I remember in my childhood visiting the Edinburgh Zoo, the London Zoo and a few years later, Taronga Park Zoo. The common denominator between the three, was the sadness, the despair, the hopelessness, the lethargy displayed by some of the animals. I was a bright, inquisitive kid always searching for knowledge, so while I was initially excited at going to the zoo(s), I came away shocked, emotional, forever scarred and vowing not to forget what I had seen
No two ways about it: zoos really are a miserable place.
Some interesting zoo facts...
First and foremost: Zoos are a business existing primarily for profitabilty. For the zoos, animals are a “product”.
Zoos do precious little to help animals and only exist as a source of entertainment for humans.
In fact, zoos are usually in the top five tourist attractions for most countries.
If zoos teach anything, it's that imprisoning animals for our own entertainment is acceptable. Read books. Watch documentaries. Visit the animals in their “natural” habitat if you can and observe their “natural” behaviours, not behaviours induced through drugs and despair.
Of the 5,926 species (mammals, birds, reptiles and others) classified as threatened or endangered by the International Union for the Conversation of Nature, only around 120 species are involved in international zoo breeding programmes, and from these just 16 species have been reintroduced to the wild – often unsuccessfully.
Zoos cannot provide sufficient space. No matter how big some zoos try to make their enclosures, nothing compares to the animal's natural habitat. They are smaller and offer little stimulation. Elephants, for example, typically travel 15 plus kilometres a day, polar bears are also used to walking great distances. An Oxford University study based on four decades of observing animals in captivity and in the wild found that animals such as polar bears, lions, tigers and cheetahs show the most evidence of stress and/or psychological dysfunction in captivity.
A survey of the records of 4,500 elephants both in the wild and in captivity found that the median life span for an African elephant in a zoo was 16.9 years, whereas African elephants on a nature preserve died of natural causes at a median age of 56 years.
Animals suffer from ARB (abnormal repetitive behaviour) a scientific term for repetitive behaviours demonstrated by captive animals. For example: biting themselves, pacing, sitting motionless, rocking, swaying from side to side, head bobbing, self-mutilation, etc., which is indicative of depression, boredom and psychoses. Some zoos “control” this behaviour by using tranquilizers, anti-depressants and anti-psychotic drugs.
Birds in zoos are prone to arthritis and osteoporosis due to being virtually stripped of their most precious gift: flight.
Because zoos are an unnatural environment, disease often spreads between species. For example, many Asian elephants have died in US zoos after catching herpes from African elephants.
In some zoos, animals are “trained' to perform tricks using electric prods, elephant hooks, food with-holding/ food rewards, chains, blunt instruments, etc.
“Surplus” animals are a huge problem for zoos. Baby animals bring in visitors and money, but the incentive to breed new baby animals leads to over-population. It is estimated that at least 7,500 individual animals in European zoos are surplus. What do they do with the surplus animals they don't kill? They sell these poor animals to other zoos, circuses, canned hunting facilities, pet shops, taxidermists, exotic meat facilities and research facilities.
The Captive Animals' Protection Society estimates that some 7,500-20,000 animals are deemed “surplus” at any one time.
Despite what zoos will have us believe, animals are still taken by force from the wild.
All animals produced in captive breeding programmes are almost never released into the wild. Their destiny is a life in captivity.
In American zoos they practice contraception to prevent the birth of surplus animals.
“We cannot glimpse the essential life of a caged animal, only the shadow of its former beauty.”
Julia Allen Field.
In 2014, zoos are an abhorrent anachronism. Instead of supporting zoos, support those organisations that help protect the animals in their natural habitat, where they belong. Get your entertainment elsewhere and put an end to sad eyes and empty lives.
Remember: every ticket bought contributes to the ongoing exploitation and misery of countless animals.
Please don't be an accomplice.
Coming in August: "An Open-Letter to All Cynical, Burnt-Out Vegans"
- Published: 09 July 2014
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