By ARIANA APOSTOL
While zoos can be fun and educational, unfortunately, they often hurt rather than help the animals that live in them.
Just because an animal can survive in a certain habitat does not mean that it thrives there. Polar bears, for instance, only exist naturally in the Arctic, where they live on ice and hunt seals and other live animals. Considering that according to the Defenders of Wildlife, wild polar bears are endangered primarily as a result of climate change-induced ice melts, people have no reason to believe that they can thrive in an area with no ice at all. Seeing polar bears in California is undoubtedly a unique experience that would not be possible without zoos, but we often fail to consider the conditions that these captive animals are forced to endure for this experience to be possible.
Zoo animals are often unhealthy. According to TreeHugger, animal endocrinologist Kari Morfield states that the fact that zoo animals have much more sedentary behavior than their wild counterparts and that they have a high-calorie intake from their fruit and hay-filled diets accounts for their poor health.
According to OneGreenPlanet.org, many animals are overweight and unhappy because they are kept in captivity. For example, several zoo elephants suffer not only from obesity, but also from resulting arthritis, infertility and cardiac disease – the same side effects of obesity in humans. Similarly, according to Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), animals like orcas, who naturally have the entire ocean in which to roam free, develop serious health problems in zoos from living in the unnaturally cramped spaces of display tanks.
In addition, the widely held belief that zoo animals live longer than wild animals may not hold as much truth as zoos would like the public to believe. When animals are born in captivity, they sometimes fail to properly develop the bonds with their mothers that they would have in the wild. Zoos often lack the resources to provide them with the quality of care that they would naturally receive from their mothers; these animals can actually die earlier than they would in the wild as a result.
Furthermore, as the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals explains, zoos aim to attract the public and do not necessarily nurture animals that no longer appeal to people.
Still, many argue that the redeeming quality of zoos is their value for education, preservation and entertainment. While it is true that zoos can provide education about animals to visitors, there are other, more humane ways for people to learn about these creatures. National parks, for instance, offer the opportunity to see wild animals in their natural habitats.
Another supposed advantage of zoos is their captive breeding programs. These programs work to restore threatened species, as they did with the California condor. How Stuff Works explains, however, that this does not require keeping the animals in cages; there are alternative animal sanctuaries, which protect but do not capture animals, where these animals could be released.
Finally, the argument to keep zoos for human entertainment holds no ground. We would never lock up human beings and teach them to do tricks solely for our enjoyment. Such an act would be unethical and inhumane, so we should not believe that this kind of treatment is acceptable for any other living being either.
It is true that some zoos do treat their animals better than others do, but the Humane Society of the United States has reported that only 200 of the 2,000 menageries in the United States are accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums for their humane treatment of animals.
No matter how close to an animal’s natural habitat a zoo’s enclosures may appear, wild animals are wild and they deserve to be respected and treated as such.