Many of us probably have a trip to the zoo tucked away in our album of childhood memories. It was thrilling to see animals up close that we otherwise might never have seen in the wild. We were too little to worry about whether the animals were happy in their enclosures, and our parents were merely glad to see us having a good time.
But now we’re all grown up, and we can’t see zoos through the innocence of our childhood eyes anymore. We see them for what they really are — small, unnatural enclosures where animals become trapped their entire lives, surrounded by a species that has brought them more harm than good. So here are some of the reasons I think zoos should no longer exist.
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Zoos’ “Good Deeds” Aren’t Worth It
I won’t ignore the fact that zoos have improved greatly over the centuries since the first modern zoo opened in Paris in 1793. Zoos have slowly evolved from existing solely for entertainment to becoming centers for research and conservation, where scientists can monitor animals up close. Many zoos register as charity organizations and use their profits to fund species conservation and research.
But as much as they try to rebrand themselves and improve conditions for the animals, the very structure of zoos will always keep them from becoming truly helpful. The costs and resources used to accommodate crowds of visitors are unavoidable — like lighting, water, park maintenance and waste management. Many zoos have taken green initiatives to reduce their consumption, but it can’t be eliminated completely — unless the zoos close.
And no matter how much zoos remodel enclosures, they can never match the conditions that animals would have in the wild. Space is the biggest problem because many zoos are in urban areas and simply can’t expand to make enough room. This issue is why many animal rights activists call zoos “prison for animals”. And many species also become stressed from the crowds surrounding their exhibit every day.
What Should We Do Instead?
The research and repopulation efforts that scientists and veterinarians practice in zoos can be performed just as well in wildlife preserves. So it’s better to send people to native zones than to keep animals in artificial enclosures thousands of miles away from their natural habitat. Humans can adapt much more easily to different climates and ecosystems, so it makes sense that we should relocate rather than the animals.
People often credit zoos for educating children about animals, but this isn’t something that will be lost if zoos close their gates. Kids must first learn to appreciate nature and its inhabitants at home and in school, or else they will become adults who don’t respect wildlife. And closing zoos doesn’t mean that kids will never get the opportunity to see exotic species in person. I’ll be the first to admit that seeing a rhino in a video online isn’t anything like seeing one up close. But many wildlife preserves and rehabilitation centers welcome visitors on tours that are much more eco-friendly.
How Can We Make the Change?
The first step is to promote the cause until zoos themselves are willing to make the change. We also have to remember the infeasibility of shutting down all the zoos in one day. We can’t ship the thousands of animals that have been born and raised in captivity to their native homelands and set them free. Experts in animal care will have to create a plan for phasing out human interference that will likely take decades to complete.
That may sound daunting, but that’s why the sooner we get started, the better. And someday people will learn about zoos in history books the way we learn about gladiators — as a barbaric practice in the name of entertainment.