There are many zoos and aquariums across the world, each with animals. Specifically, the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA) indicate that there are more than 10,000 zoos across the world and that more than 50,000 animals are in zoos and aquaria. The major question that begs for answers amidst these statistics is whether these animals are happy in the zoos and/ or aquaria and whether they should be there in any case. Some animals have been found dead in zoos, while others die in the wild every day. Various studies have been conducted in the past in support of and against the concept of having animals in the zoo. The objective of this paper is to show that the animals are not really happy in the zoo and that no animals should therefore be in zoos or in aquaria.
Some studies support the position of this paper on the assertion that animals should be in their natural environments since the animals in the aquaria and zoos are unhappy. There are also arguments that animals in the zoos and aquaria eventually lose their survival skills and are unable to go back to the wild environment. On the con side, people argue that since animals are good and easier to look at while in captivity, they should be kept in zoos and/ or aquaria. Moreover, businessmen could also earn money from running zoos and aquaria. The stance of this paper is that animals should remain in the wild and not be taken out of their natural habitats.
One of the arguments in support of my position is that animals in the zoo are unhealthy. According to past studies, it has been shown that animals which live in the zoos are less healthy compared to others who live in the natural wild environments. Kagan, Carter and Allard (2015) for instance, assert that the welfare of animals in the zoo is not guaranteed and that it depends on several factors including the characteristics of the zoo, the nature of captivity whether semi or full and the training of the zoo staff. Animal welfare is described in terms of feeding as well as in terms of participation in several other key activities. According to Kagan et al (2015), animal welfare is founded on five key animal rights and freedoms which include: freedom from hunger and thirst; freedom from discomfort, freedom from distress and fear; freedom to express normal behaviors and freedom from suffering and pain. The zoo environment exposes the animals to potential violation of some of these rights and places the animals at the mercy of the zoo staff. On the one hand, most zoo staffs agree that animals in the zoo should be considered in terms of all aspects on their welfare. On the other hand, there is no clarity on what entails animal welfare, particularly when in the zoo.
The welfare of the animals should however be in consideration of all the basic freedoms of animals, whose violation can result in physical as well as emotional distress. For instance, animals should naturally live in the wild and enjoy the freedoms and challenges that come with it. When people take them captive in the zoos, factors such as feeding patterns, exposure to emotional disturbances and shortage of social interactions, result in distress. Animals in the zoo will automatically have their freedom from fear and distress violated. Similarly, pain and suffering become an indelible part of their lives emotionally. They are also restrained from expressing their normal behaviors such as normal hunting practices and are left at the mercy of the zoo staff. With fear, distress and inability to show normal behavior, pain and suffering are inevitable. Pain, suffering and distress are observed through animal behaviors. For instance, a polar bear has been reported to cry in the aquarium; a tiger also bit someone in the zoo and was then beaten to death. In a third case, a Bengal tiger bit a Manchurian tiger to death in a zoo. These abnormal behaviors indicate emotional distress and deviation from normal behaviors. These episodes indicate lack of good health for the animals in the zoo compared to those in the wild. Based on the behavioral and research findings, and from the arguments developed by Kagan et al therefore, the zoo does not provide a good environment for animals hence animals should not live in the zoos.
The argument that animals in the zoo lose their survival skills also fits perfectly with the position of Kagan et al. For instance, the authors opine that while animals at the zoo are cared for by providing food, shelter, water and veterinary services, these do not constitute the complete scope of animal welfare rather it diverts their capacity to behave naturally. For instance, cats in zoos cannot catch mice but rather play with them. Similarly, leopards in zoos tend to lose their hunting capabilities due to complacency. This makes such as those to live lives that do not mirror what their natural tendencies should be. Based on the research conducted on the freedoms and rights associated with animals, absence of natural tendencies is indicative of lower welfare conditions and subsequently poorer mental and emotional health. The quality of life of the animals therefore falls subject to the humans who care for them. This implies that the humans have to use their own intuition to determine what would be good and what would be bad for the animals. In most cases, the relationship between the animals and those who care for them make the difference between good animal health and lack thereof. In some instances, animals fail to adapt to the food and healthcare they are given at the zoo and/ or aquarium. This mainly happens as a reaction to their removal from the natural habitats they are used to and results in poorer response to the captive conditions. In other cases, the animals, once retired from zoo service, are not well taken care of since they have no financial value to the zoo owners. At those times, they cannot be taken back to their natural habitats since it would be impossible for them to survive outside the zoo (Kagan et al., 2015). Their quality of life therefore reduces significantly, without any remedy.
As such, animals live a constrained life within the zoos and aquariums, making them potentially unhappy. The animals therefore are in the wrong place as long as they are under captivity as in the zoos and aquariums.
