The animals that draw the most visitors don't do well in zoos. Animals like elephants, bears, tigers get people excited about the zoo, but they're precisely the species that do not do well in captivity. It's easy to see why—these animals are used to roaming across vast ranges of land. No matter how advanced or pleasant an animals habitat is, it'll never come close to true freedom of movement in the wild. The inability to move and travel freely has been shown to to impact animals negatively.
Zimmermann isn’t launching an all-out attack on zoos; he concedes many have made an effort to improve the facilities that house animals. But that can't hide the fact that certain animals simply do not do well in zoos, he says. Many facilities even employ anti-depressants to curb the unhappiness felt by animals.
“No matter how natural the tiger enclosure is, for example, it’s still minuscule compared to the range a tiger in the wild would have to roam,” Zimmermann says. “If you want to teach people about tigers and get children excited about tigers, there may be a better way to do that.”
Zoos often say one of their key missions is to educate the public about animals and conservation. But critics are skeptical that any real learning is truly happening. In fact, zoos can perpetuate incorrect assumptions.
“There have been studies done on how people think about conservation and the future of species in the wild,” he says. “That sort of research shows that seeing animals in zoos cared for by humans, and hearing about a zoo’s conservation plans, reintroduction plans and breeding plans sometimes tends to make people think that animals are doing better in the wild [than they really are.]”
Making things even worse, critics says the research generated by animals kept in captivity is at best, not that useful, and at worst, could be distorting what we know about animals. The logic is simple—captive animals and wild animals live vastly different lives. Measuring animals in captivity is only useful to gauging behavior of animals in captivity. They'll never be in a similar environment in the wild.
Proponents of zoos say there are bad zoos that harm animals. Those zoos should be closed. But modern zoos continually improve animal habitats and play a large role in research and conservation.
Wildlife around the world are facing major pressures that threaten their existence. Breeding programs at zoos help keep species alive and eventually reintroduce them to the wild.
Consider the Arabian Oryx, a striking breed of antelope from the Arabian Peninsula. The species was hunted to extinction in the wild nearly four decades ago, when the last wild Arabian Oryx was shot and killed in 1972. The Phoenix Zoo helped lead the ensuing breeding and reintroduction programs, which ultimately birthed more than 200 calves from just nine individuals. Now between Oman and Jordan, there are about 1,000 Arabian Oryx living in the wild.
Zoos give the public an opportunity to see animals in person—animals that many would never have the chance to see otherwise. Being able to see a lion in person is an entirely different experience than seeing a picture of one.
Sure television documentaries get ever more detailed and impressive, and lots of natural history specimens are on display in museums, but that really does pale next to seeing a living creature in the flesh, hearing it, smelling it, watching what it does and having the time to absorb details. That alone will bring a greater understanding and perspective to many and hopefully give them a greater appreciation for wildlife, conservation efforts and how they can contribute.
If you feel conflicted because zoos/circuses are cruel, but u also wanna see these animals up close..fucking grow up. They aren't your toys.