In recent years, there has been significant debate on whether or not zoos and other types of animal parks, menageries and aquariums should exist. But why were zoos established in the first place? Let’s take a deep dive into the advantages and disadvantages of zoos to understand if they are truly beneficial to animals and humans today.

Continue reading below

Our Featured Videos

The history of zoos

Zoos and other types of animal parks have existed since 2500 B.C.E. Historical records show that aristocrats in Egypt and Mesopotamia had a fascination for observing wild animals in captivity. They kept animals like giraffes, bears and other wild animals in cages for entertainment purposes. In the 1700s, these entertainment spaces transformed to become public institutions. This includes the oldest zoo in the world, the Tiergarten Schönbrunn in Vienna, which opened its doors in 1752. From this, the contemporary zoo began to take shape. Features like aviaries, insectariums, aquariums and reptile houses were added.

Related: UK to ban elephant captivity in zoos and safaris

In 1907, Carl Hegenbeck, an exotic animal importer, replaced cages at his Animal Park in Hamburg with natural habitats for the animals. This allowed zoos to shift from entertainment spaces to places that protect animals. In the late 20th century, this narrative shifted again to focus on animal conservation and breeding programs to prevent species extinction. Through these changing purposes, zoos began to transition from being purely recreational spaces to ones that focused on animal research, welfare and conservation. Nevertheless, the main controversy that surrounds zoos today is whether or not animal welfare is truly considered in these types of spaces. To understand this better, we must look at the pros and cons of zoos.

The pros

There are two main advantages of zoos: providing education to adults and children, as well as boosting wildlife conservation.

Enhancing education and connecting humans to animals

Zoos provide an affordable opportunity to observe and learn about a variety of exotic animals that people typically would not be able to experience otherwise. If zoos did not exist, most people would only be able to learn about wildlife through documentaries on television. However, observing animals in real life is a much more vivid and enriching experience than a virtual one.

By engaging with the animals first-hand, children and adults develop a sense of empathy toward the animals. People also have the opportunity to connect with nature, especially since most of our time is spent engulfed in the urban, built environment. This fosters a bond between humankind and nature and creates awareness about environmental issues that impact biodiversity, like global warming and climate change. Through this, people become aware of the ecosystems being affected by human-induced factors and it encourages them to become more mindful of how their behavior impacts the planet.

If zoos did not exist, there would be a lack of education regarding animals and nature. This could result in less empathy for the flora and fauna that we share the planet with. This would perpetuate environmental problems, as people would become less inclined to limit behaviors and activities that have negative consequences on local ecosystems.

Increased wildlife conservation

Zoos are key spaces for conservation. This can be broken down into three components: advocacy of problems that effect these animals (discussed above), putting conservation into practice through breeding programs and wildlife research. Zoos can serve as safe havens for endangered species, particularly those whose existence is threatened by human-related factors. These factors include ecosystem or habitat loss, hunting/poaching and health problems induced by human-induced activity. While in captivity, animals can receive the care they need from vets. This type of care is less likely to be available in natural habitats, unless the animals live in a conservation center or protected environment.

In order to boost animal populations, some zoos carry out captive breeding programs. In fact, these have been carried out since the 1980s and have resulted in restoring species populations that were on the brink of extinction. One such example is the golden lion tamarin of Brazil whose population returned from Near Extinction in the late 1980s.

In order to carry out long-term research and allow for accurate findings, most modern zoos set up naturalistic environments for animals. This way, wildlife can be observed over time and their behavior in captivity would emulate their behavior in their natural ecosystems.

The cons

Despite the advantages of zoos, there are three primary disadvantages of the concept of zoos. Firstly, zoos can be detrimental to the physical and psychological health of animals. Additionally, it can be argued that zoos do not educate the public enough to justify keeping animals in captivity. Finally, while captive breeding programs may be well-intended to boost animal populations, they have several flaws of their own.

Harm to physical and psychological well-being

Zoos and other animal parks can be detrimental to the physical and psychological health of animals. This is often due to the lack of regulations surrounding animal welfare.

Physical illness can be a result of the confinement of animals, poor diet and limited exercise Many captive habitats are too small for animals to carry out their regular routines. This leads them to pace around their enclosure and leads to increased infant deaths. Additionally, diet and exercise also impact animal health. One study showed that of the 77 elephants in 13 zoos, 71 were overweight and spent over 80% of their time indoors. This contributed to early deaths, whereby most of the elephants lived for less than half the average lifespan of Asian and African elephants in the wild.

Psychological health is also negatively impacted by zoos and confined spaces, and can result in chronic mental health illnesses in animals. Researchers have found that animals in zoos suffer from mental health problems not typically seen in the wild. This includes anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and clinical depression. The Toledo Zoo held a psychiatric program where medications like Prozac, Valium and Haldol were prescribed to animals to ease them into their new habitats. It is unaware how these psychiatric drugs may impact the animals’ mental and physical well-being in the long term.

Is animal captivity justified?

Zoos have to maintain a careful balance between running the park as an entertainment space and one that prioritizes education and the well-being of animals. However, a study published in Animal Studies Repository expressed that there is no suggestive evidence to support the claim that animal parks enhance awareness and encourage conservation. Furthermore, as discussed above, the physical and psychological harm induced to animals in captivity often outweighs conservation efforts.

Captive breeding programs

While captive breeding programs have been useful for some species over the years, they also have several flaws. Firstly, the programs can be very expensive and do not necessarily guarantee positive results. There are also genetic factors that hinder species conservation, such as inbreeding depression and genetic mutations. Furthermore, only a portion of the gene pool can be conserved in these efforts. Finally, since these programs are not well-regulated, they can negatively impact animals’ physical and psychological well-being.

The verdict

Despite good intentions, zoos and other animal parks tend to have concerning impacts on the health and well-being of animals. Perhaps through increased regulations to boost animal welfare and sustainable conservation, this can change. Otherwise, it can be concluded that zoos currently have more drawbacks than benefits.

Via Wild Welfare, ProCon/Encyclopaedia Britannica and EcoCation

Lead image via Pexels

Source link

By admin

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *