‘Natural Habitat’? Not quite.

Hasmik Djoulakian

(September 30, 2011) — They may be sugar-coated with terms like “conservation parks” or “bioparks,” but the true horrors of zoos cannot be hidden from those who even half-heartedly seek them out. America is a country where people openly discuss issues of morality without fear or shame. Why is it, then, that so few people so much as give a second thought to the idea that the zoo is an immoral institution? We become complacent in matters of ethics and overlook great injustices, openly taking part in them as if they were not wrong at all. Neither the public nor zookeepers would stand for it if zoos in the major cities of this country treated animals with obvious cruelty, such as keeping them in very cramped cages or not feeding them; the public and zookeepers don’t have bad intentions, but what neither of them realize is that nearly everything about a zoo is harmful to animals. According to the Captive Animals’ Protection Society, lions and tigers have around 18,000 times more space in their natural habitats than in zoos. Such a dramatic change in environment leaves them confused and miserable, much to the shock of most people who cannot conceive of animals having emotions. In their natural habitats, not to mention natural climates, animals hunt, graze, and roam at their will. They obviously cannot hunt in zoos – what kind of entertainment would that be? – and so they over time lose their ability to do so; hidden chunks of meat don’t compare to gazelles running at speeds of 40 miles per hour. The option of introducing them back into the wild becomes all but nonexistent; either they stay in zoos until they die, or they die due to starvation in the wild. A popular argument people make in favor of zoos is that they conserve species. However, according to Mercy For Animals, only two percent of all endangered or threatened species in the world are part of breeding programs in zoos; the conservation card cannot be used in these cases, which happen to be most of them. The most ironic argument in favor of zoos is that they educate the public. Most people who visit zoos don’t do so to be educated, rather to be entertained. Thus, zoos further the often unconscious feeling in many that animals are disposable and worthless, if not for their viewing pleasure. What’s more, animals in unnaturally small enclosures do not act as they would in the wild. The public, then, is not being educated; rather, at the most, they are reminded of the existence of those animals and their dominion over them. Direct human involvement in the lives of animals concerning their conservation should be limited to temporary-stay sanctuaries – closed for public viewing – for injured animals only. Hands-off involvement should contain and reverse the need for hands-on conservation by protecting animals’ natural habitats and banning unnecessary hunting. That is the only way to mend the damage done by centuries upon centuries of poaching, clear-cutting forests, and destroying irretrievable habitats while not adding insult to injury. It should seem obvious that zoos are immoral, but unfortunately, even the most rudimentary matters of ethics are not objective. It’s only human nature to want to see exotic and dangerous animals from close up, and that’s all right. What really matters is recognizing that that desire is ethically wrong and unjustifiable.