Some of my favourite childhood memories include visiting zoos. I’ve always loved animals, so being able to see them up close was a dream come true. However, opinions are now changing. SeaWorld is stopping its Orca shows, Ringling Brothers have shut down, and who can forget Harambe. So, are zoos cruel? Or are they necessary for conservation?
There’s no denying that zoos are unnatural. Visit one and you’ll see animals designed for completely different climates, in enclosures that come nowhere near close to what they would have in the wild.
For example, Singapore Zoo has a Polar Bear in an enclosure the size of an apartment, when in the wild they can swim over 48km a day.
They are also exposed to loud noises such as children all day everyday, and often have cameras flashing in their faces.
Zoos severely restrict the natural behaviour of animals, such as swimming, flying and hunting. The animals are confined in unnatural enclosures, and forced to act in unnatural ways.
What about conservation?
Are zoos cruel? Not according to those who claim the ‘conservation’ argument. However, there are multiple flaws with this argument.
Zoos are primarily profit-making companies, charging for entry, selling souvenirs, and having to pay staff. To bring in crowds, it’s no surprise that they showcase some of the largest, most popular animals in the world.
Polar Bears, Lions, Giraffes, Sun Bears and many more are often put on display, and none are classified as endangered. Although some are classed as threatened, the exhibition of a few of these animals in zoos across the world does nothing to protect their status in the wild.
Zoos also choose to showcase ‘wow’ animals such as elephants and tigers, whilst ignoring those which truly do need conservation efforts.
In fact, the San Diego Zoo imported 11 wild elephants from Swaziland, with no reason other than to boost ticket sales.
When animals have been bred into captivity or been there for a prolonged period of time, it makes returning them to the wild almost impossible. They lose their ability to hunt and survive, and can often transmit diseases onto those they encounter.
To say that zoos aid conservation is like saying keeping someone on life support is helping cure cancer. It fails to tackle the core issue, and just makes those involved feel better, whilst ignoring the true victim.
To answer the question ‘are zoos cruel’ with the answer no because of conservation, is a skin deep analysis of what conservation truly is.
Conservation should tackle why these animals are endangered in the first place. It should look at ways to keep animals in the wild, in their natural environment and away from human interaction.
If animals do need a helping hand, it should be in appropriate ways. True conservation projects include The Black Jaguar White Tiger Foundation and The Big Cat Sanctuary Smarden. These places do not exploit animals under the disguise of conservation, they truly try to help the animals and the cause of their status in the wild.
Instead of giving your money to money-making machines, donate it to the WWF, Sea Shepherd or BornFree. Show your children that animals are not made to be gawked at, but deserve wild lives of their own.