Often times when I suggest going to the zoo, I am met with rather negative responses ranging from “the animals should be free” to “zoos treat the animals in captive awfully.” I often wonder where the idea that zoos are bad come from? To understand this, I have to look back a few decades, specifically to the thylacine or Tasmanian tiger.
The Tasmanian tiger is an extinct marsupial native to Australia that got its name from the stripes that cover its back. These beautiful animals were hunted to extinction and for a time these animals were kept in the Australian zoo. Unfortunately, these cages were nothing more than chicken-wired cages that barely had any environment or suitable arrangements to keep the animal healthy. The last captive thylacine had died only 3 years into captivity due to major neglect from the zookeepers.
In fact, many early zoos had been arranged in such a way that often neglected the animal under care and had unsuitable living conditions. Cement flooring was a norm, and forgetting to let the animal back inside to sleep was rather common as well. Zookeepers would even go so far as to abuse their animals. But as we have learned to care for animals over time, zoos have gotten better at keeping their animals healthy and cared for.
Although I agree that animals should be free to live their lives cage-less, the unfortunate reality is that many endangered species need to be in captivity in order to survive. Many animals in zoos are often victims of poaching or global warming and need the support of zoo-goers in order to raise money to be bred and rehabilitated back into the world or to maintain populations. A good zoo ensures that the animal has a suitable environment, is kept out of weather that is not native to him or her, and ensure that the animal has many things to play with. Often these zoos are pivotal to the animal’s survival and are one of the last defenses against extinction.
This does not mean that there are not bad zoos–a problem that we still face due to lack of funding, bad management, or even the people that work within the zoo themselves. However, it is important to support good zoos and to help advocate for better zoos, should one’s local zoo not be up to par with the times. Therefore, we should not avoid going to the zoo, and we should do our best to donate or even volunteer to help the zoo out, as many zoos rely on funding from the government or visitors.