a different environment. And, indeed, zoos are home to some species that are threatened or endangered. However, not all of the animals kept at zoos are threatened or endangered; they are there merely for the public’s entertainment. It still costs money to house those animals. Even though the larger zoos receive donations and tax money, the owners still profit from tourist money. And smaller zoos? Typically, are entirely for-profit, and purely for entertainment’s sake.

    I’m not an economist (or a zoologist, for that matter), but I’m certain that there is a way to redirect all the money going into our “entertainment” to create and sustain more sanctuaries and less zoos. One great example is Shambala (http://www.shambala.org/), which is home to big cats who’ve been injured to the point of being unable to return to their normal home, the wild. If we stick to the mindset of “what’s practical,” then we fail to achieve much beyond the status quo.

    You also say “But providing a space to protect biodiversity seems a noble goal, and right now zoos seem a decent way to help toward that end.”

    An okay number (“dozens,” according to Scientific American) of zoos participate in what’s called a Species Survival Plan Program (SSP), the goal of which is to help maintain the biodiversity and health of the endangered species kept in zoos. Sometimes, these SSPs also focus on eventually re-introducing animals into their wild habitats.

    Is this really “decent”? I simply cannot get behind zoos until SSPs and the like become the SOLE PURPOSE of zoos. I think entertainment is fine, as long as it’s secondary, as you said, in a way that’s educational and not a bunch of humans gawking at a depressed monkey behind bars.

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