A second research conducted by Birkett and Newton- Fisher (2011) showed that Chimpanzees living in the zoos had the probability of showing abnormal behaviors, which indicated mental instability. This is an indication of the emotional disturbance that animals living in captivity, such as those in zoos experience. According to the study, abnormal behaviors even among animals, especially apes who have significant mental capabilities is an indication of psychological torture or an underlying sign of mental illness. The authors argue that captivity, as in a zoo therefore is not good for animals as it results in emotional problems. Other issues mentioned by Birkett and Newton- Fisher (2011) include social deprivation, maternal deprivation and persistent effects which arise from the social exclusion. These social conditions through which animals go in the zoos and aquariums are not perfect for the satisfaction of their natural needs and desires and inevitably subject them to emotional turmoil. Animals such as lions, which are used to living in a community, are deprived of the opportunity to breed or to interact with other lions while in the zoo or aquarium. This makes it possible for the lions to mark their territories or to take care of their young ones effectively, indicating a deviation from the natural norm. Without doubt, this has a mental impact on the animals hence the observed boredom among the chimpanzees in the zoo (Birkett & Newton- Fisher, 2011). They are also reduced to a sedentary lifestyle, which is not their nature hence the tendencies to be sick or emotional at times. Based on the analysis conducted by the authors, it is clear that animals in the zoo are not happy and therefore it is recommended that animals should not be in the zoo but should be in their wild habitats.
Taylor (2014) also discusses some reasons why animals should not be in the zoos and/ or aquariums. According to Taylor, the question of animals in the zoo brings about conflicts between advocacy for environmental conservation and advocacy for animal welfare. Those concerned with animal welfare mostly cite the argument that removing animals from their natural habitats resorts to a violation of the animal welfare and thus contributes to the negative impacts on animal health and wellbeing. According to the explanation from Taylor (2014), any activity that deviates from man’s goal to protect and to preserve the biotic environment is unethical and immoral. Thus, having animals outside their biotic environment constitutes unethical behavior from man. Moreover, animal welfare is described as the practice of avoiding abuse and exploitation of animals, and providing them with appropriate accommodation subject to all the freedoms of the animal. This implies that without any of these freedoms, the animals in zoos and aquaria are suffering and in pain. This calls for the release of animals in zoos to be back to their natural habitats, and to better welfare.
While explaining why animals should be in the zoo, Kagan et al explain that staffs at zoos and aquariums, are contemporarily being trained to ensure that the animals have a better welfare. These arguments are based on the fact that the animals in the zoo have a financial value to the zoo owners and thus investing in their upkeep is worth the effort. An example is given of the Detroit Zoological Society Center, which introduced policies and training opportunities for zoo staff to enable them take better care of the animals. According to Kagan et al, training the staff at zoos makes it possible to provide the quality of life that the animals may need in the wilderness, and as such reproduces that life. As such, zoos can continue providing a source of income to the owners without negative impacts on the animals. Taylor (2014) also adds that besides the human care accorded to animals in the zoo, the zoos also provide restitute for animals nearing extinction. This means that the same animals, if left in the wilderness, would die and leave no progeny. From this perspective, the zoos and aquariums look a good strategy for maintaining animal welfare and ensuring growth of the animals. Taylor even suggests that modern day zoos and aquaria are started with the objectives of saving near extinct animals and should not be considered as captivity for the animals. By these positions, the importance of animals staying in the zoos is explained.
Another perspective that can be gained from the article by Kagan et al is that animals in the zoo, and with effective training of the zoo staff, can create relationships with the humans with whom they interact due to their closeness, making them more comfortable than they would be in the wilderness. Adults and children alike can go to zoos to watch animals, resulting into greater experiences and knowledge about animals. Once the animals have created relationships with humans, it becomes easier for them to be observed and studied at a close range compared to when in the wilderness where they can be harmful. This makes it clear that research can be conducted on animals in zoos much easily that they could be conducted on animals in the wild. Students as well as those looking for fun can then benefit easily when animals are in the zoo.
Based on the consideration of the diverse opinions presented about having animals in the zoo, my opinion is still that animals should not be in the zoo. Animals in the zoo face significant challenges as mentioned by different authors. For instance, such animals are not happy due to several factors which include their health, feeding habits and the removal from their natural environment. Animals may not be happy because the zoo environment subjects them to less that they are used to in the wilderness. The animal welfare, as considered by those who take care of them may not depict what the animals consider to be welfare for them. The five freedoms of animals in particular are easily violated within the zoo environment even though the animals are provided with food and shelter. Some animals also fail to adapt to the free food in the zoo environment and thus tend to be unhealthy. In more adverse cases, animals lose their natural behaviors due to adaptation to the zoo environment, and once retired from active zoo participation; they cannot go back successfully to their natural habitats.
Those who support the idea of having animals in the zoos on the other hand, mention their role in economic growth as well as the opportunity they provide for students to learn. However, both of these do not provide sufficient ethical confirmation that animals would rather be in the zoo. The paper thus calls for the consideration of the divine role of man to take care of the environment and the ethical implications of man’s actions, especially with regards to having animals in the zoo.
Birkett, L.P. and Newton-Fisher, N.E. (2011). How abnormal is the behaviour of captive, zoo-living chimpanzees? PLoS One, 6(6): e20101. Retrieved from doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0020101
Kagan, R., Carter, S. and Allard, S. (2015). A universal animal welfare framework for zoos. Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, 18(1): S1 – S10. Retrieved from www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10888705.2015.1075830
Taylor, M.A. (2014). Zootopia-animal welfare, species preservation and the ethics of captivity. Poultry Fisheries and Wildlife Sciences, 2:121. Retrieved from doi: 10.4172/2375-446X.1000121