Morality of Zoos

Who wouldn’t want to take a photo in front of a lion, pet a stingray, and buy an overpriced bottle of water? At first glance, going to a zoo seems like a fun, educational experience, something that over 181 million people visit in America each year, according to American Humane.

While seeing elephants in the middle of Colorado never disappoints, when I look past the metal bars into the small, confined space, a question emerges: is the experience of being up close to your favorite animal worth the price of their captivity?

Controversy arises when looking at different organization’s views on the morality of zoos. Depending on the organization, some websites tell stories of animal conservation, while other organizations focus on animal cruelty.

These two contradicting answers bring confusion. Which answer do you want to believe? Which answer should you believe? No matter which side has the strongest argument, the zoos financially profit from their customers either way.

The questionable realities of zoos can make some audiences reflect on their experience, as seen on the AHS Ghostbusting Ex Ed in August. (Quintessa Frisch)

Zoos’ conservation is rarely overlooked. For example, the Denver Zoo succeeded in preserving four different species worldwide, including the critically endangered Lake Titicaca frog and Tonkin snub-nosed monkey. Without their efforts and resources, these species would not have had the same level of protection. Not only are zoos recognized for their preservation efforts, but their creation of homes for animals unable to live in the wild as well as rehabilitation hardly ever go unnoticed. However, this recognition doesn’t just benefit the animals, but it also adds to the zoo’s credibility.

This ‘success’ does not always mean that the animals’ best interests is in mind.

In 1984, Bill Travers, a director, actor, screenwriter, and animal activist, co-founded Born Free, a wildlife conservation charity. According to Born Free, Travers formulated the word “zoochosis” in 1992, best defined as abnormal animal behavior including obsessive and repetitive behavior.

Travers visited over 100 zoos on multiple continents observing the captivated animals. For over three years, Travers filmed and presented his research, “The Zoochotic Report,” a roughly ten-minute video published in 1993. This video showcases animals acting in a zoochotic way, or expressing synonyms of zoochosis. In particular, there are videos of animals repeatedly walking in circles and swaying back and forth.

Additionally, Animal Equality did a nine-month undercover investigation on zoos in Spain titled “Zoos: The Life of Animals in Captivity.” This study touched on the educational aspect of zoos. Many people take their children to zoos for educational reasons, yet Animal Equality questioned this reasoning.

“If zoos teach anything, they teach us dangerous lessons. They teach us that humans have the right to enslave animals and reinforce the notion that animals have no other purpose other than for our gain. Zoos do not teach us to respect individuals,” the Animal Equality website reads.

Focusing on a more positive note, the zoos that have put in the effort into conservation have been proven to be successful. For example, the Denver Zoo has supported more than 600 conservation projects since 1996. These projects took place on 6 different continents and 62 countries.

Zoos are over 200 years old, and in recent years it is fair to say that they have had their ups and downs. The debate over their morality in our modern world continues, causing people to reflect more than ever; are zoos here to stay?