Veganism is often misconstrued as just a diet, but for most, it is a way of life. The oldest Vegan Society in the world describes it as a “way of living that seeks to exclude, as far as possible and practicable,
all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing and any other purpose”
There has long been a debate about the ethical treatment of animals in Zoos, Aquariums, and Circuses but the general consensuses among animal rights activists is a negative one.
In recent years documentaries such a ‘Blackfish’ and ‘Tyke Elephant Outlaw’ have raised the awareness of the mistreatment of animals in these institutions to the mainstream media.
‘Blackfish’ brought about the shocking reality of Orca’s living in ‘swimming pool’ type conditions at SeaWorld Parks. ‘Tyke Elephant Outlaw’ was a similar tale about the mistreatment of elephants in circuses which eventually led to the sad end of a beautiful African elephant and his handler on the streets of Honolulu in 1994.
Where did Zoos come from?
Zoos were originally ‘collections of animals’ captured by wealthy individuals and families who were showing their status and wealth to those at home.
“Animals, like the topiary shrubs and embroidery parterres, are ornaments to amuse aristocrats.” – John Coe – “The Evolution of Zoo Animal Exhibits”
Modern zoos are said to have started with London’s Regent’s Park Zoo, which opened to members of the Zoological Society of London in 1828. It was originally founded for the scientific research of animals, but opened it’s doors to the public in 1847 to raise funds.
And so the modern zoo was born.
Controversy surrounding animal captivity today
As we moved forward into the 21st century, the use of animals in zoos increased dramatically. Today there is an estimated 10,000 zoos and 200 aquariums worldwide. Thousands of wild animals are also used in circuses each year; Tigers, lions, elephants, monkeys, and bears being most popular.
Many of these organizations claim to fund conservation and promote reintroduction into the wild. However it has been traced that very little of the profits go towards these activities.
The sad reality is that many animals suffer physically and psychologically in captivity and can never be released back into the wild.
Zoochosis is psychosis in animals caused by confinement. Animals in captivity have to cope with small and unstimulating environments; they display repetitive behaviors such as pacing, hair pulling, and bar biting.
A prime example is ‘Gus,’ the 700 pound Polar Bear dubbed the ‘bipolar bear’ who lived at the Central Park Zoo in New York City. Laurel Braitman (Author of ‘Animal Madness’) estimates his enclosure was 0.00009 % the size range of his natural habitat. Gus would swim figure of eights around his tank in front of visitors, sometimes for an alarming 12 hours a day.
Enrichment programmes and medication have been used to reduce these behaviors, but it is merely a temporary treatment, not a cure.
Tyke the elephant and Tilikum the orca – from the documentaries mentioned in the intro – both exhibited these behaviors and both stories resulted in disaster for the animals and the deaths of their human handlers.
Are documentaries and wildlife sanctuaries the future?
Animal captivity charities support the work of animal sanctuaries and see this as the future for observing animals, and providing education for future generations. The main difference between a sanctuary and a zoo being that a sanctuary does not buy, sell or trade animals; they acquire animals that are not longer able to survive in the wild.
The popularity of wildlife documentaries has soared in the last few years due to the successes of David Attenborough’s work, and the courage of people to investigate and uncover the true atrocities
of animal captivity.
These documentaries provide a wealth of information on animals in their natural habitats and interviews with experts in their field. Access of this kind is an only possible due to the internet, and advancements in modern technology.
It’s undeniable that Zoos and Aquariums have been beneficial to the study of animals in nature, and the education of the public. However, we need to bring these ideas into the 20th century and concentrate our efforts on preserving wildlife in their natural habitats and protecting their rights.