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Bailey Jackson

Malcolm Campbell

English 1104

May 1, 2018

Zoos: Informative or Unfair?

The debate over whether or not confining animals in zoos is ethically correct has been a

popular one throughout the last few decades. Zoos arose centuries ago, for the purpose of higher

class citizens showing their power by enclosing animals. However, in the last century, zoos have

increased in numbers due to the increased interests in science and natural history, which

facilitates up-close animal studies and provides a chance for entertaining and educating the

public. Nevertheless, confining animals for entertainment or monetary gain is inhumane and

unethical, and other approaches can be taken to ensure rehabilitation and provide similar

educational benefits without incurring the destructive costs of zoos.

Zoos are one of the most popular tourist attractions around the world. They are a billion

dollar industry due to the millions of people of all ages visiting annually. Among the many

reasons that people attend these facilities include entertainment, the opportunity to get away from

their houses and the occasional trip for education. Many pro-zoo advocates believe that zoos are

considered “ethical” because they serve a greater good for the human race. Often, zoos are

thrown into the educational category because they offer visitors the chance to learn from their

experience. However, as will be discussed further, the harmful realities of these centers often

outweigh any educational benefits. Additionally, there are ways to provide these same learning

opportunities without caging animals.

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Discussed in the PETA article “Pitiful Prisons” is a horrendous encounter of a

chimpanzee, Edith, who was a chimp born in the zoo. Edith was a discarded zoo baby who fell

into the wrong hands. She was born in the 1960s at the Saint Louis Zoo and was a big draw for

visitors. However, just after her third birthday, she was ripped away from her family and passed

around to at least five different facilities (PETA). After years of being sold, traded, and living in

horrible conditions, she landed at a Texas roadside zoo called the Amarillo Wildlife Refuge

(AWR). During a PETA undercover investigation of the AWR roadside zoo, they found Edith in

a filthy, concrete pit. She was hairless and had been living off of rotten produce and dog food for


In 2007, a Siberian tiger escaped her enclosure at the San Francisco Zoo and was shot to

death after she killed one person and injured two others (PETA). Jabari the gorilla was also

fatally shot after he tried to escape from an enclosure in the Dallas Zoo by jumping over moats

and walls and evading electrified wires (PETA). A witness later reported that teenagers were

harassing the animal with rocks prior to his escape. In 2005, two polar bears both died within

five weeks of one another after one ingested something thrown into his enclosure and another

contracted an infection caused by two dead fetuses left in her uterus (PETA). Ten prairie dogs

died at the Virginia Zoo when their tunnel collapsed, a rhinsorus drowned in a moat in his

enclosure, and a zebra barely escaped death after jumping into a lion exhibit. A separate zebra

was not as fortunate and lost her life after she took off from her holding pen, hit a fence, and

broke her neck (PETA).

Examples and encounters are endless when researching “animals in zoos” because these

animals are so prone to death, disease, and suffering due to being enclosed in zoos. That is why I
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am strongly against animals being confined in zoos or enclosures. Zoos often claim to be for

educational purposes, however, most visitors only spend a few minutes, if that, at each display

and seek entertainment rather than enlightenment. Normal animals behaviour is seldom

discussed, rather species, diet, and their natural ranges are displayed because their natural needs

are rarely met and are hardly observed. Aquatic animals often go without adequate, clean water,

birds’ wings are sometimes clipped to prevent them from flying, and many animals who

naturally live in herds are kept alone.

Zoos drastically vary in size and quality--from large zoos to drive-through parks to tiny

roadside menageries that use iron bars and concrete slabs to enclose their animals. Over millions

of people visit zoos annually, however, most zoos operate under losses and need to find ways to

cut costs and find attractions to lure in visitors. Funds from zoos are often used as cosmetic

improvements such as landscaping, refreshment stands, and gift shops when they should be used

to create more humane conditions for these animals kept in zoos. Animals often suffer from

disorders due to space and the food provided, as well as the less-than-ideal temperatures in and

around their enclosure. Funds should be going towards making animals’ enclosures as much like

their natural environments as possible to ensure their quality of life be as great as it possibly can.

During the 2016 Memorial Day weekend, a toddler fell into a gorilla enclosure at the

Cincinnati Zoo. Fearing the fate of the child, a zoo worker shot and killed Harambe the gorilla,

who was a 17-year-old western gorilla. The child was unharmed, and even up until recent days,

there has been an ongoing debate among animal welfare advocates who condemn the killing of

Harambe. There have been uproars about the parenting of the toddler and opinions expressing a

lack of carelessness about the parents. As to many peoples’ beliefs, the child nor the gorilla
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would have ever been harmed or in risk of harm if there was no enclosure for the child to fall

into. Harambe was killed for the safety of a human because he was living in an enclosure that a

human placed him in.

