Until recently, the existence of zoos in our society was never something which we thought twice about. Zoos were widely accepted as educational and entertaining institutions. Children, and adults, love seeing animals, and a visit to the zoo has always been something we look forward to. Gradually, however, discussion has aroused about the morality of keeping animals, and other creatures in captivity, as animals have rights such as we do. "There are around 430 zoos in Britain alone and 10,000 worldwide. Conditions vary greatly, with the worst being nothing more than concrete prisons holding very distressed animals." (Born Free Charity). This quotation shows the insensitivity of the proprietors of such establishments and gives us a clear picture of the conditions in which creatures are kept.
Rather than encouraging animals to thrive in natural settings, zoos place very unnatural boundaries on their residents. For example, in zoos, polar bears are usually confined to spaces that are only around one-millionth the size of their minimum home range in the wild. Animals who stray across large distances in nature often develop 'zoo chosis' in captivation which is similar to dementia in humans. Typical behaviours resulting from boredom and distress when placed in zoo enclosures, are endlessly pacing or swimming in circles. Animals have evolved from nature, just as humans, and each belongs undisturbed in its own natural habitat. To remove these animals from what they are used to against their will is immoral.
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As humans, we must treat animals humanely in our role as "stewards of the earth." It is therefore unacceptable that animals in zoos under our care, are suffering from neglect and early death, through distress and health problems. In the wild, creatures such as the ones found in zoos are free to roam without restraint and interact with other species. Whereas, in captive conditions they are only able to mix with their own species, sometimes only being a few of each species. If these animals do not get on with the others in the enclosure, they have no way of escaping each other's company, and animals, like us, have personalities and forge friendships and rivalries. Furthermore, animals do not gain the necessary skills for survival in zoos and so will never be able to be reintroduced back into the wild and survive. Therefore they will have to live an enclosed, cramped lifestyle entirely dependent on humans who do not always care for them appropriately, for the entirety of their lives.
On this note, Attachment relationships between animals are often studied by separating pack animals and recording their subsequent behaviour. Studies of primates have shown that separation results in changes of behaviour that are symptomatic of both psychological and physiological stress. Because of this, it is clear that in order to maintain physical and psychological well being in animals, it is vital that animals which are used to being together with animals of their kind should not be isolated from one another. In many zoos, it is felt necessary that animals should be alone as it saves costs and ensures there are no conflicts between them. Zoos are therefore knowingly causing the animals' psychological and physiological trauma.
Animals kept in zoos have no privacy; they are continually watched by the public and have little enclosed space where they can hide. Zoo animals develop anxious behaviours if they are always in the public gaze. Being stared at all the time can be predatory and threatening. Another strange species staring at you or enproaching in your environment is disconcerting and agitating for wild animals in the same way that a tiger coming into your house and staring at you would be not just threatening, but simply terrifying. This in turn can lead to aggression and distress in the animals. Even when the animals are not disturbed by human presences watching over them, there is constant noise of other creatures and maintenance works on the zoo (e.g. Tractors). They will get no peace and quiet. This is not natural for any animal. They should be able to have time on their own to relax in harmony.
Zoo Keepers and many employees of zoos do not treat the animals living within the exhibitions with enough compassion or care. A San Diego Zookeeper described an incident in which an African Elephant was beaten for two days with axe handles, as 'a way of motivating the animal to put on a display for visitors'. This kind of treatment is extremely vindictive and clearly demonstrates how in some zoos, the living beings are not treated as well as they should be. Even though they are given all the 'necessities' for life and they have a veterinary surgeon on hand at all times, the animals only get enough to get by, and no more. After all, zoos are a money making business. They often scrimp and save at the expense of the animals' well being and comfort. Large animals such as elephants are often subjected to cruelty above and beyond that of smaller animals. A study has proven that in a certain American zoo, the elephants there were dying at a faster rate than they were breeding, as a result of disease spread by the lack of space and dirty cages. The exhibition of animals in captivity tells an impressionable public that cruelty to animals can be condoned.
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Many zoos claim that they are of high educational benefit, and although some visitors only spend around two minutes at each inclosure, using the animals for entertainment rather than for instructive matters. Although, children do get to see animals and experience how they live, which they wouldn't get the chance to do if animals were only in the wild. Zoos have to educate the public about the value of animals so that people understand the importance of conservation. After a fun trip to the zoo, visitors leave with a newfound awareness and perceptive about animals. How are they going to discover these interesting facts if they don't get to see the creatures? Zoos give people an appreciation for animals. They need to see, listen to and smell an elephant to gain love and respect for the creature. Viewing an animal on TV does not give a person the same effect as seeing it first hand does.
An arguable advantage of having zoos present in today's society is that many endangered species will be protected and will refrain from becoming extinct. Zoos promote the awareness of animals that are being wiped out. This would allow for people to help fund the repopulation of those animals. If more people are aware of new animals on the endangered species list, there is more of a chance that researchers will get more funds. But endangered species may not gain as much support and attention of the crowds as people are only usually interested in popular species like Lions. Furthermore there is some debate because of the inadequate gene pool of a species in zoos. This could, lead to inbreeding which would then create mutations and defects in the offspring.
In conclusion, animals are born wild and therefore should live and die wild. It is wrong that wild creatures should be kept in enclosures in zoos as they do not get to behave naturally: a lion cannot hunt for its prey, or experience the nobility of living with other lions in a pride. My overall view is that keeping animals in zoos is extremely cruel as they are not free to convey their natural way of living, whether it is to roam in a large area, to breed with a partner of their choice, or to kill their own prey. The animals are troubled every minute of the day by people observing them, something which, in the wild, would hint great danger. All of these factors contribute to my strong sensitivity to this topic of treatise.
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Pros and Cons : A Debater's Handbook [Paperback] published 1999