The Dallas Zoo has been shaken by an unusual slew of events in recent weeks, making the international news. A suspect was arrested for the alleged capture of two emperor tamarin monkeys, the escape of a clouded leopard from its habitat and the death of an endangered vulture. In lieu of recent events, the Eagle Edition decided to contemplate the value of zoos in society.
When I was little, I always loved giraffes because they are tall like me, so going to the zoo was always so exciting. Finally seeing animals I had always read or learned about the alphabet with, was something little me always looked forward to. The zoo has always been a place to learn about animals while getting to see them in a habitat much like their natural one. I love zoos because of the knowledge they give and the help they offer to animals.
Most zoos, including our beloved Dallas Zoo, are a part of a non-profit organization called Association of Zoos & Aquariums. Amongst the many AZA’s programs, the Save Animals From Extinction program protects threatened or endangered animals, builds recovery plans for hurt animals, collaborates with other AZA members, makes conservation plans and reports the conservation process and progress.
AZA hopes to save “animals from extinction focus[ing] from the collective expertise within AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums and leverag[ing] their massive audience to save species.” This was found from the AZA website.
The organization helps collect information on the animals so we can better understand how to care for them and help them properly. On their website, you can do a multitude of things, including donating money, learning about what species are at risk of extinction and learning how you can join or help the organization. If you are concerned with an endangered species, you can propose the animal to the AZA in hopes that it can become a part of the Saving Animals From Extinction program. If you want more information or details, you can visit the AZA website and learn more about their mission.
Most zoos also work to take care of endangered or injured animals and nurse them back to health with a team of trained professionals.
On May 23, 2018, the Oregon Zoo in Portland, Oregon returned 15 previously endangered western pond baby turtles to their natural habitat in the Columbia River Gorge. Since the previous May, zoo keepers held the newborn turtles in the zoo’s conservation lab, where they experienced a year-round summer simulation so they would not have to hibernate and could focus on growing, hunting and accommodating to the outside world without threats. The turtles grew to the size of about a 2 to 3-year-old turtle which gives them a better chance of living to adulthood and protecting themselves from predators like the bullfrog. About 95 percent of the turtles released into the Columbia River Gorge survive annually.
Wild Welfare, a UK charity working to improve the welfare of animals in captivity, says on their website that, “Zoos engage in research, preserve biodiversity (genetic and species) that may be threatened or at times even extinct in the wild, and they provide much needed funding for research and conservation projects across the world.” This proves how much they help animals and do things for their own good. And how children get many benefits from seeing real life animals through education and further involvement in their ecosystem and world around them.
According to the Times of India, while zoos were originally invented for the wealthy to display their power by how many animals they possessed, they have now transformed to educate and help animals. In the first half of the 20th century, zoos began to focus on animals’ physical health. The animals were originally kept in pits, then cages with metal bars, then concrete paddocks with fencing to now large enclosures that closely mimic their natural habitat. Zoos are trying to improve as much as possible to ensure that animals are cared for, as comfortable and as healthy as possible. This makes a better life for the animal and better educates humans. Zoos are often looked upon as something you visit when you are a child. While zoos can be helpful for a kid to begin to learn about the animals that are living among us, they are also educational to adults as well. It is important to learn about these animals and see them in person to fully appreciate them. We need to be exposed to them, especially when many of us don’t have the means to travel to far away places to see them in their natural habitats.
During my childhood, I can recall spending hours on a hot summer day gripping my mom’s hand tightly as she guided me through the exhibits, pointing at the pretty birds or giggling at the giraffe with a purple tongue that was larger than anything I had ever seen before. I loved zoos because I loved animals, but I was oblivious to the fact that my entertainment came at the expense of the animals I loved so fervently. I now hate zoos because of the same animals I love.
The first zoos began around the 13th century in Western Europe as menageries or private collections of wild animals in captivity for exhibition; the wealthy could view these live exhibits of exotic and foreign animals for entertainment. The size and grandeur of the zoos were effectively a show of status and power to the public.
Today, zoos that run animal exhibits for profit still aim for the same goal: generating revenue with eye-catching and entertaining animals, regardless of the many factors that concern the animals’ actual needs.
Often the animals in captivity are put in situations that can cause them immense amounts of stress, such as petting or human contact in general, which wild animals in captivity can lash out at.
Most animals are provided far less space in a zoo than needed to sustain a healthy lifestyle, which can be detrimental to the animals’ physical and emotional health. A study by behavioral biologists Georgia Mason and Ros Clubb in a 2003 issue of the scientific journal, “Nature,” examined over 1200 studies of 35 species of carnivores including brown bears, lions and cheetahs, and found that some zoo enclosures were far too small for the animals to carry out the natural routines that they would in the wild.
Abnormal behaviors appeared because of this issue, such as pacing, infant deaths, not reproducing and showing bizarre and repetitive behaviors. For example, clouded leopards have been known to pluck out their fur in captivity. Among the worst are captive polar bears, who spent 25 percent of their day in their habitats pacing and had an infant mortality rate of 65 percent.
It’s estimated that of all animals held by the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, a worldwide organization for zoos and aquariums, 75 percent of them have been abused. The World Animal Protection surveyed 1200 WAZA-associated zoos and aquariums, and they found that the majority participated in abusive practices towards the animals they held in captivity.
Many know of the tragic, nightmare-esque story of Harambe: a 17-year-old endangered silverback gorilla who was shot dead after a 3-year-old boy fell into his enclosure on May 28, 2016 at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden. Harambe was disoriented and agitated by the shouts and general commotion that ensued when the child fell, but was making no overtly aggressive maneuvers toward the child. Even still, the emergency team found it best to shoot Harambe rather than tranquilize him.
As it turns out, Harambe was not the only gorilla in his family that met a tragic ending. In 2002, zookeepers accidentally let chlorine gas, which is toxic to gorillas, seep into the enclosure, killing Harambe’s mom, brother and two half-siblings.
In every one of these cases, and so many others just like it, the gorillas would have avoided their tragic fate altogether if only they had not been held prisoner in captivity.
While one may argue that animals live longer lives in zoos, it is likely that they experience a lower quality of life in captivity. For the growth in numbers of a species while in captivity, the benefits to the species population do not compensate for the treatment of the individual lives of the animals and the negative effects of living in a zoo.
And for those who insist that zoos provide animal education to children, for one: most zoos should not be the standard for how to treat animals, and a 2014 study by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals Latino, British sociologists gathered data from children between seven and 15 years old before and after visiting the London Zoo. The researchers found that 59 percent of children who were at the zoo did not have positive educational outcomes, and 66 percent when children did not have a guide. In many cases, children even came back with a negative impact on the understanding of animals and their natural habitats.
For many reasons, zoos do much more harm to animals than good, so instead of supporting zoos that hold animals captive for profit away from their natural habitat, let us look to supporting real conservation efforts like wildlife refuges and sanctuaries.