There are various counter-arguments, of course, to the idea that all zoos are more

destructive than they are beneficial. Some researchers and scientists point to the fact that zoos

can improve the lives of animals and serve as a step for wounded or threatened animals before

they are reintroduced into the wild. In 2016, after the death of Harambe, Dr. Robin Ganzert,

president and CEO of the American Humane Association wrote an op-ed piece for ​Time

Magazine​ in which she stated that “sweeping indictments of zoos and aquariums fail to account

for how ethical institutions enrich and ultimately protect the lives of animals, both in human care

and in the wild (Time Magazine).” Ganzert argued that zoos actually help injured animals

survive and can operate as rehabilitation centers for certain species. According to Ganzert,

“Using robust and sophisticated breeding programs, these institutions fund and facilitate

countless initiatives to propagate species and preserve genetic biodiversity, and then reintroduce

critically endangered or extinct species into the wild.” Still, Ganzert fails to address the harsh

environments and the realities of these so-called “safe havens.”

Ganzert’s argument represents just one beneficial argument for the preservation of zoos.

However, these concepts should be weighed against the values on the opposite end of the

spectrum. Animal welfare is paramount, and the main concern, above all else, should be the lives

that these animals are forced to live. These “safe havens” or sanctuaries mentioned above can

certainly be beneficial environments for endangered species or animals who need medical

attention before being released back into their natural habitat. However, in many cases, these
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facilities look less like welfare centers and more like unnatural rows of cages and crates--a setup

that does lasting damage to animals’ well-being. Therefore, one must look at the realistic

conditions of the current facilities.

For example, zoos leave animals vulnerable to a variety of threats for which they have no

defense or opportunity to escape. Animals have been poisoned, left to die, deprived of veterinary

care, and even burned alive in fires. Some animals have even died by consuming objects thrown

into their cages such as coins, plastic bags, and other various items. During natural disasters, like

floods and wildfires, there may be no way for them to escape, often leading to fatal injuries. At

the Niabi Zoo in Illinois, a 3 month-old cub was killed when his spinal cord was crushed by a

falling exhibit door. A bear starved to death at the Toledo Zoo after zookeepers locked her up to

hibernate without food or water, not knowing that her species does not hibernate (PETA).

Much like a young child being placed in “time-out” these animals suffer from sadness,

anxiety, and boredom. I believe that there are other alternatives to learn about animals rather than

making them suffer for years for our own personal entertainment. Much like animals in zoos,

animals swimming in tiny tanks suffer from the same effects. Aquatic life often live in conditions

worse than those that live on land. The ocean is very hard to replicate because of its vastness and

depth. The food is in abundance and species that live in oceans often travel miles to

environments that they are most likely to survive. In aquariums, they do not have the opportunity

to change their living conditions and yet have to endure what humans provide for them.

In 2017, an orca named Lolita was left in her aquarium during hurricane Irma. She was

vulnerable to a number of deathly possibilities including the roof caving on her or the glass

shattering from the pressure (One Green Planet). It is a heart-wrenching thought of what Lolita
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must have been thinking and feeling as the storm raged around her. Fierce winds, loud noises,

and heavy waves of rain above her and no one was there to reassure that she would be okay (One

Green Planet). The facility was able to relocate the smaller animals but because of her size, she

was left to fend for herself with all of the odds against her. The orca could have been relocated to

a safer location by a stretcher, but the Seaquarium left her and put her at risk of death (One

Green Planet).

For decades now, animals have been mistreated, abandoned, and most importantly,

confined to small spaces--much like a prison. I agree that animals are a vital part of who we are

as humans, but there are countless of opportunities to understand and see animals that do not

involve them suffering such great costs. Almost every city in the United States has an

endangered species facility where they nurse animals back to health that may not be able to

return to the wild. Here, they are treated kindly with great food and plenty of space. These

facilities usually offer tours for the general public much like a zoo experience without the

horrible conditions that animals are put through at any for-profit, local zoo.

Another counter-argument given by zoo arguments is that these facilities offer important

learning environments for children and the public. In a piece by J. Weston Phippen for The

Atlantic, the notion is put forth that “perhaps what pro-zoo people mean … was that zoos are a

type of consciousness expander. They expose people young and old to something they’d never

otherwise be able to see (The Atlantic).” Phippen goes on to point out that these experiences can

lead children to become more involved with zoology later in their lives. “A child’s parents may

take her to the Cincinnati Zoo and years afterward she might remember that moment and dream

of a job working alongside animals—and achieve that goal (The Atlantic).” Phippen brings up
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the idea that education is paramount and is the fundamental reason why zoos should remain in

operation around the world. He admits that more should be done to remake the traditional zoo

environment and make them more closely mimic natural habitats, but overall, he asserts that the

learning opportunities outweigh the costs to animals. Phippen’s argument is an important one,

but it is also one that can be rebutted by pointing to more sustainable solutions that have arisen in

modern-day tourism: Eco-vacations.

