Pros and cons of zoos: Should animals be kept in zoos?


pros and cons of zoos

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Animal cruelty or protection? Learn about the pros and cons of zoos and join our debate and poll: Should there be zoos? Should animals be kept in captivity? Vote and explain your view on whether zoos are necessary or should be banned.


Should animals be kept in zoos?

Over 181 million people visit zoos and aquariums every year in the United States, and 25 million in the United Kingdom. Zoos have more visitors than the combined attendance of the four major sports leagues (NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL). Despite their immense popularity, zoos have become increasingly controversial institutions. An increasing number of animal rights advocates and animal protection organizations are questioning the role of zoos in modern societies. The shocking evidence of animal abuse in some circuses, dolphinariums and zoos have pushed many environmental and wildlife activist groups to campaign for the closure of many of the institutions that keep wild animals in captivity.

To the question "should animals be kept in captivity?" the initial reaction of most people is rejection. Why should animals be kept in zoos? In an ideal world that would not be necessary, wild animals would roam freely in their natural habitats and we, humans, would find ways to observe them and learn about them without disrupting their lives. However, today on Earth due to population growth and urbanization many animal species are endangered and most people have very few opportunities to observe and learn from animals.

Jane Goodall, the famous British primatologist and one of the most important experts in chimpanzees in the world, has defended the role of zoos in helping us understand and preserve the life of wild animals (see video below). On the other hand, organizations such as PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), Animal Aid and Born Free have initiated campaigns for the closure of zoos, arguing that most zoos deprive animals from their most basic needs and that animal abuse and suffering should not be a source of entertainment.

Do you think that zoos are an effective way to increase awareness about animal life? Do they really help preserve endangered species or it is more a business and a cruel source of entertainment? Is keeping animals in captivity a good way to ensure their future? Let's take a closer look at the advantages and disadvantages of zoos before we make up our minds.

Watch this video with Jane Goodall on the role of zoos in saving animals


Pros and cons of zoos

These are the most common arguments in favor and against zoos.

Pros of zoos

  • After the famous wildlife conservationist Geral Durrell opened a zoo in Jersey in 1959, zoos all over the world have embraced the mission of saving endangered species in the world. Zoos are not like the exotic animal menageries from the middle ages. They want to provide entertainment but they are greatly concerned with the protection of animals and their natural habitats. Zoos help raising awareness and funding for wildlife initiatives and research projects.
  • Animals are not always caged in zoos. Edinburgh was the first British zoo to follow the idea of displaying animals without bars. The Chester and Whipsnade zoological parks where the first two non-urban zoos without cages and larger enclosures. They opened in 1931. In the 1960s The drive-through safari parks became very popular. Ever since there has been an increasing public concern about animal welfare in zoos.
  • Zoos are monitored and follow strict regulation in most developed countries. There is less room for animal cruelty in zoos than ever before in history.
  • Most people working in zoos are true animal lovers. Veterinary doctors, zoologist, voluntary staff, etc. chose to work in zoos because they like animals, and wanted to work closely with them and help them thrive.
  • Education is another positive feature of zoos. Many children and adults in cities can only see wild animals in TV or the Internet. Zoos offer them the unique experience of contemplating real animals. They can smell them, see how they move and listen their sounds. This is a much more vivid and enriching experience than the one you can get through a screen. Thanks to zoos kids and adult develop empathy toward animals.
  • Zoos are key for research. Being able to observe and study animals is crucial if we want to contribute to help them and repair the ecosystems. They also help redice human-animal conflicts and better understand the needs and psychology of animals. Zoos serve as laboratories to learn more about how to fight animal diseases and develop effective animal anaesthetics and other treatments to help more animals in the future.
  • Another pro of zoos is their role in animal reproduction. Zoos study animal breeding and thanks to them many wild animals in captivity can reproduce. This is particularly important in the case of endangered species. Due to the low density of the population of some animals in their natural ecosystems they struggle to find partners. Some populations in the wild are weakened by endogamy too. In zoos vets and biologist help to prevent inbreeding.

Cons of zoos

  • Animal cruelty in zoos continues to be extremely common. There are continuous cases of animals abused by visitors and zoo workers. Many of them are reported every week in the media, however, the large majority are kept secret and those responsible are never held accountable or punished.
  • Animals in captivity are deprived of many things that are important to them, as a result they become lonely and bored. Many of them suffer from "zoochosis", a psychological condition characterized by repetitive and obsessive behaviors including vomiting, excessive grooming, coprophagia and self-mutilation. 
  • Most animals in zoos still live in small enclosures and cages. There are Safari Parks and large zoos in which animals have more space and live in an enviroment slightly more similar to their natural habitat .however, the large majority of zoos in the world are much smaller and have less economic means than the big zoos we often see in the media such as the San Diego Zoo, the Berlin Zoological Garden, the San Louis Zoo, etc. 
  • In zoos many animals sicken and die because they contract diseases from other animals and species. Zoos usually group animals from many different parts of the world with very distinct immunological systems. People also have been sickened from diseases contracted from animals in zoos.
  • Many zoos do little for research or animal protection. They are simply businesses run with the sole purpose of making money. Their concern for animals is secondary. Cost efficiency often means they move animal welfare down in the list of priorities. 
  • Zoos and aquariums have incentivized the illegal hunt of animals. Historically poachers have hunted and sold wild animals for zoos all over the world. Although this practice is increasingly prosecuted in most countries, there are still small zoos and aquariums which acquire their animals without paying much attention to their origin. 
  • From an ethical point of view zoos are also questionable. Zoos are a typical form of family entertainment, but associating leisure and fun with the contemplation of animals in captivity can send the wrong signals to our children. Zoos can be construed as a sadistic pleasure.

Do you think zoos are necessary? Do the cons of zoos outweight their benefits? Should we boycott or ban zoos? Vote and join our debate (see below)

Watch this video on "zoochosis" and the living conditions of animals in captivity

Pros and cons of zoos: Should animals be kept in zoos? Vote and tell us why you find zoos good or bad

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Pros and cons of zoos: Should animals be kept in zoos?

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