Sandra, the orangutan who was living at the Buenos Aires Zoo, was recently granted “non-human personhood” and is being granted the right to live life free of zoo walls. Sandra will be transferred to a primate sanctuary in Brazil, where she will be able to live life away from the crowds of people that frightened this shy ape before. This success in the animal rights front is a fantastic step in the right direction for animals of all species. It, however, brings up the question, do we still need zoos?

It is well known that zoo animals do not necessarily display the behaviors and actions they would in their natural environment. There is no way for them to do so in captivity. A recent study conducted by the Captive Animals’ Protection Society, found that, contrary to popular belief, zoos don’t actually help people, specifically children, learn about the animals and conservation. The study found that only 38 percent of children who visited the London Zoo left with positive learning outcomes. It also found that the majority of children not only left the zoo without learning, but experienced negative learning outcomes. Based on the study’s findings, children “did not feel empowered to believe that they can take ‘effective ameliorative action’ on matters relating to conservation after their zoo experience.”

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Zoos as breeding facilities is another double-edged sword. Though much research is done at zoos about breeding and with the effort to preserve endangered species, the animals that come out of these institutions will never be “wild”.  Having successful births of endangered species at zoos is fantastic, but does it solve the problem of their pending extinction? Not necessarily.

Sanctuaries, as opposed to zoos, provide a more natural habitat for the animals that live there. Though these animals will never truly be wild, Sanctuaries provide the next best thing to complete freedom. Many of these sanctuaries allow for the animas to live and behave similar to how they would out of captivity. These sanctuaries, specifically those in Africa, may be the only hope for critically endangered species such as the Northern White Rhino.

Zoos may have served to teach people about animals once, but today they are proving to serve less of a purpose. The goal of animal conservation should be to protect our planet’s animals in their natural habitat. Zoos remove the “natural” behavior from many of their resident animals. As technology and conservation efforts grow and change, zoos will become obsolete. It is time to focus on what is best for the animals, as opposed to what impresses the masses of people.

Image source: Bong Grit/Flickr

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