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Clare Nicholson
Ms. Gardner
English 10H, Period 2
3 May 2015
Zoos: Are they worth the suffering?
European Association of Zoos and Aquaria reports that up to 5,000 healthy animals in
zoos across Europe are euthanized each year (qtd. in Johnston). However, this single statistic,
though starling, comes nowhere close to capturing the cruelty inflicted on the animals that are
held captive in zoos across the world. Captive animals are, not uncommonly, given improper
care or harmed, even killed as part of conservation efforts. These methods are not only harsh, but
can end up being counterproductive, causing a decline in captive animal populations -- an
especially dangerous consequence for endangered species. Although it is inarguable that
conservation efforts should be made to protect Earths diversity of animals, zoos should not be
the places for such efforts, nor should they exist; many zoos expose animals to unsafe
environments, intentionally cause them pain or discomfort, and even kill them -- both
unintentionally and purposefully.
Primarily, some may argue that these measures taken by zoos are, overall, beneficial to
the conservation of many species. For example, zoo industry officials...argue that live-animal
exhibits are the best way to boost public awareness and raise funds for conservation efforts.
(Berens). Zookeeper Laura Reisse even goes as far as comparing zoos to an ark (qtd. in Seely).
Additionally, many justify the conventionally unethical acts of zoos with claims of conservation,
such as European Association of Zoos and Aquaria -- Eaza -- executive director, Dr. Lesley
Dickie. Dickie states that the euthanization of healthy animals is necessary to sustain the genetic

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diversity in captivity that could be found in the wild (Johnston). In summary, many believe that
zoos greatly aid in animal conservation efforts, and that the pluses outweigh the negatives
(Berens). While this may be true in times of desperation, it is undeniable that the animals
exposure to potentially dangerous environments, intentional maltreatment by zookeepers, and
death, whether deliberate or not, is not worth the occasional plus.
Admittedly, some of these extreme measures taken by zoos, though harsh, are beneficial
in the long run to the conservation of certain species. Overall, however, it cannot be ignored that
the uncomfortable, and sometimes dangerous, living conditions of captive animals are not
justifiable by these infrequent benefits. For example, in an analysis on captive elephant deaths,
The Times reported:
most of the elephants died from injury or disease linked to conditions of their captivity,
from chronic foot problems caused by standing on hard surfaces to musculoskeletal
disorders from inactivity caused by being penned or chained for days and weeks at a
time. Of the 321 elephant deaths...half were by age 23, more than a quarter of a century
before their expected life spans of 50 to 60 years. (qtd. in Berens)
In the case of a specific elephant named Chai, who was sent to a zoo across the country from her
home in Seattle in hopes that she would breed, it wasnt just her inanimate surroundings that
negatively impacted her, but the elephants she was kept with. Keepers had to isolate her from the
herd after part of her tail was bitten off by another elephant (Berens). Elephants, however, arent
the only ones kept in detrimental conditions. In general, since younger animals bring in the
tourists, they are often cast aside once they outgrow their loveable-baby appeal: Theres never
enough space for all the adult animals. Many of them are simply warehoused in off-exhibit
buildings designed solely to cage and house animals with no place to go. [They are] Stored like

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used car parts (OConnor). Based on these facts, it is evident that conditions of animals, not
only elephants, can be detrimental to their health and even life threatening. In addition, these
conditions are often easily looked over by the public, ensuring no motivation for change: If the
occasional pang of guilt flashes through an onlooker as she watches...a rare tiger languish in
boredom in a fenced patch of grass...she can quickly appease herself by reading the two-sentence
plaque that tells her how sadly rare these creatures are and how zoos plan to save them
(Praded). Ultimately, the poor living conditions of animals in many zoos is not only dangerous,
but it is counterproductive when it comes to population conservation.
Furthermore, research shows that captive animals are frequently exploited and mistreated
by zoo staff. Sometimes, animals are intentionally harmed, as they were at Dickerson Park Zoo,
where Chai the elephant was sent; restraints and bullhooks were used on the elephants by the
zookeepers as a way of asserting dominance (Berens). However, other times, the pain of captive
animals is only an inconvenient side effect of other processes, such as artificial insemination, a
painful and traumatic process which Chai was forced to undergo a total of 112 times: keepers
had to train Chai to accept artificial insemination...Zookeepers chained Chai's four legs to
anchors, pulling them tight so she couldn't move an inch a technique called short chaining
(Berens). Pandas, as well as other species, are forced to undergo artificial insemination as well,
so that zoos may simply churn out more cash cows (OConnor). It can be concluded from this
information that captive animals in zoos, especially certain species, arent unlikely to fall victim
to unjust treatment. Though there are reasons behind each exploitation, the cruelty inflicted upon
these living, feeling beings should not be justified by the individual benefit or profit of zoos -especially if the real cost is the mental and physical health of the violated animals.

