North Texas Daily

It’s time to ban public zoos

It’s time to ban public zoos

It’s time to ban public zoos
June 18
13:00 2021

There is nostalgic allure surrounding the zoo industry. Growing up, many of us thought of zoos as ideal weekend destinations for family outings or inexpensive dates. Observing and taking pictures of the large collection of animals is something many zoo visitors look forward to, especially those who live in the city and don’t frequently see exotic animal.

Touring zoos has become somewhat of a national pastime. Currently, the U.S. boasts over 2,400 zoos and welcomes roughly 183 million visitors per year. 

Sadly, there is a ton of malpractice that goes on behind the scenes in order for these zoos to exist. Before any of the funny family photos in front of the feces-flinging chimps are taken, animals are stripped from their natural habitat. Once destined to live a simple life in the wild, these animals are placed in an artificial environment that can’t even remotely replicate their original homes. 

Some animals are indeed hosted by zoos for the sake of species conservation, but that is rarely the case. More often than not, animals are being captured and taken to zoos for the mere sake of profit.

“Zoos are prisons for animals, camouflaging their cruelty with conservation claims,” Mimi Bekhechi, director of international programs at PETA, explained in an article by National Geographic. “Animals in zoos suffer tremendously, both physically and mentally. […] Not surprising, perhaps, considering the typical polar bear enclosure is one million times smaller than the area they would naturally roam.”

Animal poaching is an enormous issue, yet it is something the zoo industry thrives on. Most of the animals contained in exhibits resided in their natural habitat before being captured and sold into captivity. Despite the tireless work of anti-poaching organizations, wildlife poaching still generates an estimated annual profit of $73-216 billion.

Although zoos are not the sole beneficiary of such crimes, there have been cases of zoos acquiring animals illegally from poachers. Many animals even suffer harm during transport to the zoo exhibits they will be confined to.

The trauma doesn’t end at capture for these animals, either. While held captive at zoos, various animal species are being severely abused.

In Gaza, two neglected dead zebras were replaced with painted donkeys. A Cumbrian zoo, where over 500 animals died in a four-year span, was permitted to stay open after investigation.

In addition to physical abuse and neglect, zoo animals demonstrate alarming stereotypes and signs of behavioral problems after being confined too long. Stuck in an environment they aren’t built for, most zoo animals suffer from psychological distress.

Lions in captivity spend 48 percent of their time pacing, a recognized sign of behavioral problems, according to the International Zoo News. Zoochosis, a disorder commonly found amongst zoo animals, is the repetitive, disturbing behaviors imprisoned animals exhibit. The behaviors of zoochosis are similar to obsessive compulsive disorder: bar biting, neck twisting, excessive grooming, swaying/pacing, vomiting and self-mutilation, according to the same article.

Behind the walls of the zoos meant to keep them safe and healthy, animals are suffering and dying on a daily basis under their supervision — all this carnage and trauma so zoo visitors can snap a photo of an animal they care little about.

If it isn’t strictly an effort to combat extinction, I see no point in the continuing of public zoos. The independence and mental well-being of animals or anyone should not be sacrificed for entertainment purposes.

Instead of zoos, perhaps expeditions, where visitors go to the animals instead of the other way around, should become more common. Expeditions would provide the education and entertainment value zoos try to emulate without the irreversible damage of abducting wildlife in exchange for a life behind bars.

Featured Illustration by Miranda Thomas

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Jalyn Smoot

Jalyn Smoot

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