Transcribed from ARO chat of 8/29/99
Zoos are nothing more than prisons: holding cells that
imprison innocent "convicts" who did nothing more than spark the
attention in someone who felt the need to steal that animal away from
its natural environment in order to display that animal, usually for
material gain, by feeding off the curiosity of this society.
Zoos are perhaps one of the most misunderstood targets
of animal rights activists. Concerned people have many unanswered
questions surrounding zoos and why they are or are not good for the
animals. This article will present the most common questions and then
some down-to-earth, true answers. Not the answers you would hear from
the zoos because, let's face it, they don't want you to hear the truth.
Otherwise, you wouldn't be there spending your money.
Question #1: Isn't one of the main objectives of zoos to
educate humans so that we may further understand particular species?
This idea is one of the most commonly misunderstood
conceptions regarding zoos.
Labels identifying the name of the species, what he or
she eats, and the natural range of the animal fall very short of any
While most zoos claim that they provide a habitat for
their animals that is as close to their natural habitat as possible,
this is not so. Because the animals are not provided with their true
living conditions, it is not only impossible to observe them engaging in
natural behavior, but we often witness abnormal, psychotic behavior,
known as zoochosis. This sickness is marked by symptoms such as pacing,
neck twisting, head bobbing, biting of cage bars, and other repetitive
behaviors. I'm sure we've all witnessed this unfortunate situation at
one point or another.
The wings of birds may be clipped so that they can no
longer fly. Little water is granted to animals that are aquatic by
nature. Animals are found either individually or in pairs, whereas in
the wild, they would be traveling in large herds or with families.
Organized feeding and breeding schedules replace natural hunting and
reproductive behaviors. Mental stimulation and/or physical exercise is
replaced by cramped confined quarters with very little to no privacy at
all. How could one not go insane in an environment like this?
Zoochosis is not restricted to a few, less than ideal
zoos. As a matter of fact, a global study found zoochosis to be rampant
in incarcerated animals all over the planet. Over 50% of the zoos around
the globe are in bad conditions.
How can anyone examine these "wild" animals and claim to
have been educated by the experience? If anything, they've been educated
in the effects of cruelty on suppressed animals. They've also been
taught that it is permissible to force an animal into captivity,
wearied, confined, lonesome, and thousands of miles away from home.
As far as education, spectators are rarely in search of
education themselves. Rather than attempting to understand the animal at
hand, most visitors merely spend a few minutes at an exhibit, seeking
entertainment above all else.
In order to truly understand and gain wisdom about wild
animals, it is imperative that we observe them in their natural habitat,
uninhibited from human intervention. We can achieve this by various
media presentations including nature documentaries, specials on public
television networks and cable channels, magazines such as National
Geographic, and public libraries. These outlets are extremely successful
in presenting factual information on animals and their natural habitats,
without damaging the individual lives of the animals involved.
Question #2: Don't zoos help contribute to the
preservation of certain species?
This is perhaps the most disturbing and highly
inaccurate statement regarding zoos.
Humans have been extremely successful in eliminating
many of the natural habitats of wild animals, as well as wiping out or
nearly wiping out entire species of animals through such activities as
hunting. It is true that many species are in need of rehabilitation.
But, when do human attempts at rehabilitation go too far? How much are
we to intervene into the natural lives of these already destroyed
animals without further infringing on their well-being?
It appears as though zoos are going too far, even if
their intentions are otherwise.
First of all, as far as protecting species from
extinction, most zoos often fall in favor of those animals that will
attract the most attention, and therefore financial gains, to their
facilities. In this light, more attractive or popular species are
favored as opposed to those species that are less popular. In addition,
most species that reside in zoos are not even endangered in the first
Second of all, the collection of animals required to
maintain an adequate gene pool is too large for nearly all zoos to
maintain. As a result, a significant amount of inbreeding occurs within
these rehabilitation programs. The end result is that animals are born
highly susceptible to disease; they have significant amounts of birth
defects and mutations. In addition, these animals often end up so weak
that they would never be able to successfully survive in the wild,
without human intervention.
Some zoos with inadequate numbers of animals even go so
far as to steal additional animals away from the wild in order to
supplement their breeding programs. Is this a contradiction to the
supposed goal or what? In effect, these zoos organize an additional net
depletion on wild inhabitants.
