Lockdown has sent most of us a little stir-crazy. Same scenery, same company- day in, day out. Watching the world from a barred window.
Now imagine that 24/7, 365 days a year, for your entire lifespan. You’ve started to think about how it feels to live in a zoo.
The question is: what does freedom mean in terms of animals who can’t voice their complaint?
Zoos have been around since as early as 2500 BC, when they were created as private menageries for the elite to showcase their wealth. Since then, they have expanded into a global attraction, varying from accredited facilities to roadside sites.
Zoologists have argued for the existence of zoos on the grounds of conservation and education.
While families may favour zoos as an entertaining day trip, the real-life experience with animals is claimed to encourage the public to engage pro-actively with the subjects of species welfare and conservation.
It is not only the visitors who become more informed, but zoo owners claim that sometimes it is necessary to hold captive animals for research, to benefit the species.
The right of zoos to remain open, however, has repeatedly been threatened by controversy.
In 2020, many of us binge watched Tiger King on Netflix. At the forefront of the series was the feud between Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin, but viewers also raised concerns on the animals suffering in the background.
The big cats that Joe Exotic ‘rescued’ were revealed to be mistreated. From entrapment in cramped, unsanitary enclosures to the shooting of healthy tigers to make space for new animals.
The series highlighted many of the concerns raised by animal welfare projects such as PETA, including the exploitation of species for entertainment or profit.
With scandals such as Tiger King and the shooting of Harambe in 2016, it comes as no surprise that some are calling for a ban on zoos.
If zoos prove themselves essential to the preservation of species, however, their closure will result in a loss of economic funding and awareness into the conservation crisis.
So where do we draw the line on animal rights to freedom?
Breeding programmes such as giant pandas at Edinburgh Zoo, or black rhinos at Chester, have been invaluable to the survival of species and their eventual reintroduction into the wild. Zoos like these often provide a sanctuary in their artificial environments when animals natural homes have been damaged or destroyed.
But zoos are not the best place for every animal, and not all zoos are the best zoos. Mumbai Zoo has been labelled the ‘world’s worst zoo’ time and time again, as what was once a live animal display is quickly becoming a taxidermy museum. Animals here have died as a result of malnourishment and abuse.
Zoos are not an immediate solution, but neither is doing nothing.
The ethical dilemma lies in the creation of a mutually beneficial human-animal relationship.
Therefore, is it time for a ban on all zoos? Or is it more reasonable to boycott the bad ones and support the good ones?
Featured image credit: Canva