It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I despise zoos. I have written about this topic before. I have never supported the arguments that zoos help educate people about animals which, in turn, leads to better animal welfare. The continued horrific treatment of animals around the world does not correlate to increased education. Another argument is that zoos can help preserve species that are close to extinction; I doubt the price of captivity is worth it. I would rather see animals go extinct while living their lives in their natural environments than doomed to an existence of living in cages, no matter how large. In her article, Catherine Bennett discusses the state of zoos, and particularly the efforts of zoo keeper David Gill, who has culled 500 animals.
According to this article, attendance at Ringling Bros. Circus is waning because of the rise in awareness of animal cruelty practices. The article does not provide much in the way of supporting evidence, but I would be happy to hear about any reduction in the popularity of circuses that continue to use animals for entertainment.
As I have stated before, I do not like zoos, and do not believe that animals should be used as exhibits, even under the guise of education or protection from extinction. Zoocheck Canada, an organization I have supported for many years, provides this very timely discussion of zoos, in light of the Panda exhibit in Toronto. Dr Robinson argues that “Given our knowledge of animal psychology and behaviour, it is no longer possible for us to ignore the ethical wrong of keeping animals captive in our country’s zoos and aquariums.” Dr. Robinson expresses misgivings about the ethics of keeping animals captive in the name of conservation: “There is little doubt that conservation can be a worthy cause, but what is often not discussed is the moral dilemma of imprisoning one animal for the potential future generations of animals that may or may not come to fruition. The issue is then whether our desire for conservation outweighs a captive animal’s quality of life.”
Dr. Robinson concludes with something I’ve believed in for years, namely that should we be teaching children that keeping animals captive and depriving them of their natural environment and dignity is the proper way to care for, and respect them?
To continue to sell zoos as entertainment is cruel. Moreover, the fact that the exhibits are often directed at young people poses a larger problem. What kind of lesson are we teaching when we encourage them to derive pleasure out of the deprivation of another living being? The time has come to end this practice and start exploring other ways to observe and interact with animals. Surely by the twenty-first century we can stop looking at them in cages.
Strombo featured animal welfare activist Ric O’Barry last night. O’Barry is a fascinating character, who used to capture and train dolphins for films and marine shows, but who did an about face and has spent most of his adult life fighting for the protection and liberation of dolphins. Strombo, as is usual for him, treated O’Barry with respect and tried to reach a true understanding of this volte-face. I haven’t seen the film The Cove, which featured O’Barry, as I have a very difficult time watching animals mistreated, even if the purpose of such films is to educate people to stop this mistreatment. O’Barry has a very active dolphin project; he’s a little extreme at times, perhaps, but I admire his dedication.
I have never supported the capture and use of animals for the purpose of entertainment and exploitation: This includes zoos, marine parks, aquariums, and “swimming with dolphins.” I entered into a debate with my sister about the ethics of swimming with dolphins, which is something she likes to do when she goes to the Caribbean. Like many people, she sees no harm in this activity, never mind the fact that the dolphins are held captive and against their will. The dolphins might not live in a tank with concrete walls; they are penned within a sea pool, but it’s still a cage. Here are some thoughtful articles about marine parks and other forms of animal entertainment; given what we know about the intelligence of dolphins and killer whales, their exploitation is particularly galling. Perhaps Douglas Adams was right all along. O’Barry made an observation that rings true to me: Keeping animals in zoos and so forth should not be done in the guise of education, as I think it teaches our children that it’s all right to place wild, sentient creatures in captivity outside of their natural habitat. Zoocheck Canada, an organization I’ve supported for years, has excellent resources about zoos and animal captivity.