Another closely controlled secret is that the purpose of
most zoos' exploration in the field of wild animal rehabilitation is to
find means in which they can successfully breed and sustain more animals
in captivity…not in the wild! If zoos were to no longer operate, neither
would the need for their studies.
Unfortunately, it is nearly impossible to ever
emancipate an enslaved animal into the wild. Human intervention has
created animals that are virtually incapable of taking care of
themselves in their natural habitats. Their instincts have been erased
and would need to be re-learned, if they ever even had the opportunity
to acknowledge them in the first place.
What of all the babies who are born in zoos? Perhaps the
dirtiest secret within the zoo community is what happens to these
babies. Many of the animals that are bred are forced to endure these
actions for no other means than for the zoo to gain economic
compensation through the sale of the babies.
In fact, the sale of "surplus" zoo animals represents a
multibillion-dollar-a-year exotic species marketplace. These animals are
sold, given, or auctioned away to dealers. These animals include both
threatened and endangered species! Some end up as pets. Others end up in
roadside zoos, mostly unaccredited functions. The less fortunate are
sold to fenced hunting ranches where they are used in canned hunts,
encased and killed for their meat, pelts, and hides. As a matter of
fact, this market is so sodden with some species that lions and tigers
are actually worth more dead than they are alive.
Statistically speaking, from 1992 through mid-1998,
approximately 1,000 exotic animals per year were sold, traded, donated
or loaned by zoos to dealers, auctions, hunting ranches, unidentified
individuals, or unaccredited zoos and game farms.
Most of these animals are purchased by professional
dealers who often breed them in order to create yet additional animals
for the trade. If zoos weren't making the animals available, these
dealers would have never had a business.
In addition, we now have to worry about the significant
amount of "wild" animals that roam free within residential properties in
the United States and around the world. Animals in private hands pose an
increasing threat to public safety, as we know it. As if we didn't have
enough to worry about these days.
Question #3: Aren't the animals guaranteed protection
under the law? What about the Animal Welfare Act (AWA)?
The fact of the matter is, while the AWA requires that
animal exhibitors be licensed with the USDA, only minimal standards of
animal care are enforced. Zoos are required to be inspected by the USDA
once a year. However, the USDA has openly admitted that they do not have
the manpower to "ensure the humane care and treatment of animals…as
required by the act." As a matter of fact, some zoos have more than
successfully passed USDA inspection, only to later be found by humane
groups to have numerous violations.
Unfortunately, the larger the zoo and the more vast the
number and variety of species contained within the zoo, the more
financially strapped the zoo is to provide quality care. In fact, the
majority of zoos around the world actually operate at a loss. More often
than not, profits are considered above all else, including the well
being of the animals.
As far as the trafficking of animals, few laws exist in
this arena. At this point in time, zoos are pretty much responsible for
regulating themselves. Pretty scary, huh?
What you can do!
Don't patronize a zoo unless you are there to do
research in order to help promote better conditions. If so, it is
imperative that you educate yourself on the laws and guidelines
surrounding the AWA, as well as your state laws. Inspect the exhibits
for violations. Be alert for any signs of poor health in the animals
themselves. Certain indications include listlessness, sores, lameness,
missing hair, or self-mutilation. Take note of sanitation, food and
water availability, and cage size. If possible, document your experience
through photographs or video footage. If you do witness possible
violations, try to persuade a reputable veterinarian to accompany you to
the zoo in order to verify your findings. If it appears as though you
have a case, contact your local humane officer or animal warden and the
sector office of USDA, which enforces the AWA. Insist that the animals
be examined and the conditions improved.
In conclusion, the only true means to save endangered
species is to restore their natural habitats and successfully eliminate
the means by which humans continue to kill the animals. Groups like the
International Primate Protection League, the Born Free Foundation, the
African Wildlife Foundation, and other groups that exist in order to
preserve habitats are more worthy of our support than zoos. In addition,
there are non-profit sanctuaries such as the Performing Animal Welfare
Society that seek to rescue and care for exotic animals without selling
Says Virginia McKenna, star of the classic movie Born
Free, "This is not conservation and surely it is not education. No, it
is 'entertainment.' Not comedy, however, but tragedy."
Go on to 14th Annual
Compassionate Living Festival Culture & Animals Foundation
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