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The Modern Zoo This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

I would like to begin by defining “zoo.” It is a park-like area in which live animals are kept in cages or large enclosures for public exhibit. Hold on, large enclosures? More like tiny cages. As zoo funds are cut, cages become smaller with less foliage.

To many people it is obvious that keeping an elephant in a small enclosure is unkind. Zoos assert claims of conservation, research, and education, and most visitors buy it. They believe that keeping polar bears locked up in “sanctuaries” with fake ice is better than to have them out in the wild. This is understandable, since the polar ice is melting. However, both problems are caused by humans: global warming contributes to the ice melting, and the need for constant entertainment creates zoos. A survey taken by the World Society for the Protection of Animals found that 80 percent of people believed animals were not receiving proper treatment.

Zoos claim to educate visitors. Yet we’ve all seen the one-sentence signs that describe monkeys. What can be learned from this? Certainly not enough to justify inhumane captivity.

These animals are simply meant to entertain. For example, look at the red pandas at the Bronx Zoo. Are they treated with respect? No: these pandas are a few feet from hundreds of cars zooming by on the expressway, with only a fence to separate them. Are these fit conditions for an almost-extinct animal?

Zoo animals endure inadequate living conditions with no space. Captive populations are not large enough to provide a good gene pool to preserve their species, and they have too much interaction with humans. Yet people will still come to see these rare animals that belong thousands of miles away. It just shows how desperate we’ve become for entertainment. This is the ultimate disrespect to a species.

The claim that most zoos make to justify the captivity of animals is increasing destruction of natural habitat. The rainforests are being destroyed at the rate of thousands of acres a day. Animals have been breeding and migrating for a long time. And they’ve done it well. The destruction of the environment is a valid reason for helping them. But a line must be drawn between help and destruction.

Many zoos have the problem of surplus animals due to excessive breeding. What do you think the zoos do with them? Mostly they destroy them. Normally animals leave their parents and venture into the wild when they come of age, but zoo captivity does not allow for this. Woburn Safari Park recently admitted that they kill surplus monkeys. Sometimes the animals are packed like trash and shipped off to other zoos. Or they are what zoos call “recycled” (fed to other species in the zoo). Other surplus animals are given to laboratories for experiments.

By 2010 the world will have almost seven billion people. Thus the need for more zoos arises. Where will these animals come from? Certainly many will be bred in captivity, yet the majority are caught in the wild. About 35 species of animals go extinct every day in the rainforest. Perhaps taking these animals to zoos is better than allowing them to die in the diminishing wild, but clearly the conditions in zoos must be improved.

Is the power and beauty of nature apparent in zoos? This is what they claim to give you for your money. A zoo cage typically consists of a few animals sitting in confinement with nothing but plastic trees and brick walls. Their eyes hold a lifetime of sadness and emptiness. Can you blame them? Every day people stare at them, tap on the glass, and make faces to scare them or get them to move. Signs prohibit photography, yet tourists still take pictures. They don’t understand or care how much the flash terrifies the animals. A recent study found that, on average, visitors spent less than three minutes looking at each exhibit – some even as little as nine seconds. It is true that we get to see animals we otherwise wouldn’t. Without zoos we’d have to see them on TV or read about them. But is a minute of pleasure enough to justify a life sentence of confinement in a tiny cage?

Animals are tortured by zoos. Many lions will walk around in circles all day. This kind of behavior is especially apparent in tall animals like elephants and giraffes, which might chew the plastic foliage or bang on the bars of their cages. Some monkeys turn to self-mutilation after they have expended all the amusement provided in their cages. Birds are not able to fly in their mesh enclosures. Some stop trying. After a few years, most can no longer fly.

The night quarters are the worst. We do not see the tiny cages behind the chimpanzee enclosure where they are locked up with hardly enough room to move. But most animals just hide and sleep, like a never-ending hibernation.

More zoos will be created in the next 25 years. In captivity the once-proud creatures of the wild exhibit only shame. Shame on the human race for doing this to these animals. Perhaps the future of these animals does rest in zoos, but we can make zoos more humane. By doing simple things such as donating $5 to a project designed to stop zoo cruelty or increase the cage size, you can make a difference.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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This article has 87 comments. Post your own now!

moecheez said...
Nov. 22, 2010 at 11:26 am
i think keeping animals in the zoo is inhumane period. ask your self this question ? would you like to be taken away from your home and put behind a glass for everyone like you are but on display .what do they do with the animals when it gets to cold for them
ThePeaceDaisy replied...
Oct. 18, 2011 at 3:31 pm
They keep the cages heated for when it gets cold, I think. 
WintersRevenge said...
Nov. 7, 2010 at 4:18 pm

The first thing I want to say is that thank you for caring for these animals. But the second thing I want to say is that your statement is not even near the truth. 