Animals are amazing and can adapt and survive in many different environments.

Confining them to small spaces when they are born to live freely seems very inhumane. There is

now an industry providing a real-life experience with animals in their natural environments. An

alternative to zoos that allows people to experience wildlife are Eco-vacations, which provide

up-close encounters with animals in their natural habitats. There are many companies that span

all over each continent that guide visitors through animals’ real environments without disturbing

them. Most of these companies in this industry have stringent operational practices and are

heavily involved in conservation efforts. These opportunities provide the many educational

benefits of zoos without the harsh environments or unnatural living spaces.

With each of the main pro-zoo arguments—rehabilitation and education—there are

important counterclaims and solutions that are both sustainable and serve animals’ best interest.

The final conundrum, however, is the problem of what to do with current operational zoos and

how animals should be reintroduced. These questions appear complicated at first, but there have

been many solutions posed by environmentalists and researchers. The organization “Center for

Humans and Nature” has proposed slowly phasing out zoos by shifting priorities. “What

distinguishes a sanctuary from a zoo? Priorities. In a zoo or aquarium, the priority is the visitor
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experience, which, in the end, translates into revenue. In a sanctuary, the priority is the health

and well-being of the animals (Center for Humans and Nature).”

Current zoos should be transformed into sanctuaries and should work to reintroduce

current animals in captivity into the wild. Some zoos, according to the center, have “started the

process of moving [animals] from places of entertainment and spectacle to authentic centers of

restoration, education and conservation (Center for Humans and Nature).” This would slowly

phase out zoos by shifting away from financial models that currently rule supreme. Eventually,

all animals in captivity would be released, large-scale zoos would be closed and nonprofit

rehabilitation centers would remain.

Each year, accredited sanctuaries have to turn down hundreds of exotic and wild animals

made homeless by roadside zoos, circuses, and the animal trade. A few zoos such as the Detroit

Zoo and California Oakland Zoo, have made the decision to provide these animals with refuge

(PETA). Most zoos, however, reject these animals in need. The zoo industry as a whole must

change itself from a prison to a refuge where the rights and welfare of these animals are their

main priorities. As long as people support these zoos from a financial standpoint, such as simply

buying a ticket to visit a local zoo, these animals will continue to suffer. Zoos will be forced to

stop breeding and capturing more animals from the wild if their financial support diminishes.

Pro-zoo arguments, specifically those that point to animal welfare and public education,

are important acknowledgements, but they stand weak against the evidence on the other side that

highlights the fact that these things can be achieved in more sustainable and environmentally

friendly ways, such as those discussed above. Education, monetary gain, and other pro-zoo

benefits have many other alternatives rather than depriving these animals of their natural
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environments and the lives that they should be living. Animal welfare is paramount, and because

of the consequences and ethical issues that zoos present, these for-profit facilities should be

replaced by sustainable, humane rehabilitation centers or programs that foster the maintenance of

natural habitats.
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Works Cited

Baird, Bonnie A., et al. "Program animal welfare: using behavioural and physiological measures

to assess the well-being of animals used for education programs in zoos." ​Applied Animal

Behaviour Science​ 176 (2016): 150-162.​ Accessed 4 April


Ganzert, Robin. “Zoos Are Not Prisons. They Improve the Lives of Animals.” ​Time​, 13 June

2016, ​​ Accessed 22 April 2018

Marino, Lori. “Emphasizing Animal Well-Being and Choice: Why Zoos and Aquariums Should

Become Sanctuaries.” Center for Humans & Nature, 2016,​. Accessed 22

April 2018

Phippen, J. Weston. “Do We Need Zoos?” ​The Atlantic​, Atlantic Media Company, 2 June 2016,​ Accessed 22 April


Rich, Nadine. “Why These Animals Shouldn’t Be Kept in Captivity.” ​One Green Planet​, 12

Sept. 2017. ​

Accessed 4 April 2018

“We Believe in a Better Future for All Living Things.” ​Association of Zoos & Aquariums​:, 2018, ​​. Accessed 4 April 2018

"Zoos: Pitiful Prisons." ​PETA, ​People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
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pdf​ Accessed 4 April 2018