Should zoos be banned?
When ecological conservation emerged as a matter of public interest in the 1970s, zoos increasingly engaged themselves in conservation programs. The American Zoo Association even stated that conservation was to become its number one priority. In order to push conservation issues, many large zoos put a stop to having animals perform tricks for visitors and began expanding and redesigning animal enclosures with a view towards improving the lives of captive animals.
Given that the mass destruction of wildlife habitat across the globe continues unabated and species such as elephants, big cats, birds, primates, rhinos, reptiles, and many others are at real risk of extinction, larger zoos have now stepped in with the hopes of stopping or at least slowing the decline of these endangered species.
In the face of sharp criticism and loud calls for zoos to be banned, modern zoos today now state that their primary function is to breed endangered species and reintroduce these animals into the wild. Modern zoos claim that they also aim to help teach visitors the importance of animal conservation and mindfulness when it comes to the ecosystem as a whole.
Critics and a majority of animal rights activists insist that zoos, despite their noble intentions, are inherently immoral and primarily serve to entertain humans at the expense of animals. Zoo advocates maintain that their efforts do make a difference in wildlife conservation and will continue to have a positive environmental impact well into the future.
Putting aside these opposing views, it does remain a sad reality that the welfare of zoo animals varies widely depending on where you are. While many zoos have been working hard to improve their animal enclosures to better fit the needs of captive animals, constraints such as limited space and funds can seriously hinder this process. Smaller, poorer zoos simply do not have the luxury of hiring well-trained zoological staff or expanding their breeding programs and facilities to maintain the ethos of conservation. A ban of these smaller, less well-funded zoos could be seen as a reasonable strategy in reducing harm to wildlife.
There is no quick fix for the issues that zoos across the country (and around the world) have to contend with, but a more uniform, robust, and compassionate regulatory system based on the humane care and conservation of wildlife could be seen as a major step in the right direction. Furthermore, targeted bans for certain zoos that simply do not meet the criteria that firmer regulations might designate could then become an option.
By: Scott Woodside