Your writing is fantastic, but you have some major flaws in your idea. I will admit that there are a few zoos that fit your description, but the majority of zoos all over the world take care of their animals diligently. You state that animals are tortured by zoos. You are confusing zoos with circuses, which are not the... (more »)

Nommy. said...
Oct. 13, 2010 at 7:11 am

First of all I just want to say that all your views on zoo's have obviously not been well researched. All the zoo's near my area are very repectable and they only do the best for their animals. you all talk about the size of the "tiny" enclosures but to be honest In my many numerous vists to my local zoo I have never once seen a enclosure of your description, most animals are kepy in large roomy enviorments that are well suited to their natural habbitats. Many zoo's spend lots of money on enr... (more »)

bethynomnom said...
Oct. 13, 2010 at 7:11 am

ok then.

firstly dont start saying things you dont know! i have visited many zoo's and i have never seen an ill treated animal. i think your misunderstanding they do not badly treat them! zoo staff are thinking of there animals welfare 24/7 they are always the top priority. maybe if people would stop destroying their enviroment then you wouldnt need to complain. so maybe you should do something instead of judging the people who are working really hard to help!

Mrs Nom said...
Oct. 13, 2010 at 7:09 am
animals are NOT kept in zoo for exibhition most are kept in enclosures for breeding programs && research to help our planets creatures !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
ELM522 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Jul. 25, 2010 at 12:20 pm
I love animals, in fact I am a vegetarian because I feel bad for farm animals. However, I disagree with your statement. Zoo animals are injured animals that cannot be let back in the wild.
Caca man replied...
Sept. 21, 2010 at 3:47 pm
I dont ageer with you write something else
Harvardstar replied...
Dec. 26, 2010 at 10:46 pm
{*I don't agree with you, write something else.} Who cares if you agree or not! Your ''okay'' or ''no'' can't stop anyone from writing!
tianaxbiddy said...
Jul. 12, 2010 at 9:45 am
the way we can cut back zoos is by helpin the earth. but zoos shouldnt be around at all. there r ppl who have wideopen spaces for animals. there are family sanctuaries that treat animals with love and care that is where they should b not in zoos zoos in general no matter the care r cruel because of the small enclosed spaces
BlueRain said...
Jun. 22, 2010 at 1:29 pm

I agree, I've heard of too many zoos that treat their animals unfairly, and it makes me sick how little the public knows about this but still continues to go there and support it financially.

But one zoo that I went to, quite small too, probably had the best relationships with their animals. And this zoo didn't buy animals just for entertainment. They were a rescue for animals that would have otherwise been sold on the black market and probably killed. In fact while I was there they ha... (more »)

skywitch said...
Mar. 29, 2010 at 5:45 pm
Some zoos can be small but some are very big. I was suprized to see how large Disney Worlds Animal Kingdoms habits were. I also think zoos (at lest the zoos that I go to) egucate people. If anything I think we should ask how people in the circus how well they are treating their animals. After all Zooligests arn't taking care of them.
naturelover123 said...
Mar. 8, 2010 at 9:21 pm
Yes...some enclosures are too small (sickening), but some zoos are huge with tons of room for many animals! Not all zoos are horrible. Still, this article brings attention to an important issue. I like the end especially...about donating money.
Abby R. said...
Mar. 3, 2010 at 4:34 pm
The Minnesota Zoo is not like this at all. All the animals are happy and they aren't kept in small spaces they are rather big. Barely any zoo's mistreat the animals and if there is a huge puplic zoo that is like that why would it still be running. Zoo's are a good place for people that want to have jobs when they grow up with or around animals. I want to be a shark biologist there is only one problem right now. I live in Minnesota no sharks in the lakes here. So until i am old eno... (more »)
lovelauren3 replied...
Mar. 3, 2010 at 8:08 pm
I completely agree with you, Abby. The Minnesota Zoo is, although in captivity other than wildlife, a great place for the animals to live. The space is more than enough for the number of animals and none of them seem to be upset, although I wouldn't be fully able to know that, since I'm not a shark-whisperer or anything. I believe that there may not be enough space in some zoos, but I don't fully agree with this article. I think you took the steryotypical route and basically preju... (more »)
BlueRain replied...
Jun. 22, 2010 at 1:31 pm
Oh yes, I've heard alot of good things about the Minnesota Zoo especially about their wolves. I want to go there really badly, i first heard about them through WolfQuest.
slightlymad said...
Feb. 9, 2010 at 8:31 pm
Animals are our little brothers and sisters, would yo do that (insert word of choice) to your siblings?
i-go-by-syd said...
Feb. 9, 2010 at 2:32 pm
I wish that us humans took better care of the animals they deserve it
Well written by the way
WriterFanatic This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Jan. 5, 2010 at 10:11 pm
Its Terrible. You are so correct. What irritates me is that we don't treat these animals with respect do we? I mean, we are supposed to be the more intelligent race. So....why are we acting like savages? Yet these animals have no more places to go. Some of these animals have next to zip habitats. Thats whats frustrating!
Anh_Tho said...
Dec. 12, 2009 at 6:19 pm
Consider this- when you keep fish in a bowl aren't you 'imprisoning' them? Their natural habitats aren't meant to be a bowl right? But look at the bright side, at least they have food, shelter, no predators and can live to a healthy old age unless someone forgets to clean the bowl. Same with animals in zoos. They don't have freedom as the wild animals do but they do live happy lives.
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