Love it or hate it: Zoos

by Anya Jaremko-Greenwold

Love it

Let me preface this by saying I don’t think zoos should house large animals. Lions, tigers, bears, dolphins, any and all of the intelligent mammals that want to run and hunt and hate being in captivity – they shouldn’t be there. I don’t agree with it. However, human beings are despicable, and zoos will probably be around for a long time; our favorite form of entertainment seems to be watching other mammals do stuff (hello, reality television).

There is one good quality about zoos: For kids, these are the most exciting places in the world. They can learn about other life forms they’ve only seen in Pixar films. All children have a favorite animal, whether it be a polar bear or a cobra – and in a zoo, they get to see those dreams and fantasies realized.

Is it worth taking away an animal’s freedom for the sake of a kid’s smile? No. But if we allow children to meet animals face to face, animals they would never see otherwise, it might spark their interest; and when they grow up, they’ll become wildlife photographers, dolphin trainers, endangered species advocates, animal-rights activists. If they couldn’t see these exotic animals in zoos, how would they come to love and learn about them? It’s difficult to become passionate about something solely through books or even in 2-D on a TV screen. In the flesh is best.

It’s also good for children and adults to see how sad and restless animals look at the zoo. You learn first-hand about the cruelty of chaining living creatures.

— Anya Jaremko-Greenwold

Hate it

There are a number of practices common to our times that I believe humans will look back on in 50, 100 or 200 years and be utterly shocked by, just as we are now shocked by things like burning witches at the stake and chattel slavery. Raising millions and millions of animals for the sole purpose of slaughtering them – often inhumanely – for meat, will be one. To a lesser degree, zoos will be on that list as well.

The more we study animals, the more we understand how complex many of them are, in how they communicate, how they experience pain and depression, their social structures and the richness of their emotional lives. The more we know about all these, the more barbaric zoos become.

Around 2000, I quit zoos. It was after a trip to the Kansas City Zoo, which by many accounts is one of those modern big-city zoos that give the animals the space they need and provide a message of education and conservation to its visitors. But seeing so many animals in captivity, understimulated and deprived of their wildness just made me sad, and I wanted to be no part of that ever again.

And there’s the roadside-attraction version of animal captivity, tourist traps housing big cats, alligators or bears and llamas, often kept in cramped, unsanitary and inhumane conditions. These places normalize animal captivity. I’m pretty sure there are special cages in hell for all of these people.

— David Holub


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