Open Your Eyes to the Reality of Zoos

April 2, 2011
In the summer of 2005, two polar bears died within five weeks of each other at the Saint Louis Zoo, triggering its series of high-profile animal deaths and illnesses. The first polar bear, Churchill, ate a toxic collation of cloth and plastic, dying during his subsequent stomach surgery. Just a month later, Penny the polar bear died from an infection; she had two dead fetuses inside her uterus, while zoo officials were not even aware of her pregnancy. Yet again, in 2009, the zoo’s last surviving polar bear Hope was euthanized after veterinarians had discovered she had liver cancer. And the list goes on—Muchana the gorilla died after becoming entangled in a rope in his cage, Cinder the chimpanzee died from an enlarged heart, Juara the orangutan died from respiratory arrest, a baby chimpanzee died shortly after birth, and two young elephants Jade and Maliha were struck with a potentially fatal herpes virus. Seven animal deaths along with two illnesses, in five years, in a single zoo—the Saint Louis Zoo claimed it was ‘just a tragic and unfortunate accident’—but in reality, this is sheer evidence of the abhorrent consequences zoos bring about. The practice of confining wild animals in zoos is appalling and should be abolished.
Certainly many zoos aim to educate and emphasize the needs of animals as well as the importance of conservation to its visitors. A majority of zoos include sign posts or brochures regarding information on animal species, behaviors, and other miscellaneous facts. However, this form of education is very general and deficient; the only way to properly understand an animal is by seeing it in its natural environment. By isolating animals from their ecosystem, zoos give a misleading and artificial interpretation of an animal’s true nature. Studies have shown that most visitors spend less than three minutes looking at each exhibit, and sometimes as little as eight seconds. Former zoo director David Hancocks states “Most visits to most zoos throughout history have served only as diversions for the curious. Most zoo animals have traditionally been reduced to caricatures of their wild cousins.” Thus, even with the so-called education zoos provide, they fail to portray accurate conceptions of authentic animal life.
Perhaps captive breeding programs in zoos help restore endangered animals. Because so many wild animals are on the brink of extinction due to hunting, zoos work to protect these animals. On the contrary, the success achieved in conserving animals through zoos’ captive breeding programs is extremely low, thus inefficient. Many species continue to go extinct each week. A small captive community of a species is more liable to inter-breeding, birth defects, and genetic deterioration. For instance, Asian elephant Tika was induced to an artificial insemination captive breeding program in California, resulting in atrocious consequences for both herself and her baby. While Tika’s baby died as a full-term fetus, this caused a severe and progressive infection for Tika’s uterus—Tika endured 46 days of misery before she was euthanized. To exemplify, of the 145 reintroduction programs carried out by zoos in the last century, only 16 truly succeeded in restoring populations to the wild. Although a majority of zoos claim that they are increasing the population of endangered animals, the failure rate is much too high to continue such an abysmal practice.
Besides, no matter how good the facilities provided in zoos are, its animals are always bound to suffer. These zoo animals which are confined in exceedingly small exhibits (compared to their natural environments) undergo tremendous psychological distress, often displayed by abnormal, self-destructive, and repetitive behavior, classified as zoochosis. For example, a study of gorillas in the UK Belfast Zoo found that gorillas displayed “more behaviors suggestive of agitation, such as repetitive rocking, group-directed aggression and self-grooming” when there were more visitors. In another case, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) investigated numerous zoos across the US and found several bear species exhibiting neurotic, stereotypic behaviors by spending much of their time pacing, walking in tight circles, and swaying their heads. Other examples of zoochosis include giraffes tongue playing, elephants bobbing their heads, big cats obsessively grooming themselves, chimpanzees vomiting, bears self-inflicting physical harm, and monkeys exhibiting coprophagia (playing with and eating excrement). No animal deserves to put up with such agony.
Finally, zoos misuse and violate animal rights. Animals belong in their natural habitat in the wild; placing them in zoos and forcing them into captivity for man’s own purpose is an infringement of individual animal rights, as well as a human act of selfishness. To illustrate, elephants in the wild walk as much as 50 miles (80 kilometers) a day in large herds, grazing on leaves and pausing occasionally to splash in watering holes. In zoos, however, elephants are lucky to walk a mere two miles and be accompanied with just one other elephant. Furthermore, a study of zoos worldwide discovered that big cats such as lions and cheetahs have 18, 000 times less space in zoos than in the wild; for captive polar bears, this figure rises to one million times less space. Animals confined in zoos are deprived of a quality life in the wild, where they would engage in natural mating, hunting, and other aspects of life.
Zoos allege that they allow people, especially children, the chance to see animals that they would never witness in the wild for an affordable price. This claim is correct, thus people must submit to magazines, books, and television. Nevertheless, will an entertaining day at the zoo ever justify the heartbreak of zoochosis and anguish which these animals endure? If instead the millions of dollars spent on the zoo industry were invested in funds for protecting and maintaining nature reserves and wildlife, the threat of extinction and endangerment which animals currently face would decline substantially; countless animals would be spared. Education and breeding programs no longer provide a valid excuse to keep animals captive. Imprisoning animals in zoos is inhumane and must stop.

Join the Discussion

This article has 2 comments. Post your own now!

Brittbyheart said...
Apr. 12, 2011 at 9:00 pm
Bravo! I am very excited that there is someone sane enough to put up an article that stops animal crulety. I went to the zoo in 2nd grade, and once I steped foot on the grounds, I knew something was wrong. Animals should not be put in captivity. Thats like selling a human to a slave owner, only thing different; once an animal is put in a zoo, chances of it ever going back out is VERY slim.
quentin-arehart said...
Apr. 12, 2011 at 2:09 pm
I wish people wouldn't be so mean :( I'm a big animal/wildlife nut and their niche is incredibly important to an ecosystem, not something in a zoo. An animal in a false home is like a fish out of water. Diversity is one of the many natural, and beautiful things about the planet! Keep it safe, as somethings are only aware to certain people, who see past veils put over them. Take care of everything!
bRealTime banner ad on the left side
Site Feedback