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As kids, we’re told that going to the zoo is not only a fun experience, but it’s a valuable one because we can “learn something” too. Who doesn’t remember the worksheets we had to fill out during class trips to the zoo, designed to ensure that we retained at least some basic knowledge about the animals witnessed in captivity – inevitably, we ended up learning was where these animals came from … but not where they truly belonged.

This is all too often the case with “educational” experiences in zoos. They are always geared to foster a deep appreciation of wildlife, while really just encouraging us to see these animals the same way we would a painting in a museum, as something to be gawked at and “interpreted.” Many zoos publicize the fact that they are focused on conservation and want to preserve the endangered species that reside in their glass boxes, but what they miss is the fact that the animals they’re “protecting” are nothing more than hollow versions of themselves.

Take the orangutan in this video for example. Shared with the funny caption of  “monkey see, monkey do,” this video shows a little girl mimicking the actions of a captive orangutan, licking the glass and then giggling as the primate then copies her. This can be viewed as a sweet moment shared between two species, but it comes with the bitter reminder that this little girl has one thing the orangutan doesn’t: freedom. She can walk away from the enclosure and go home while this orangutan will be forced to stay in this isolated box for the entirety of his life. What is possibly more tragic in the orangutan’s situation is the idea that even if he could return to the wild, his native home might not even be there thanks to rampant deforestation for palm oil.

So on the surface we might see a cute exchange, but behind that facade there is the dual problem of how zoos enable us to forget that this species does not exist to play with us or entertain us and that as long as these animals are in artificial enclosures, we’re allowed to ignore the destruction being wrought on their rightful habitats.

Rather than gawking at animals in zoo enclosures, we could more meaningfully educate children by teaching them about why these animals are endangered and how their daily choices are causing this. The orangutan hasn’t lost 90 percent of its original range by accident, we did that.  We could all stand to look beyond the glass and see the problems facing the world’s wildlife for what they really are – otherwise, zoos will be the only place any wild animal exists. 

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12 comments on “What This Video of a Little Girl Mimicking a Captive Orangutan in the Zoo Teaches Us About How We View Animals”

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Kitty Blüm
1 Years Ago

That s a wonderfull question, I love it. Well, we had chickens and one of them once flew at my shoulder wenn i was a very young girl. Later i lifted this chicken up to my shoulder and went to the milkmen etc. In those days (in Holland) the shopcar came by a bus, SRV, to your house. A lot of chickens escaped and layed their eggs underneath big plants (rhododenderons). I found them and watched the little ones grow. For me it was completely normall that animals, and this is very important, decided to mmove to a certin place to take care of little ones and made a sort of nest. Also, I was friend with a black crow. When the bird wanted it, he (or she) flied to the balcony where i often was in the summer. Also, during a certain period we had hedgehogs. It was naturally for me tht they decided to visit us (humans) when the needed our help. We gave them some milk and watched them from a small distance. And once, once I went to a circus and was horrified! People where in compleet controll of the hourses, lions and elephants. And those animals had to do tricks to please the public. It wasn t joyfull, carefull contact and it was not their decision, so I cried my longs out and we went home earlier! before the show ended.


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Toni Logan
1 Years Ago

this makes me sad


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Maureen O'Connor
1 Years Ago

Yes. I remember going to zoos and feeling horrible. These incredible creatures had deliberately been put in a position that absolutely made them seem "less than" and no one seemed to mind. I know zoos work on conservation and provide education--but that does not penetrate like the visceral impression of captivity. That's what resonates and sticks with you. Ew. #animals


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Marta Feio
1 Years Ago

It's delusional to believe that man is a superior species.


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Marta Feio
1 Years Ago

It's delusional to believe that man is a superior species.


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Tanya Osterman
1 Years Ago

I went to zoos, circuses and even rode an elephant before I knew better. Saw an elephant in a show here in Vegas (named Tanya!). I never knew how bad all this was, until I got older. I feel bad now for having supported all this stuff. But now I know better. I am even now feeling that I can't do zoos anymore.


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Constance Pepin
1 Years Ago

I will never forget over 50 years ago, as a child, seeing a lion pacing in his concrete cell at Como Zoo in St. Paul while a toddler roared at him. Even as a child, I knew the animal's captivity was wrong and that the toddler's 'game' was wrong. Kids don't learn about animals in zoos. It's just "entertainment" that perpetuates the myth that zoos are "fun" places.


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Constance Pepin
1 Years Ago

I will never forget over 50 years ago, as a child, seeing a lion pacing in his concrete cell at Como Zoo in St. Paul while a toddler roared at him. Even as a child, I knew the animal's captivity was wrong and that the toddler's 'game' was wrong. Kids don't learn about animals in zoos. It's just "entertainment" that perpetuates the myth that zoos are "fun" places.


Reply
Teylah James
1 Years Ago

Sad picture


Reply
Teylah James
1 Years Ago

Sad picture


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