In today’s society, whether or not zoos should stay open has become a hotly debated topic, due to an increase in the awareness of animal rights and heightened education around this issue. Zoos pose a special challenge to animal-loving advocates because they present a conflict between the desire to see and interact with exotic animals and the belief that animals should remain in their natural habitat. As an aspiring biologist, this is an issue I find particularly intriguing.
The main argument in favour of zoos is that by bringing people and animals together, zoos educate the public and foster an appreciation for the animals and therefore motivate people to protect them and their species in the wild. Zoos also save endangered species by bringing them into safe environments, protected from poachers, habitat loss and starvation. Many also have breeding programmes which contribute to enhancing population numbers. There are rules in place which work to ensure that animals are treated as well as possible – both accredited and unaccredited animal exhibitors are regulated by the Animal Welfare Act, which establishes standards for care, and reputable zoos are accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums which ensures they have been inspected by a group of experts and have extremely high standards of care.
On the other hand, many would argue that humans simply do not have the right to capture, confine and breed other animals, even if they are endangered. Animals in captivity suffer from stress, boredom and confinement and it has been proven that elephants kept in zoos tend not to live as long as elephants in the wild. Animal activists argue that not enough is being done to ensure that high standards of treatment are being met. They argue that the federal Animal Welfare Act establishes only the most minimal standards of care and violations often result in just a slap on the wrist. Even a long history of AWA violations is not enough to free most animals. Breeding programmes also present an issue for some people. The majority of breeding programmes do not release animals back to the wild and any surplus offspring are sold to other zoos or even circuses where they are often abused and exploited. The removal of an endangered species from the wild is often a hindrance on the population, not a help, because the remaining animals will be less genetically diverse and have more difficulty finding mates. There is also a strong argument against the idea that zoos help to educate younger generations as some believe that they teach children that imprisoning animals for our own entertainment is acceptable and that there is no evidence children will have more compassion for animals they see in real life – no child has seen a dinosaur but many are crazy about them!
Overall, I believe that people should be encouraged to visit sanctuaries, which rehabilitate wildlife and take in unwanted exotic pets without breeding, buying and selling animals as is the case in zoos, or wildlife reserves where animals are left to live on their own, not in enclosures, and people can observe them from afar. However, this is unrealistic as these are often more expensive and difficult to visit. As long as there is a demand for zoos, they will continue to exist and I believe that by making sure zoo conditions are the best possible for the animals and the focus is on education and not entertainment, they can be positive places for people to interact with wild animals, but this can only be achieved with hard work.
Lauren (UVI Form)
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