University of Arkansas System
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Zoos: Animals in Captivity
A zoo is a place where animals live in captivity and are put on display for people to view. The word “zoo” is short for “zoological park.” Zoos contain wide varieties of animals that are native to all parts of the Earth. It is an important debate whether animals should be kept in the zoos or not. Some say that it is necessary to capture them in order to protect them from poachers. Regarding all the efforts to kill animals for ivory, skins and medical aims, zoo is quite a safe place for them. In contrast to this, it is necessary to note that animals have their natural rights and once they are put into cages these rights are broken. It is known that there are zoos where workers treat animals very cruelly. Fortunately, day by day all the zoos become more and more improved and it wouldn’t be fair to close all the zoos because of the mistakes of some of them. But no matter how good the conditions of the place where animals are kept are, the animals are still suffering because their natural behavior is limited by zoo’s walls. We can endlessly discuss the issues of zoos.
Zoos vary in size and quality from drive through parks to small roadside menageries with concrete slabs and iron bars. Millions of people visit zoos annually, but most zoos operate at a loss and must find ways to cut costs or add gimmicks that will attract visitors. The Wall Street Journal reported in 2003 that “nearly half of the country’s zoos are facing cutbacks this year … [a]ttendance, meanwhile, is down about 3% nationwide.” Precious funds that should be used to provide more humane conditions for animals are often squandered on cosmetic improvements such as landscaping, refreshment stands, and gift shops in order to draw visitors. Ultimately, animals and sometimes visitors are the ones who pay the price. Tatiana, a Siberian tiger, escaped her substandard enclosure at the San Francisco Zoo in 2007 and was shot to death after she killed one person and injured two others; she had mauled one of the zookeepers a year earlier. A gorilla named Jabari tried to escape from the Dallas Zoo by jumping over walls and moats and evading electrified wires, only to be fatally shot by police; a witness later reported that teenagers were taunting the animal with rocks prior to his escape.
In the summer of 2005, two polar bears died within five weeks of each other at the Saint Louis Zoo—Churchill died after ingesting an object that had been thrown into his exhibit, and Penny died from an infection as a result of having two dead fetuses in her uterus. At the Virginia Zoo, 10 prairie dogs died when their tunnel collapsed, a rhinoceros drowned in the moat of her exhibit, and a zebra narrowly escaped death after jumping into the lion exhibit, while another lost her life when she bolted from a holding pen, struck a fence, and broke her neck. Animals in captivity do not have enough room. Some animals in captivity can have sufficient amounts of room, but it will never compare to having all the room they would have in the wild to run free. The animals should not have to be confined to a little space filled with many other same species animals. Take the story of Maggie the Elephant, for example, after her family was killed, one-year-old Maggie was bought by the Alaska Zoo. She shared her quarters with Annabelle who died from a foot infection. During the summer, Maggie’s world was a small outdoor pen of hard, compacted dirt and a shallow pond. During Alaska’s long winter, Maggie stood on an unheated concrete floor inside a 148-square meter barn. She was overweight, sluggish, and had problems with dry skin. The zoo constructed a massive treadmill for Maggie to walk on, but she never used it.
One day Maggie was found lying on her left side and couldn’t get up. This is a dangerous position for an elephant, all that weight pushing down cuts off blood flow, impairs breathing, and damages organs and muscles. It took zookeepers, firefighters, and a towing company nineteen hours to get Maggie on her feet again. The zoo closed her exhibit and kept a keeper with her around the clock. Rоаdsidе zооs, pеtting zооs, аnd smаllеr аnimаl еxhibitоrs tеnd tо kееp thе аnimаls in smаllеr pеns оr cаgеs. Sоmеtimеs, barren cоncrеtе and metal bars is all tigers will know their entire lives. Larger аccrеditеd zооs, try to distance thеmsеlvеs from this оpеrаtiоns by showing how well the аnimаls аrе trеаtеd. But tо an аnimаl rights аctivists, thе issuе is nоt hоw wеll thе аnimаls arе trеаtеd, but whеthеr wе hаvе а right tо cоnfinе thеm fеr оur аmusеmеnt оr “еducаtiоn”. Also, having animals in captivity takes away the animals’ natural instinct. For example, animals lose some of their ability to effectively hunt, but not to necessarily kill. Animals learn hunting strategies from members of the family or by watching others. Some even learn just by doing it. In captivity, animals do not need to use those skills.
