The horrific reality of zoos and why we should completely ban them
The zoo has always been an exciting place for people to see great wild animals from around the world, but in the comfort of their suburban cities. However, many zoo-goers ignore or don’t think about the well-being of these animals in captivity. They don’t realize they are supporting institutions that subject animals to mistreatment and poor living conditions.
I’m strongly against zoos and I believe more people need to hop on this bandwagon. Since the death of SeaWorld’s captive orca, Tilikum, featured in the 2013 documentary Blackfish, I’ve decided it’s time to create awareness about the horrific effects zoos have on the animals they hold captive.
Although Blackfish depicts the tragic deaths of SeaWorld employees as a result of Tilikum’s abnormally aggressive behaviour, the documentary gets to the core of the issue. The film begins with footage of the horrific capture of wild orcas. Viewers see these gigantic mammals confined to tiny pools, sometimes two per tank, where they are forced to socialize, mate and are trained to perform tricks.
The film sheds light on how these killer whales become so vicious and violent, highlighting the physical abuse they experience from tankmates and the self-inflicted injuries resulting from psychological trauma. These animals cannot survive in cages. Numerous documentaries show that whales are intelligent and highly social creatures, capable of feeling a wide spectrum of emotions and pain.
A killer whale can grow up to 32 feet long, according to National Geographic—it’s clearly not meant to be held in a tiny enclosure with other whales of that size. According to Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), a charity organization dedicated to protecting whales and dolphins, 163 orcas have died in captivity since 1961.
I’ve argued about zoos with several people and heard responses such as: “zoos are important for educational purposes” and “animals live longer in captivity than they would in the wild,” among others. Frankly, those are bullshit excuses. There are ways to educate ourselves and children about wildlife without having to capture wild animals and confine them in unnatural, tiny enclosures. Take Granby Zoo or the Biodome, for example. Yes, those are both fun places, but last time I checked, Quebec didn’t have a raging population of penguins and lions. Children and people in general don’t need to see the animals in person to learn about them, so removing them from their natural habitats is disruptive to the animals themselves and is unnecessary. Quebec isn’t the native environment of giraffes, polar bears, seals or boa constrictors so it isn’t right to ship them over here just so people can stare at them as they sit in cages.
Zoos are for show, plain and simple. You can see the animals are unhappy based on their behaviour, and unfortunately they develop mental illnesses. “Zoochosis” is a mental illness animals in captivity develop and it leads to disturbing and self-harming behaviours such as pacing, starvation and banging their heads against walls and glass, according to the anti animal cruelty organization PETA.
The goal of zoos is to put on a show and make money. In comparison, animal sanctuaries and conservation centres focus solely on protecting and supporting wildlife. These centres help in rehabilitating wounded animals until they are well enough to be released back into the wild. They care about the animals’ well being, unlike zoos. From the Sloth sanctuary in Costa Rica to our very own chimp sanctuary, Fauna Foundation, located near Carginan, QC, there are hundreds of specialized facilities for taking care of animals with staff who are trained to do so.
The China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda, for example, helps with the reproduction of the once-endangered giant panda, with the goal to successfully releasing them safely back into the wild, according to National Geographic. According to the director Zhang Hemin, the centre’s most important goals have been panda breeding and making sure “there’s a good habitat to then put the pandas in.” The animals that can’t be released into the wild have a safe environment to live in—one that mimics their natural habitat—and they receive special care when needed.
Rather than a zoo, whose prime goal is to make money, a sanctuary or conservation centre works to educate the public and rehabilitate animals, without endangering or harming them. It’s vital that we think about the harm and damage zoos cause to animals who deserve to live freely in their natural habitats.
Zoos are sad and unethical. Seeing these incredible creatures locked up in these small cages, pens and tanks—where they are forced to live until they die—is heartbreaking. It’s a miserable life, and they deserve better. So next time you go on a day trip to the zoo to check out the wildlife, look at their faces, watch their behaviour and remember that that’s not how animals are meant to live. Think twice about giving your money to facilities that don’t care about the animals they are responsible for.