By Megan Cardy
Zoos do not necessarily meet the eye as being problematic. They come armed with a friendly mascot in the shape of a ‘killer whale’, feature educational and interactive video zones for children and never fail to include the obligatory gift shop peppered with glittery giraffe shaped keyrings. The internal décor of the majority of commercial zoos continues to accommodate the family day trip; with large, colourful murals and walls of glass enclosures filled with snakes and insects to entice children along the ‘boring bits’.
This happy façade is a lie. Even the best, most updated enclosure featuring a man-made river and a selection of artistically placed trees cannot provide the animal with anything like the true habitat to which it is suited. On their website, The Captive Animals’ Protection Society published the findings from a study of UK Elephants which found that a mere 16 percent were able to walk correctly as a result of poor conditions. Tigers and lions reportedly suffer in conditions that are 18,000 times smaller than what their species is naturally accustomed to in the wild.
More worryingly, there are far more detrimental effects to this lack of space than simply discomfort – which, of course, is upsetting enough in itself. Animals displaying abnormal repetitive behaviours (such as head-bopping, repetitive pacing etc.) are often suffering from serious psychosis. If the only justification offered is that zoos ‘contribute to saving animals from extinction’, it must be asked if there is not a better way to do so. Alternative methods such as open, protected sanctuaries in the animal’s natural habitat would fundamentally cater to their quality of life; even if that action would remove them from the entertainment sector.
Animals are rarely treated with dignity even if they display signs of mental instability. As a result of the tragic death of his trainer Dawn Brancheau, Tilikum, the orca, was punished with solitary confinement in a ‘kennel’ of a tank, according to The Humane Society of the United States. That there were no alternatives to this living arrangement is certainly not the case. Tilikum could have been transported to an open sea enclosure, a move that The Loneliest Orca in the World documentary claims SeaWorld failed to act upon.
For those who claim that zoos offer protection to endangered species, surely it would be more beneficial to aid them within their natural habitat through conservation projects than to spend huge amounts shipping them overseas and building enclosures that guarantee a life of purgatory for the animals in question, alongside any descendants.
This argument barely scratches the surface regarding the inhumanity of the modern day zoo. The killing of surplus animals combined with the reports of the provision of animals for circus acts by modern day zoos would have even the most ardent supporter question where the money from their entrance fee is going. In many cases, it certainly isn’t contributing to animal welfare. Inhumane practises surrounding the exploitation of animals will not be addressed without the boycotting of those businesses which prioritise capital over care.
If zoos were disbanded, profit from the sale of premises combined with any leftover profit could surely be reinvested into suitable conservation projects and local animal sanctuaries away from the distressing influence of the public eye. For those who advocate zoos for the educational benefits – would it not be more beneficial for a young child to realise that it is highly unnatural to see a lion in London?
Featured image courtesy of National Geographic