If an animal were being rehabilitated, the people running the camps would try and make it as “natural” as possible for the animal. The animals can become very dependent on the keepers for food, leaving them helpless if they are ever to return to the wild. In captivity, the animals would know at what time of the day they would get food, but out in the wild there is no one to assure the animal that there will be a meal. The animal would be solely dependent on itself to hunt, but because the animal grew up in captivity it will not know how to hunt for its own food. This could cause the animal to starve and possibly die. Zoos also claim to breed animals for eventual release to the wild, but breeding programs are primarily to ensure a captive population, not for reintroduction. There is a commonly held misconception that zoos are not only saving wild animals from extinctions, but also reintroducing them to their wild habitats. In reality, most zoos have had no contact of any kind with any reintroduction programs. Another reason the keeping of animals in zoos should be banned is because over time the animals in captivity can become sad and depressed. Michelle Carr, the author of The Reality of Zoos, states, “Many captive animals suffer from a condition called ‘zoochosis’.
If a person has ever witnessed a captive animal rock and sway back and forth, that person has seen the disease firsthand. This condition is so rampant in zoos that some zoos give animals a mood-altering drug, such as Prozac.” Often the animals in zoos are just pacing back and forth because they do not know what else to do. A depressed animal can even risk its life trying to free itself from the cage or habitat they are being held in. Also, thanks to technology, zoos seem to be unnecessary. Early displays of captured wildlife were found to be fascinating, as they gave zoo-going onlookers an exciting glimpse of life from far-off places. And so, for many years wildlife seemed destined to be captured and sent to an ever-growing number of zoos throughout the world. Richard Fagerlund says, “It is no longer necessary to keep elephants, giraffes, lions, tigers, zebras, and all sorts of other exotic animals in very small enclosures as everyone knows what they look like.” Zoos used to be a place to see and learn about these exotic animals, but with television and the internet people know so much more than they would by just going to a zoo.
It seems like most adults go to a zoo to take their children, but neither the adult or children pay too much attention to the animals. They wait for something “interesting” to happen, and when nothing happens they get bored and move to the next habitat. Finally, all animals have rights. They have the same rights as humans do. Animals have to be considered non-human creatures that should have the right to have freedom. It is unfair for the animals to be taken out of their natural habitats and locked into a small cage. According to an Australian Philosopher named Peter Singer, “animals should have rights just like humans.” Therefore, it is not acceptable for animals to be kept in zoos. Think about it this way. For human, it can be like being in prison even though we didn’t do anything wrong. Students, that go to school and have to stay there for seven hours. They might hate it even though they can be doing something productive, they are trapped all day and they don’t even have much free time. Animals should not have to be trained to perform tricks. Some zoos train the animals to perform tricks as if they were in a circus. Some training of elephants has been done using electric goads.
Captive Animals’ Protection Society (CAPS) stated that “In 2010 it was revealed that an elephant at Woburn Safari Park had previously been trained using electric goads.” However, some people say that zoos can prevent extinction of endangered species by means of their breeding programs. In the wild, these individual animals might have trouble finding mates and breeding, and the program can help the animals breed. They argue that without the care and help of zoos animals would be helpless, nevertheless, extinction cannot be prevented. Also, some argue that zoos are great educational tools for kids and adults. They say people can learn about the animal and study them much more effectively by looking at them directly. However, the truth is that people just use zoos as merely an entertainment source, not for study and education. According to the article, Zoos; Pitiful Prisons, “Most visitors spend only a few minutes at each display, seeking entertainment rather than enlightenment. Over the course of five summers, a curator at the National Zoo followed more than 700 zoo visitors and found that “it didn’t matter what was on display … people [were] treating the exhibits like wallpaper.” He determined that “officials should stop kidding themselves about the tremendous educational value of showing an animal behind a glass wall.”
