Have you visited a zoo recently? Did you spare a thought about all those animals kept in enclosures smaller, or simply different, than their natural habitats? There are clear signs of boredom that you can see in squirrels, horses, elephants, and many other animals too. And on top of that there are hundreds of zoos in many countries, each with the primary aim of maximizing the number of entrance fees paid. On top of the ‘efficiently’ sized enclosures this also means pulling in many animals that experts deem completely unsuitable for captivity e.g. Polar bears.
Now most zoos shift focus from the Victorian emphasis on entertainment to the modern emphases on species conservation and entertainment. But not everyone agrees that this excuses their loss of liberty. Take wolves for example. There are several breeds that we have deliberately driven to extinction, and keep alive in zoos with no intention of re-introducing them to the wild. What difference exists between this, and an inter-species war with the winning side keeping the opposing survivors alive in cages for their amusement?
What are your views on the ethics of zoos? Do they teach empathy and conservation as claimed by zoos? Or do they abuse the rights of animals, and enforce an unfounded presumption about humanity’s superiority?
Now I’m not opposed to zoos. But just as food for thought we visited a zoo recently in Kent. We passed an enclosure housing the red squirrel, an animal native to the UK. It was pacing back and forth in front of the bars, seemingly in distress. My wife said “I feel sorry for it. He’s obviously bored.” but a child from the group behind us said “look mummy it’s dancing for us.” Both reactions seem natural. But one shows empathy. The other presumes that animals are there solely to entertain. What are zoos for in your opinion? Are they ethical? Can we justify going? Or should we boycott them?