Miscalibrated Internet Receptor Stalks

Zoos: Ethical Pros and Cons?

I'm reading Robert Gonzales' article about Costa Rica's planned May 2014 closure of its government-funded zoos, as well as all of the comments (about 24, as of this writing).


I love zoos. I always have. I always include the zoo in my plans of things to do when I travel (if there happens to be one nearby). And if there's any kind of wildlife sanctuary, I'll include that in my plans as well.

I don't love the fact that the animals are in captivity and have, at best, an extremely controlled life experience with human-contrived enrichment (but I know that it could be and has been worse). I know that zoos have a history of truly horrific treatment of animals, that they in fact started as a way to show them off as mere curiosities and that cruelty and mis-management are major issues that are still being dealt with today. But I figure that if the animals are there, I want to learn about them and see them in person.

So, probably my love of zoos is selfish. It's not like I'll ever have the opportunity to see 99% of these animals in their natural habitat. Should I just be content with pictures and paragraphs and video, without any personal chance to make direct observations?

Are there enough people who see zoos as an educational opportunity instead of a commercial opportunity? Are there enough people who behave respectfully when they visit, and recognize the animals as living beings with the capacity to feel pain and fear, as well as other, perhaps more complex emotions?


Is it right to put animals in captivity even when your intent is to learn about them, or to preserve them? Some zoos do a lot of work with conservationists and breeding programs to help threatened species survive. And then there are others that produce novelty hybrids (like ligers or tygons) for the purpose of bringing in more visitors, or conduct irresponsible selective breeding to produce interesting/popular coloration (like white tigers) without considering the potential for negative health effects - or disregarding it entirely.

What is your ideal solution? Would you close all zoos? If so, what would you do with the animals? Would you restrict zoos' collections to only those animals have been bred in captivity, and/or rescued animals whose injuries would doom them in the wild? Would you exclude from captivity animals that display a certain level of intelligence? Would you develop an international code of standards for treatment, habitat, etc.? Would you make all zoos public or all zoos private? Would you want the trend toward zoos as educational institutions or as commercial attractions? In furtherance of which goals?


Is this, in your opinion, a case of being able to love a problematic thing?

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