Zoos have long been intertwined with human history. Their existence dates back to thousands of years ago, when they started as an amusement for the rich of the time, often being a collection of exotic and symbolic animals to entertain them. Zoos were primarily in this period a tool for amusement; a means to indulge themselves in their glee of natures beauty from the convenience of proximity and safety. Zoos have however evolved over the years, and are no longer just entertainment centers, though this is certainly a core function, to scientific centers for the study, protection, and advancement of animal species. In the twenty-first century, specifically, zoos are more like centers for animal research, and some indeed claim that the entertainment role that zoos seemed to fulfill primarily has now been relegated to a more secondary role.
After a population explosion in the last five hundred years that has wiped out most of the animals natural habitat and which has seen animals continuously being enclosed in smaller and smaller spaces. The role of zoos in mediating the conflict between humans and zoos and remedying the aftermath of that conflict is a critical one. What is the role of zoos in ensuring that animals, which are their primary stock in trade, continue to coexist with humans in a peaceful environment? What is the role of zoos in saving animals from extinction? What do zoos achieve by keeping animals in captivity and is it worth it? Regardless of the ends, is it even right to keep animals captive in zoos in the first place? This essay aims to answer the above questions to attempt and find out why zoos continue to play a role in animal conservation efforts and whether the efforts and practices being invested are what the situation needs. The paper will analyze the arguments for and against the practice of keeping animals in zoos and conclusion, will give the authors views about this practice.
Due to the population explosion, the last five centuries due to various factors, humans have continued to explore, settle and exploit new places as they search for living space. One of the biggest casualties of this movement has been the environment, as humans destroy the habitats of most natural species while making the area habitable for themselves (Yoshida, Hiroko 47). The rapid expansion of the human race, therefore, throws certain ecological systems into uncertainty as natural processes are interfered with, and natural order is disrupted leaving many species without food, shelter, air, water or protection from the elements and ultimately at the brink of extinction. While several species are already totally extinct in the wild, some of the last surviving members of the endangered species continue to survive and are bred in captivity. The destruction of these species natural habitat means that for these animals the zoo is some orphanage or foster home, a refuge from the wanton destruction of their homes by humans. Zoos tout this as one of their biggest achievements and view their efforts to capture and breed endangered species as a noble initiative to save these species. Indeed, some species like the golden lion tamarin are amazing success stories of species brought back from the brink of extinction (Stoinski and Beck 4). Are such efforts however just a ruse and an attempt by humans to justify their horrible treatment of animals and to conceal the fact that zoos are essentially meant to entertain them, and are not for the benefit of the animals?
Animal rights activists are generally in agreement that keeping animals in a zoo is a terrible idea. The concept of zoos is parallel to slavery. Slavery involved yanking out a human being from the environment and people they loved to condemn them to a life of bondage without their consent. For zoos, the process involves plucking the animal out from the environment in which they have learned to survive and are free in to condemn them to a life of captivity. For animal rights campaigners, the ends do not justify the means if the means are essentially a breach of these animals rights. Critics of zoos cite the fact that animals kept in zoos are often stressed and behave abnormally (Morgan, Kathleen and Chris 265). Some of the animals even degenerate into madness in captivity and animal rights lobbyists take this as evidence of how the zoo experience is harmful to the animals. In addition to this, animals bred in captivity seldom learn to survive in the wild, with a conservative success rate of 16 for every 145 reintroduction efforts into the wild (Masci 354). Experts attribute this to the fact that most of the traits, behavior, and actions needed to survive in the wild are learned, and taught by older members of the species and are not based on instinct (Stoinski and Beck 7). Further animals bred in the zoo have a relatively cushy life where everything is provided for them thus making them unable to fend for themselves after reintroduction to the wild (Morgan, Kathleen and Chris 271). These facts avoid the argument that zoos can act as viable centers for the preservation and propagation of endangered species as the resources that are invested in a venture with such a low chance of success would rather be invested elsewhere. Owing to the inordinately high costs incurred to support such efforts and the spectacular failures that have been witnessed in attempting flawed reintroduction initiatives, animal rights campaigners feel that the zoos would be acting in the better interests of the endangered species if they invested these resources in preserving their habitats rather than in preserving just them (Masci 355). Indeed, this is just a further indication of humans real intent in the creation of zoos, primarily to amuse himself, rather than to save animals.
Animals have rights. The fact that humanity has had an evolutionary advantage that has enabled them to manipulate their environment to suit their liking does not mean they should trample over these rights. Condemning animals to a lifetime of captivity and stress is inhumane and is a reminder of humanitys egotism. The evidence that animals kept in zoos are often stressed, behave abnormally and are even at the constant risk of madness due to the new environment and circumstances that they are forced to adapt into is testament enough to the evil of keeping animals in zoos. Regardless of the ultimate intent of the captor, the practice detrimental to the animals health and future. The further failure of reintroduction efforts into the wild shows that the practice of keeping animals in zoos is not worth it even for benevolent purposes. It would be therefore wiser to invest these resources in other efforts to conserve natural species that are less disruptive for the animals rather than continue to exploit an ancient tool of animal oppression primarily to amuse ourselves under the guise of helping them.
Masci, David. "Zoos in the 21St Century. Are Efforts to Breed Endangered Animals Paying Off"? Congressional Quarterly, vol 10, no. 16, 2000, pp. 353-376.
Morgan, Kathleen N., and Chris T. Tromborg. "Sources of Stress in Captivity." Applied Animal Behavior Science, vol 102, no. 3-4, 2007, pp. 262-302. Elsevier BV, doi: 10.1016/j.applanim.2006.05.032.
Stoinski, T.S., and B.B. Beck. "Changes in Locomotor and Foraging Skills in Captive-Born, Reintroduced Golden Lion Tamarins (Leontopithecus Rosalia Rosalia)." American Journal of Primatology, vol 62, no. 1, 2004, pp. 1-13. Wiley-Blackwell, doi:10.1002/ajp.20002.
Yoshida, Hiroko. "A Report About the Present Situation of American Zoos' Efforts for The Environment Enrichment for Animals." Primate Research, vol 16, no. 1, 2000, pp. 45-53. Primate Society of Japan, doi:10.2354/psj.16.45.
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