In the latest tragedy involving a zoo animal, Harambe the gorilla was shot dead after a four-year old boy fell into his enclosure at the Cincinnati zoo. While the child sustained no injuries, the 17-year old endangered animal lost his life, despite displaying behavior which has led experts to believe that Harambe was merely trying to protect the child. A mere week prior, two healthy lions were also shot dead when a visitor willingly entered their enclosure and reportedly tried to taunt them into attacking him in a zoo in Chile.
Harambe’s death has spurred a media uproar and led many to question the moral implications of keeping wild animals captive. Scientists, wildlife experts and members of the general public are increasingly aware that breeding and holding wild animals in captivity is not only extremely cruel, it is also very dangerous, both for the animals themselves and the humans who interact with them. Additionally, zoos are not only harmful to their animal residents, they also play a huge role in our global commodification of sentient creatures, by trapping, confining and displaying them as though they were mere objects.
In these places, children (and adults) are fed the false belief that humans have the right to entrap other creatures for their entertainment. Instead, children’s innate interest and fondness for animals should be fostered in more humane ways. This would not only benefit the animals but the kids themselves, who would learn to respect the planet and its creatures. Moreover, it would lessen the number of fatal or distressing interactions between wild animals and impressionable children, such as the four-year-old who had to watch a giant ape be shot and killed right in front of him.
Some interactions between children and zoo animals are less mediatized but no less tragic. This photograph of a capuchin monkey reaching out to a small child through the wires of his cage is subtly heartbreaking.
The child reaches back, potentially confused as to why this intelligent and inquisitive animal has been condemned to a life behind bars.
Zoos are no place for wild animals. As the director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) Azzedine Downes writes, most zoos merely exist as “live storage facilities” and are “a discouraging acquiescence to a world without animals roaming in the wild.”
Zoos and other facilities that keep animals in captivity often purport to have conservational and educational purposes, when in fact they merely exist as profit-making attractions. Indeed, Lori Marino, executive director at the Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy (KCAA) has said that “there is no current evidence, from well-controlled studies in the peer-reviewed literature, supporting the argument that captive animal displays are educational or promote conservation in any meaningful sense.”
The majority of species displayed in captive exhibits are not endangered and therefore do not need “conserving” and zoos rarely if ever release animals back into the wild — instead, most reintroduction programs are carried out by government agencies and non-profits. Instead, animals meant to live in the wild suffer in barren enclosures, developing severe issues and zoochosis, a term characterizing unnatural, compulsive, and repetitive behaviors brought on by the boredom and extreme stress of confinement.
As for educational purposes, it appears that this is an equally empty claim. A study found that 86 percent of visitors go to the zoo for “social or recreational purposes,” while only six percent visit to learn more about animals. Liz Tyson, director of the Captive Animals’ Protection Society (CAPS) states that “Zoos present an entirely false view of both the animals themselves, and of the real and very urgent issues facing many species in their natural homes. This new research appears to confirm what we have said for many years. Zoos do not educate nor do they empower or inspire children to become conservationists.”
Instead of educating children (and adults) about animals, zoos spread harmful messages about our relationship with other creatures.
Better Ways to Teach Kids About Animals
Rather than supporting cruel captive animal facilities and showing children frustrated and depressed animals in concrete enclosures, potential zoo visitors would be better off teaching children to respect animals by engaging in more humane and far more educational alternatives. Inspiring children to care about animals and their conservation is crucial to ensuring that the next generation acts and speaks out for creatures in need.
Inspiring children to stand up for animals and providing entertaining and educational experiences is easily done, with the following tips:
- 6 Lessons Kids Need to Learn About Protecting the Planet
- 5 Reasons You Should Never Visit a Theme Park That Keeps Wild Animals
- Skip the Circus, Marine Park and Zoo: Here are 10 Humane Ways to Interact With Wildlife
- 5 Ways to Enjoy Wild Animals Without the Walls of Captivity
Remember that the best way to protect wildlife is to never visit or support facilities that hold them captive such as zoos, circuses, marine parks, and to encourage others to do the same!
Image source: Mohsin Kazmi/Instagram