Going to the zoo can be a fun and educational experience for people of all ages. It gives people a chance to get a glimpse of animals they don’t normally see everyday and they are shown how they live and behave in the wild.
However, are zoos in the animal’s interest as well? My answer? No. Here’s why.
The exhibits animals are put in are often much smaller than their original habitat. According to an article in the New York Times, carnivores, like polar bears, cheetahs and lions, are wide range animals, meaning they thrive best in a habitat which allows them to cover a lot of land while searching for food.
According to biology researchers Dr. Georgia Mason and Dr. Ros Clubb, the total amount of ground polar bears cover in their natural habitat is typically 31,000 square miles. For polar bears in a zoo enclosure, that would mean they are living in a space that is one-millionth the size of its range. This stresses out polar bears and causes them to pace around their enclosure, hoping to walk off its natural instincts.
The New York Times article repeatedly said animals living in zoo enclosures experience a high infant mortality rate due to the stress of not living in a proper habitat.
Studies have found that stress in zoo animals is caused by either a lack of variety in their diet, lack of places for an animal to hide, or relationship problems with their caretakers.
Places that have captive marine animals, like SeaWorld, are no stranger to these types of issues either.
According to an award-winning documentary titled, “Blackfish,” captive orca whales are often depressed and sickly because of captivity.
Orca whales typically travel 100 miles in the wild and have been recorded to dive 1,000 feet. A typical show pool is 27.6 feet deep. Because they can’t dive that deep in an inclosure, they tend to stay near the surface of the water. Their dorsal fin, which is supposed to be sticking straight up, is usually folded over, causing it to droop.
Being in an enclosure with other orcas can also prove fatal, as other orcas who are not from the same pods can attack each other.
While SeaWorld did announce they were closing a lot of their orca shows and now letting them swim around their tank without worrying about stressing them out with performing, they still have limited space and are still stressed out.
My solution is to only go to zoos that are in the animal’s best interest and not just for human entertainment.
According to a research document found on zoocheck.com, around 95 percent of zoos do not release their animals in the wild nor do they make an effort to breed endangered animals for conservation efforts. I think that should change.
Animals deserve the same quality of life that humans have. I can’t imagine being trapped in a fake habitat, never being allowed to roam outside and watching people staring and pointing at me through a glass window. If I don’t want that fate, I am sure animals don’t want that either.
Some zoos have something called reintroduction programs. According to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, reintroduction programs are programs where animals are rehabilitated from injuries or illness, or situations where they are found away from their home and need to be relocated. Once an animal fully recovers, they are then released back into the wild.
Many of these programs focus on endangered animals. I think that if someone wanted to visit a zoo, it would be to either an animal sanctuary, where animals have more land and mobility and are well cared for, or a zoo that has a reintroduction program.
If there is no nearby animal sanctuary or zoo that has a reintroduction program, be mindful when you are about to pay for your zoo ticket.
By going to a zoo that does not have any sort of reintroduction programs, your money is going to a cause that keeps sad animals in captivity.
Katherine Glosser can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org