The ethical enigma that is the zoo.
I visited the local zoo this morning (after almost a decade) and to my pleasant surprise it hasn’t really changed much (the overall layouts and exhibits still remain the same) with the exception of a few new additions to the standard fare. Tributes to the late mascot of the zoo, an Orangutan by the name of Ah Meng, are still evident, 4 years after his passing. After walking around for a while, I realised that there is, however, an inherent conflict in the ethics of the zoo.
Zoos play an important role in educating the masses about the importance of conservation and in lending support to the fight against poachers and illegal pet traders across the world. The equipment and access to specimens that they have also help to facilitate research on animals that we may not know that much about. The Singapore Zoo has also helped to breed the young of several endangered species, for example the Komodo Dragon
For photographers, the zoo is too a great playground. It’d be impossible to get as close to such creatures without going on safari in Africa and even so, they would be nowhere near as tame.
But there are problems with the zoo too.
The top speed of a cheetah is over a 100 km/h, zebras come in at 60 km/h. These animals belong in the savannah where they have wide open fields to escape from predators, grow up, raise their own young and in their own way expire from this earth. They shouldn’t be in a protected enclosure just over 200 metres long. How would you like it if you were forced to stay in your own home for the rest of your life?
Thankfully the birds are spared from such a fate.
Often times the animals are also moved into zoos for life. The only thing that they will understand from the day they are conscious till the day that they die is the enclosure that they’ve paced across daily to entertain the whims of the ever present paying tourists. An entire lifetime in captivity.
I’m not aware of any cases of animal mistreatment in my country, but across the globe animals in captivity live in substandard conditions and some are abused during their trainings for performances. In the end, they’re still tools for our own entertainment.
While most people view zoos as part and parcel of entertainment for society, it’s important to be aware of it’s ills too, and if needed question and modify the mindset of the people. It can be done – aquariums and seaworlds over the world have begun to stop using animals (dolphins for example) for performances and have instead replaced them with human actors and performances
There is no clear cut solution on what to do in order to change these circumstances and the ethics battle will rage on for years but I suspect, the crowd will lean to where the money is. Zoos can be used an example of man’s tyranny over the planet. This doesn’t bode well for the animals but perhaps with awareness and public education we can change this. It will take a while but perhaps somewhere in the future, 300, 400 hundred years from now we’d be able to balance out the equation and put the symmetry back into the circle of life.
Even if right now you believe that there is little that we can do about it, spread the word! Share this with your friends and family; in school, at work, at home. The Chinese have a saying – If you are planning for a year, sow rice; if you are planning for a decade, plant trees; if you are planning for a lifetime, educate people.