It’s Time to Close the Zoos

“The only creature on earth whose natural habitat is a zoo is the zookeeper.”

-Robert Brault

Two tragic incidents have brought outrage and attention to the consequences of caging animals and putting them on display.

On May 21st, a man jumped into a lion cage in Santiago Chile in a suicide attempt. To save the mans life, authorities killed two lions.

On May 29, a 4 year old child at the Cincinnati Zoo climbed into the space where Harambe – a 17 year old male Gorrilla – was held. They decided to kill Harambe to save the child.

Both incidents – especially the one in Cincinnati – have sparked mass outrage. In fairness, protecting human life has to take precedence in these cases, though every attempt to preserve the life of the animals should be made if possible and there are doubts about the decisions made.

But that debate misses the deeper point of why it’s time to close the zoos. Putting animals around humans as entertainment sets up these tragic situations.

Neither would have happened if the animals weren’t in captivity. You know there will be more deaths of innocent animals so long as zoos remain.

Zoos are about nothing more than imprisoning animals for human entertainment. Any argument that zoos are safer for animals misses the point. Try applying the same argument to people. We could easily reduce crime by keeping everyone locked in their homes, but the loss of freedom would be totally unacceptable.

Arguments about zoos protecting species also fall flat. As Donella Meadows, a famous and well regarded environmental scientist said, “Biodiversity can’t be maintained by protecting a few species in a zoo, or by preserving greenbelts or national parks. To function properly, nature needs more room than that. It can maintain itself, however, without human expense, without zookeepers, park rangers, foresters or gene banks. All it needs is to be left alone.”

While I mainly agree with Meadows, transitioning from zoos to more greenbelts and national parks would be a step in the right direction.

That transition could be done easily. Since many of the animals in zoos wouldn’t survive back in the wild and would need protection, zoos could be shifted to animal sanctuaries. We could direct all revenue from zoos towards expanding greenbelts and national parks and leave zoo animals without replacements when they die. Zoos could be converted to facilities to truly protect and renew the numbers of endangered species – without entertainment based viewing.

Zoos profit from animal captivity. Think about that. Does it feel right to you? If something about it seems off, if you get the gut feeling that it’s wrong, listen to that feeling.

Closing zoos is entirely possible and has been done already. Costa Rica closed all their public zoos in 2013 and freed many caged animals. As you consider this, I’ll leave you with a quote from Costa Rican Environment Minister Rene Castro, as reported by CNN, on their experience freeing animals:

“One day, we took the parrot out to the patio, and a flock of wild parrots passed, and the parrot went with them. It made a big impression on me because I thought that we were taking good care of her. We fed her with food and affection. … all these things that we as humans thought she liked. And when she had the chance, she left.”

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Photo credit: Jeff S. PhotoArt at (Flickr)

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