Are zoos cruel or beneficial? I’m sure this is a question that has passed through your mind many times as a parent. Deciding if you should or shouldn’t visit a zoo with the kids. It is certainly a controversial subject, and I’m sure there isn’t a right or wrong answer. In an idealistic world, there would be no zoos. However, sadly today, there is a need to step in. Gone are the days when zoos are just an attraction for human entertainment. Species are now at risk of extinction. This is where zoos, in an unidealistic world can provide a safe haven. I’m not writing this post to convince you that Zoos are great. I believe every zoo could benefit from some improvement. However, hopefully I can provide you with some information, to make up your own mind to the question; Are zoos are cruel or beneficial?
I have an MSc in Conservation Science, I’m not an expert but I have been taught a lot about the work Zoos undertake. I have seen first hand, and worked on zoo conservation projects internationally. Seeing the benefits they can provide. However, there are some situations where I feel categorically animals should not be in zoo type care. Large marine mammals for instance, I recommend Blackfish if you wish to find out why. Animals that are at risk of extinction that may not have a home to one day be reintroduced back too. Think Polar Bear and climate change. A large animal that is of least concern in terms of conservation, unless that animal has been rescued and cannot go back to the wild (although this opens a can of worms, would euthanasia ultimately be better?). I do not believe any animal should be caught from the wild to be held captive. Unless they are off extinction risk and in imminent danger. I think breeding should focus on endangered species only. For reintroductions and/or expanding a gene pool.
Are zoos cruel or beneficial? – That’s still a tough one to have a definitive answer on!
As you can see, although I support zoos, the question are zoos cruel or beneficial, I still find controversial. At what point does captivity begin? Assisted feeding in the wild? A fence around a Nature reserve? At what point does the argument of extinction outweigh the arguments about captivity? These are questions I don’t have answers to, and are worthy of their own debatable post, but that is for another day!
There is however a lot of good work that zoos do carry out and a number of benefits that go alongside this work. For example, breeding and reintroduction programmes can work! Zoos are often criticised for failed reintroductions. It doesn’t help that for the big flagship species such as pandas and tigers, reintroduction is made harder by lack of suitable habitat or poaching. These species are forefront in everyone’s mind. When efforts are constantly thwarted it’s hard not to think that is the same for every species. It’s not. There have been several big successful breeding and reintroduction programmes where species have been reintroduced back to the wild. Species that might not be here today without the help of zoos.
The proper zoos, the ones that you should be visiting have to adhere to a strict code or professional ethics. For those in Britain, they would be a member of BIAZA or something similar (AZA, WAZA or EAZA). These zoos, through membership, demonstrate their dedication to conserving the natural world through research and conservation programmes. While educating and inspiring their visitors to do the same. They are not allowed to be anything less than great or their membership is revoked. This means giving the uttermost care and respect to the animals they look after.
Zoos provide a fantastic environment for education. Many Children, even adults are lucky if they spot a hedgehog or fox these days. While it would be wonderful to experience all animals in a natural environment, many of us will never get that chance. Zoos provide an opportunity for greater understanding and perspective for children. To learn and be inspired from. Forging a connection with wildlife and a want, as adults to preserve the species they fell in love with as children. I believe wholeheartedly, the emphasis of zoo education should not just be placed on the zoo. Surely we all have a duty to educate our children about protecting and conserving our planet? Zoos should be able to plant the seed that we then go onto grow!
The majority of animals in zoos live a very happy, carefree life. They have food on tap, have health checks, medicine, and clean enclosures. In fact many of these animals live a longer, healthier life than there wild counterpart. Freedom would be best, but where freedom isn’t an option, I believe zoos can provide a good alternative. I don’t want to generalise and this isn’t the case for all animals. For example large animals that roam over a wide territory. This is why I don’t agree some species should be in captivity. However, some species do thrive and they live very happy lives, this mustn’t be forgotten.
I believe everyone should be able to make up their own minds on this topic. I’m not here to change your mind if you are decided. However, if you are on the fence, then hopefully I have given you some food for thought. I would love us to live in a time where zoos were not needed, but we don’t. Animals are dying out. Captivity most definitely is not an ideal solution, but we, as a species have almost made it a necessity. And for all those animals currently in zoos, what if tomorrow every single zoo was shut down? Where would all those animals go?
So I would say, as I do, take your kids to a good zoo. Where the animals are noisy and smelly and often interact with you. For a generation of kids that are often stuck in front of a screen, it’s an amazing opportunity to learn. It may well ignite a passion for conservation that might otherwise never burn. While it might not be the moral ideal, Zoos, for me (the good ones) have an important place while we try and fix the damage inflicted upon the planet. So are zoos cruel or beneficial? I currently err on the side of beneficial, but hope that one day they will not be needed.
I respect, that this is not everyone’s view and I would love to know what you think in the comments below. Are zoos cruel or beneficial in your opinion? Controversial subjects can always get heated, so please respect other people views if they do not match your own.