If people want to study and learn about the animal, they could go into the wild and study the animals much more effectively, or even something as simple as going online and doing research or just watching television. In addition to all the animals on land, there are aquatic mammals that are also kept in captivity. At aquariums around the country, orcas leap through the air for a handful of fish, and tourists flock to facilities that offer them the opportunity to swim or have their pictures taken with dolphins. These parks and zoos are part of a billion-dollar industry built on the suffering of intelligent, social beings who are denied everything that is natural and important to them. Ric O’Barry, who was a dolphin trainer for the Flipper television series in the 1960s, says that parks and zoos “want you to think that God put [dolphins] there or [that] they rescued them. … If people knew the truth, they wouldn’t buy a ticket.” In the wild, orcas and dolphins swim up to 100 miles per day. But captured dolphins are confined to tanks that may be only 24 feet long, 24 feet wide, and 6 feet deep. They navigate by echolocation—bouncing sonar waves off other objects to determine their shape, density, distance, and location—but in tanks, the reverberations from their own sonar bounce off the walls, driving some dolphins insane.
Jacques Cousteau said that life for a captive dolphin “leads to a confusion of the entire sensory apparatus, which in turn causes in such a sensitive creature a derangement of mental balance and behavior.” Tanks are kept clean with chemicals that have unknown side effects. Because of high chlorine levels in their tanks, dolphins at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Florida were unable to open their eyes and their skin began to peel off. A tank at the North Carolina Zoological Park didn’t provide enough shade, causing a sea lion’s eyes to develop blisters and rupture. Oklahoma City Zoo closed its dolphin exhibit after four dolphins died within two years from bacterial infections. Sea lions at Pennsylvania’s Hersheypark won’t come out of their pen because they fear the noise made by the nearby rollercoasters. Newly captured dolphins and orcas are forced to learn tricks. Former trainers say that withholding food and isolating animals who refuse to perform are two common training methods. According to O’Barry, “positive reward” training is a euphemism for “food deprivation.” Former dolphin trainer Doug Cartlidge maintains that highly social dolphins are punished by being isolated from other animals: “You put them in a pen and ignore them. It’s like psychological torture.”
Animals kept in aquariums have little federal protection, and the few laws that do exist are often ignored. The Sun-Sentinel reported that the federal government “has allowed violators to continue operating for years even after documenting contaminated water, starvation or deaths.” The executive director of the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission told the paper that inspectors are too few and too overworked and that “there are very few who are trained in marine mammal veterinary sciences.” Even more disturbing, although federal law requires that facilities keep records of mammals’ births, deaths, and transfers, many don’t turn over reports of stillborns or newborn deaths. In one instance, a California sea lion named Nemo died in 2000 at the Seneca Park Zoo in New York, yet three years later, government records indicated that he was still alive.30 In conclusion, wild animals should not be kept in zoos and aquatic mammals should not be kept in aquariums as these creatures have their own rights. They were captured by man, and most of them compelled to live in terrible conditions, killing them physically and mentally.
Animals should not be held captive by humans, even if is to benefit them in some way or not. Animals were never meant to exist for our amusement. They are a part of nature. Even though captivity has become a way of life for many species of animals, not all animals can, or should be domesticated Great Cats being one of them. Capturing even one wild orca or dolphin disrupts the entire pod. Therefore, it is extremely important that the message spreads, that animals have rights, just like humans, and we have to respect that. Richard Donner, coproducer of the film Free Willy, said, “Removal of these majestic mammals from the wild for commercial purposes is obscene… These horrendous captures absolutely must become a thing of the past.” This problem is not something that can be changed or fixed overnight, but no matter, we can start fighting for the animals to be let out. Starting with one animal or aquatic mammal at a time, in hopes that one day zoos will no longer exist.