Think Before You Zoo

Jennifer DiChiara, Contributing writer

Dirty glass being pounded on around you, in a tiny enclosed space with little grass and tree branches laid upon the concrete surface. Sounds like a nightmare, right? Well, that’s exactly what I witnessed at the National Zoo in Washington D.C. in the gorilla exhibit. That particular moment I woke up and realized maybe zoos weren’t as magical as I thought they were. Observing what was around me, I took in everything I could. The whole zoo had a ‘stuffy’ feeling to it as there was constantly people pushing each other to see the animals. It seemed stressful, at least for myself, and I couldn’t imagine an animal being in this atmosphere each and every day. After some thorough thinking I have come to recognize that zoo’s shouldn’t exist. Wild animals are suffering from a poor mental state, lacking natural habitat conditions, and there’s an immense absence of education enforcement.

Walking around the different exhibits it became very clear that the animals seemed tired as all of the koalas in the zoos combined. Tigers, lions, pandas, bears, and elephants, you name it, seemed all uninterested and had a dull mood to how they carried themselves. It put me in the same mood myself. None of the animals seemed to want to be there and it was clearly obvious.

Wild animals suffer mentally on a daily basis in zoos and the cause is clear. When taken out of their natural habitats, there is a huge effect on their behavior since they are detached from the only environment they have ever known. It’s like having lived in a house you’ve lived in for your whole life, being taken away by stranger, and put in a new home thousands of miles from your family. As I’m sure most people have visited zoos its common to see animals pacing around constantly with no set point to go, especially at the windows and borders of their enclosure. According to the website Freedom for Animals, pacing is linked to mental distress, directly brought on by captivity. It leads us to the question… why do we captivate animals?

Those who have an opposite view for me would go to the most common fact known about zoos. Zoos help save endangered species. Unfortunately, I’ve come to find out that, that’s not a hundred percent true. Based off of One Green Planet, over half of zoo animals are not endangered at all, and those who are, are sent to captive breeding programs that are known to remain unsuccessful. No matter how hard anyone tries, you cannot put the same habitat in a zoo for any animal. You cannot create the same exact climate, or put acres of jungle, ice caps, or desert for them to thrive in. In fact, Freedom for Animals states animals like tigers and lions have an equivalence of less than eighteen-thousand times less space than they would in the wild, and polar bears have over a million times less space. These statistics are extremely concerning and honestly disgusting to me.

Zoos cover up the cruelty of animals by declaring zoos are in place for educational purposes. A recent study was done through NGO PETA Latino where at the London Zoo, fifty-nine percent of children had no positive educational outcomes. It made me question, what am I actually learning about these zoo animals, if their behavior and habitat is completely different from what they would be experiencing? Liz Tyson from Captive Animals Protection Society, explains, “Zoos prevent an entirely false view of both the animals themselves and of the real and very urgent issues facing many species in their natural home” (Tyson). There are alternate ways to teach zoo visitors about the outside world, without keeping innocent species captive.

Zoos throughout the world repeat the same patterns day to day. I can only hope that a force strong enough can get these institutions shut down. Animals lives are just as worthy as ours, and they deserve the same respect. Zoos try to cover up the cruelty of captivity and I won’t support zoos any longer and they shouldn’t exist. Zookeepers will paint icebergs, jungles, and put some vegetation or water in their enclosures but animals aren’t stupid. They know where they are, and it’s not where they are supposed to be.

I wish as a first step, zoos can treat their animals better and one by one release them into their habitats, they should be in. It’s heartbreaking to know how much mental distress they are in for no legitimate reason. My only message is to think before your next zoo visit.