Professor Molly Sides
10 December 2013
Sad Eyes and Empty Lives
The forced captivity of wild animals in zoos is a widely debated topic. Supporters point to conservation efforts and education of the public as important functions of zoos. Non-supporters claim the conservation efforts of zoos are not fruitful and education of the public is misinformed. Non-supporters say the enrichment needs of many species are not being met. I believe wild, non-domesticated animals should not be kept in captivity whenever possible. Better options for public education and conservation exist. Zoos present a distorted image of countless wild species. This is an education on captivity not wild animals. Space given to animals in zoos rarely comes close to the animal's natural range. Frustration and boredom lead to obsessive behaviors. Zoos often cause great suffering and stress to their captive animals. No zoo can truly meet the needs of many captive species due to their extremely high intelligence.
Most reputable zoos build large and elaborate enclosures for their animals. Enclosures do not compare to the space animals have in the wild. Many species of dolphins in the wild swim over 100 miles each day (Perrin 578). There is not a tank in existence big enough to mimic this natural behavior. The enclosures for terrestrial animals at zoos also fall short. The space requirement for an adult elephant in captivity is 1800 square feet for outdoor space and 400 square feet for indoor space (“Elephant”). Many zoos possess larger elephant enclosures than this minimum requirement. Zoos still fail to mimic an elephant's natural habitat. In the wild an elephant inhabits a home range of up to 5,000 square kilometers (“Elephant”).African elephants typically walk several miles daily and travel up to fifty miles per day if needed (“Elephant”). Zoo enclosures for elephants make this natural behavior impossible. Flying animals are another overlooked group. In the wild parrots fly many miles each day exploring their home range. A wild African Grey parrot enjoys a home range as large as 283 square kilometers (Fa, Funk, O'Connell 96). Man-made enclosures cannot begin to fulfill this space requirement.
Many wild animal species are social animals. The social aspects of many species include cooperative rearing of young by the whole group, many generations living together in a permanent group, cooperative foraging/hunting, cooperative defense from predators, and social learning (Fa, Funk, O'Connell 81). A social animal's needs go much deeper than just living in groups. In captivity family members often become separated. In the wild animals choose who is incorporated into their social groups. In captivity the choice is made for them by humans. Orcas, also known as killer whales, exhibit very complex social structures. In the wild up to four generations of Orcas to live together only parting for brief intervals to feed or mate (Perrin 653). These social groups usually only change because of birth or death (Perrin 107). In captivity Orcas are forced to live in social groups that are not of their own choosing. The individual whales in these groups may change many times during the course of a whale's life. Parrots are also social creatures. Many parrots live in large groups called flocks and mate for life. These relationships remain strong and often endure for life. In zoos parrots lack a large variety of mates or flock members to choose from. Often this unfulfilled social need leads to aggressive or self-destructive behavior (Fa, Funk, O'Connell 95). Zoos cannot adequately meet the social needs of many species.
Until recently, most of zoo animals were wild-caught. Captive breeding programs phased out the act of taking animals from the wild. Some zoos breed captive animals with the claim that they are helping to perpetuate the species by increasing their numbers. Most zoos run conservation programs which claim to help to add to the gene...
Cited: "Elephant." Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 03 Dec. 2013.
Fa, John E., Stephan M. Funk, and Donnamarie O 'Connell. Zoo Conservation Biology. Illustrated ed. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2011. Print.
IUCN. "The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species." Summary Statistics. IUCN, 2013. Web. 09 Dec. 2013.
Perrin, William F., Bernd Wursig, and J. G.M. Thewissen. Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals. 2nd ed. N.p.: Academic, 2009. Print.
Primack, Richard B. "Captive Breeding and Species Reintroductions." Captive Breeding and Species Reintroductions. Sinauer Associates, n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2013.
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