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Lastly, any benefits of zoos conservation efforts are outweighed by the horror of animal
death rates in captivity. As previously stated, reporter Ian Johnston shocks with the statement that
Up to 5,000 healthy zoo animals - including hundreds of larger ones such as giraffes, lions and
bears - are killed by zoos in Europe every year. Though Dr Lesley defends these numerous
euthanizations with claims of genetic diversity and future reintroduction programs, animal
welfare group OneKinds Libby Anderson said that the idea that killing zoo animals was part of
a conservation effort was misguided. These animals will never replenish the wild
populations...we have to address the challenges that they face in their environment (qtd. in
Johnston). Often, these killings for the sake of genetic diversity are useless, anyways -- and that
isnt even considering all of the unintentional deaths in captivity. Reporter Jennifer OConnor
addresses both of these issues, stating that
The vast majority of animals who are bred in zoos are not endangered, and most of the
ones who are in trouble arent going to be released into their natural homelands in order
to bolster wild populations. For every elephant born in a zoo, two more die, yet zoos
continue to subject elephants to painful and frightening artificial insemination...
Moreover, investigative reporter Michael Berens asserts that the infant-mortality rate of
elephants born in captivity is three times their infant-mortality rate in the wild, at at a staggering
40% (qtd. in OConnor), while many other zoo animals die from conditions related to their
captivity, such as diseases that spread easily from one captive animal to another -- such as the
EEHV virus (elephant herpes) that killed Sri, one of Chais only two calves. All things
considered, these death statistics show that zoos conservation does not always mean
protecting every animal in a zoos care -- sometimes, it means killing, directly and indirectly,
animals that may have lived and thrived, had they been born in the wild. Overall, its eerily ironic

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that animals are dying in such large numbers at zoos, the facilities at which they should thrive
most, according to the implications of the mere phrase conservation.
In conclusion, the few benefits of zoos and their claims of conservation are greatly
outweighed by the costs when one considers the negative impacts of poor conditions,
maltreatment, and possible premature death of the animals that zoos hold captive. When visiting
zoos, people are more absorbed in looking at cute animals than learning about conservation and
the animals it concerns: they think of the zoo as a leisurely day trip instead of an opportunity to
learn, also oblivious to the cruelty being inflicted upon zoo animals everywhere. Something
needs to be done, because this unjustifiable horror wont just stop. As OConnor argues, Zoos
are businesses whose merchandise is living, feeling animals. As long as society considers it
acceptable to keep animals in captivity so that humans can while away a couple of hours
gawking at them, this merciless and mercenary cycle will continue. Something needs to be done
for these animals, and soon -- neither Europe, nor the rest of the world, can afford to lose another
5,000 captive animals this year.

Works Cited
Berens, Michael J. "Glamour Beasts: Elephants Are Dying Out in America's Zoos." The Seattle
Times. 05 Dec. 2012: n.p. SIRS Issues Researcher.Web. 20 Apr. 2015.

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Johnston, Ian. "Zoos in Europe 'Kill 5,000 Healthy Animals a Year'." The Independent. 27 Feb.
2014: p. 16. SIRS Issues Researcher. Web. 20 Apr. 2015.
O'Connor, Jennifer. "Zoos' Dirty Little Secret." People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. 24 Feb.
2014: n.p. SIRS Issues Researcher. Web. 20 Apr. 2015.
Praded, Joni. "Reinventing the Zoo." E Magazine. March/April 2002: 24-31. SIRS Issues
Researcher. Web. 20 Apr. 2015.
Seely, Ron. "Sure, the Animals Are Cute, but Vilas Zoo Also Has a More Serious..." Wisconsin State
Journal. 17 Dec. 2010: n.p. SIRS Issues Researcher. Web. 20 Apr. 2015.