I fondly remember Zoo visits as a child and I have really enjoyed sharing the experience with my children BUT now I am a vegan I am unsure just how necessary and worthwhile zoos are.
So… What do vegans think about zoos? Once again it is not going to be a clear cut answer and it is something vegans will debate passionately. There is so much to think about, animal welfare, conservation, education and more. Are all zoos ‘bad’ or good? Are some worthwhile but others fall short of the mark? Is it possible to keep a wild animal in captivity and it thrive?
Are zoo’s good for animal conservation?
According to PETA only 18% of land zoo animals are actually threatened or endangered. Also, animals bred in captivity usually need to stay in captivity since they don’t have the skills to survive in the wild. However, animal conservation has saved from extinction a number of species check out these articles for more information Guardian and Medium.com. Most zoos aren’t filled with these species though so animal conservation doesn’t seem to be the main purpose of zoos. The main reason stated for the near extinction of animals is their habitat being destroyed or poachers! It seems to me we could be spending our efforts and money on saving the habitat and fighting poachers! But we humans are selfish, we want to save animals as long as it doesn’t inconvenience us… So ‘i’m all about animal conservation but I want vast quantities of food and a huge choice and it must be cheap!’ We aren’t really being educated on what that actually means, we aren’t face to face with the consequences of our decisions, then we celebrate animal conservation in these unnatural ways!
Are animals happy in zoos?
Simply put ‘no most animals are not happy in zoos!’ We have created zoos in order that people can observe animals that they wouldn’t be able to see in the wild. Zoos are around to make money, primarily, yes there is, now, a conservation element but a higher percentage of animals in zoos are not endangered than are.
Zoos now engage in programmes of enrichment for the exhibits. This means they might have to ‘hunt’ out their hidden food rather than it literally being handed to them on a plate. They might be allowed to mate and bare offspring but their young are often removed once independent since there isn’t the room for them! The zoo may kill or sell the young depending on need. For example, Marius a giraffe born at a Copenhagen zoo was killed at 18 months old as he was not going to be a successful breeder due to his ‘gene pool’ being over-represented! Although other zoos were willing to take Marius he was killed and then publically chopped up and fed to the zoo’s carnivores! Two things get me about this, one the killing, obviously, and two the public outcry! It is such a double standard what do you think carnivores are fed in zoos? Quorn? But what a waste to bring into being a gorgeous animal and then kill it and feed it to the lions? Oh, wait that’s, what happens every day on farms … we bring beautiful animals into being to be killed and fed to humans! Do you know if we are so comfortable with animals being in the zoo and exhibiting at least some natural behaviours perhaps we would have liked to see Marius let loose in the lion’s den so the lions could hunt to kill just as they would in the wild???
So what is the point of zoos?
Zoos have been around for many many years. Thousands of years ago the wealthy would have private zoo’s called menageries, they were to show off their wealth and since travel was so difficult collecting these animals was a dangerous and expensive affair! Modern style zoos have been around since the 18th century and were open to the public. Scientists used them to observe animals and learn. The zoos tended to be very stark and not at all close to the animals’ natural habitat. These days zoos try harder to mimic the natural habitat but since they are limited for space they still don’t give a full experience to the animals.
So basically zoos are to satisfy our curiosity and bring animals to the people which we wouldn’t get to see in nature. They also offer some protection against extinction for some species with active breeding programmes and responsible re-introducing. However, if we haven’t addressed the loss of habitat or poaching is there any point in this? Zoos have also offered extensive opportunities to scientists for research and observation. Of course, the zoo needs to make money to operate and this funds research and breeding programmes. But I can’t help thinking if the animals were left to be wild and we stopped trashing their habitat then maybe they wouldn’t need conserving? Also, it feels like we are trying to manage nature again to an extent and maybe nature knows best? It is a hard one these animals are amazing and losing them from the world is devastating but should we always interfere?
What about game reserves and safari parks?
Lets first look at safari parks, large enclosures you drive through to see the animals in a more natural habitat displaying more natural behaviours. This is better I think all the joy of seeing these gorgeous creatures and knowing there are conservation programmes in place, it does feel better but not perfect, we have a safari park in Somerset UK attached to a zoo, it is hilarious watching some poor driver in front having his car stripped by the monkeys and its wonderful to see the lions lounging around but, believe it or not, lions aren’t native to Somerset. I’m so torn getting to see these amazing creatures and the ethics of should they even be there?
Game reserves fare better for me, vast expanses that are enclosed in an effort to stop poachers and protect species. Ecosystems are left in place and animals run free and breed naturally. This to me is the best way to protect and observe animals, it is not foolproof and poachers still get in… but it is good enough! It is proactive but not invasive and the animals are more often in their country of origin. Some game reserves allow hunting by licence which obviously isn’t something I agree with. However, most just take tourists on a photographic hunt where the only shooting is with a camera.
I guess as a vegan I don’t want to see animals exploited for our entertainment, circus anyone? I do however understand the need for protection and conservation but I’m not sure we are going about it the right way with zoos. We need to look at our greed, our desire to rape and pillage the land where these animals naturally live! If no one wanted ivory elephants would be safer, if we consumed less and consumed responsibly the rainforests wouldn’t be under threat. Make no mistake it is you and I who with our relentless need for more cause this suffering and that’s where changes need to be made. We have recently had in the news anti-vegan activists campaigning for their ‘right’ to eat meat! We had thousands sign a petition for Macdonalds to bring back plastic straws! Seriously we need to look at ourselves and acknowledge that we are the problem so celebrating the solutions we manufacture, like zoos for conservation, don’t seem so honourable. We need to get a grip!