If you think zoos are safe and fun places for animals, you should consider leaving your dog or cat at the zoo when you leave town. If that thought makes you uncomfortable, why would it be all right to keep any other animal at the zoo? You only trust the zoo with other animals because you don’t have a personal relationship with them but the animals in zoo cages had unbreakable bonds with their families from whom they were torn and they have the same basic needs as your dog or cat.
They don’t want to be there any more than your dog or cat wants to be there. Simply because you don’t know the defenseless animals imprisoned in zoos doesn’t make the zoo any less oppressive for the animals.
Now imagine your dog or cat as a wild animal used to roaming the open terrain of Asia or Africa. Why would an elephant, giraffe, monkey, bird, seal, or tiger want to leave her family and freedom – swimming in oceans, swinging from trees, flying over mountains, foraging for food, climbing for fun, bonding with family, running in fields, and exploring the world to live in a cage?
All you have to do is think about the nature of a zoo – animals stolen from the wild and locked up — and you will understand the inherent cruelty and never go again.
The zoo is one of those entrenched cultural institutions trusted so long that people don’t question it. Like seaquariams and the circus, people convince themselves zoos save animals. How else would our government allow them to operate? People struggle to imagine the animals’ handlers would exploit and profit from them without providing care and erroneously assume that because zoos exist, they must be humane.
Puppy mills, horse-drawn carriages, the circus, factory farms, the exotic animal trade, horse and greyhound racing, rodeos, and fur farms also thrive with the government’s permission. Existence does not guarantee kindness.
People who see zoo employees interacting in public with animals tend to believe they care about animals and therefore find comfort supporting zoos. Some people at the zoo may be nice to animals but judicial outcomes and financial settlements also provide evidence that many employees abuse, neglect, and contribute to the death of animals and people in the zoo. Forget what you see in public. It’s often a facade.
Notice the sharp bullhook in this zookeeper’s right hand used to mercilessly gouge the elephant under the trunk until she obeys him. Even if every zookeeper treated the animals with kindness, it wouldn’t justify taking them from the wild or breeding them to be in captivity. Furthermore, when an animal is stolen for profit, it doesn’t matter if a zookeeper hugs the animal when she arrives; the act of taking the animals is wrong and unjustified and therefore anything the zookeeper does from therein must be discounted given the initial act of disregarding that animal’s right to live her life freely. People shouldn’t show gratitude to a zookeeper any more than they would express appreciation to a kidnapper for feeding a kidnapped child.
Look in the eyes of animals in a zoo. Study their behavior. The cages may look big to you but for animals used to walking or running more than 25 miles a day and exercising all of their natural instincts, those cages are the equivalent of living in a bathroom. Visitors rarely notice the animals’ pacing, self-mutilation, over-grooming, bar-biting, and uncharacteristic aggression.
Research of animals in zoos teaches us how they act in zoos, not how they act in the wild. If you want to study zoochosis, the mental breakdown of caged animals treated as commodities, visit the zoo. If you want to learn about animals, take a wild safari tour, read a rescue or conservation website, or watch a documentary. What are people learning by seeing an elephant act unnaturally in an unnatural environment? A bird that is unable to fly? A seal without room to swim? A lion in a cage? If you want to teach your children how to disrespect animals’ right to live their lives unfettered by the human hand and how to exploit animals and profit by tormenting them, take them to the zoo – they will learn an indelible lesson. If you visit a zoo after learning the truth about zoos, the animals are learning more about you than you are about them, namely, that you lack compassion.
Despite popular myth, zoos don’t save endangered species. People who save animals in the wild rescuing beached whales, redirecting baby sea turtles on the beach, or untangling birds from fishing nets save animals’ lives. People who work at wildlife rehabilitation rescue and release centers save animals’ lives. Most of the animals in zoos are not endangered so the idea that zoos save animals from extinction doesn’t hold water. If zoos are concerned about saving animals from extinction, they would harness their efforts to protect their natural environments. Since returning animals to the wild after being in captivity is nearly impossible, zoos become overcrowded with animals that are often stored in hidden warehouses as they phase out older and less attractive animals to maximize their profits.
Visitors don’t see behind the scenes at the zoo – the solitary confinement, indoor rooms that house animals due to weather extremes, the use of bullhooks and electric shock for training, and the lack of exercise the animals endure. They don’t see it but it exists.
Building rides and concession stands and selling stuffed animals and tickets for people to gawk at imprisoned animals has done nothing to stop the world’s massive decline in biodiversity. Chaining, confining, beating, depriving animals of their natural instincts, and separating them from their families does not repopulate them. Sodomizing elephants with hooks and beating them with wood sticks, starving zebras to death, and killing pandas with rat poison doesn’t save the species. If this is the zookeepers’ idea of saving endangered populations, hide your children. If you want to show your compassion for animals, support real conservation efforts in the wild such as the Amboseli Elephant Research Project which has saved thousands of elephants’ lives or an anti-poaching organization like Burn the Ivory. Instead of spending your money at the zoo, donate it to wild animal conservation helping to create protected reserves, and support organizations that work to create laws to protect animals. If the zoo isn’t right for your dog or cat, it’s not right for any animals. Animals belong in the wild, not the zoo.
Andrew Kirschner, Ed.D., is a volunteer grassroots animal rights advocate and the organizer of the 2013 Florida March Against Cruelty to Animals. He writes a zero-profit blog, Kirschner’s Korner, to help raise awareness about issues affecting the global community to make the world a more humane place. To receive Dr. Kirschner’s new articles via email, enter your email in the “Follow Blog Via Email” link at the top right of the blog.