There are some within the animal welfare advocacy community (*cough* PeTA *cough*) that feel that all zoos should be shut down and the animals released to the wild. As an advocate for both animal welfare and conservation I respectfully disagree.
Some would have you believe that zoos are terrible places where the animals are mistreated and live out their days in cages while pining for their native lands. Advances in containment, specifically glass technology have allowed zoos to replace the cages with windows. This allows for better viewing and photo opportunities for the public while still being strong enough to contain the animal and allow the animal to feel secure.
Zoo animals are better cared for than most people. The enclosures (notice I did not say cages) are designed by experts to mimic the natural habitats of the animals that occupy them. Keepers provide them with enrichment activities that promote their natural instincts. They’re provided with the best medical care whenever they need it and their nutritional needs are met so well that their diets are probably better than those of most humans.
Zoo animals are captive bred and this is done responsibly. They have no idea what their native lands even look like and have no concept of how to survive in the wild. If we followed PeTA’s logic and released these animals into the wild, they would die. Zoo animals live much longer and have a better quality of life than a fair number of their wild counterparts. It would actually be crueler to release them than it would to continue keeping them in zoos. At least at the zoo there’s less chance of them dying of disease, no chance of them being killed by a predator or shot by poachers, and no chance of them having their young ripped from them for sale in the illegal black market pet trade. It’s true that there are bad zoos out there that are barely more than illegally kept wild animals inappropriately contained and improperly treated in someone’s back yard. Those places absolutely should be shut down. However there are some zoos commonly referred to as popcorn parks or popcorn zoos that rescue animals that were being kept illegally and improperly by private citizens.
Zoos play an important role in conservation. Ask any wildlife veterinarian or conservation scientist why they do what they do and they’ll probably say that their parents took them to the zoo when they were children and it inspired them to help care for and protect animals and our planet’s ecosystems. Zoos maintain a collection of animals, some of which are critically endangered as a way to educate the public about these animals and inspire the next generation of conservation scientists, wildlife veterinarians, and activists. Show me a child that has gotten close to a lion in a zoo and I’ll show you a child who will be less likely to illegally kill a wild lion in a trophy hunt. Zoos foster respect for all life and when you foster that type of respect, you foster a generation of people who find the idea of asking an animal to die so that you can have a trophy completely abhorrent. Many zoos have partnered with wildlife conservation organizations and have even helped to re-introduce several species that were formerly extinct back into the wild. The Philadelphia Zoo partners with The Snow Leopard Trust, Giant Otters in Brazil, Polar Bears International, and the International Rhino Foundation.
PeTA stands for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. If you can still agree with PeTA and their demands to shut down all zoos after being presented with this information, then I seriously question your ethics. I would also point out that the “e” on all of PeTA’s branding, the letter that stands for “ethical” is lower case. Kind of says something about how important ethics are to them doesn’t it?
If that doesn’t tell you all you need to know about PeTA’s “ethics,” then I urge you to research their stance on the Vicktory dogs that were rescued from Michael Vick’s dog fighting ring (and yes, dammit it was his dog fighting no matter what he or his lawyers try to tell you). To this day PeTA insists that all of those dogs should have been euthanized outright instead of being rescued by Best Friends Animal Society. In fact they insist that all dogs seized in dog fighting cases should be put down no questions asked.
Still not convinced? Check their stance on Breed Specific Legislation, an ineffectual set of laws that lead to the deaths of hundreds if not thousands of innocent dogs every year. Yep! PeTA supports that crap. They feel that pit bulls are a breed in crisis and BSL will stop them from being bred. They want to stop them from being bred because thousands of them are dying in shelters every year due to lack of homes. BSL has made no impact on the breeding of these animals and they’re dying in shelters because BSL is LEAVING THEM WITH NO HOMES TO GO TO!!!!! How can someone adopt a dog when it is illegal for them to have that designation (Pit bull is a designation, not a breed) of dog where they live? (If you’re interested in reading my full rant regarding BSL click here) I find an organization that claims to represent the best interests of all animals, but advocates for the euthanasia of innocent dogs and discriminatory legislation pretty damn unethical.
Hypocrisy, thy name is PeTA. By advocating for the closure of all zoos, PeTA’s trying to kill the very cause they claim to support. If they were truly for the ethical treatment of animals, they wouldn’t advocate for euthanasia unless quality of life was nil and they’d oppose BSL. Maybe someone should’ve taken them to the zoo when they were kids.