Recently, and really for a long time, there has been a group of very vocal anti-zoo people.
They aren’t just anti-bad zoos, but rather are anti-ALL zoos.
We believe they mean well but are just going about it the wrong way.
To give a bit of background, these people are what we typically call “Animal Rights Activists”.
When most people hear that term, they think it refers to anyone who loves animals and want animals to live happy, healthy lives… but it does not.
There is a big difference between Animal Rights and Animal Welfare.
Most people fall into the category of “Animal Welfare”. However, many Animal Rights Activists believe that if you don’t fully conform to the Animal Rights standards of caring about animals, then you are a horrible human and a blight on planet Earth.
- You support conservation efforts and recycle but you eat meat. Not good enough!
- You are vegetarian but not vegan. Not good enough!
- You don’t go to zoos but you have a pet. Hypocrite! Not good enough!
Sadly, these cyber bullies get you believing you aren’t a good person, that every little bit doesn’t help unless you are fully in on every aspect of “the cause”.
Now, these are examples of the extremists.
I am friends with vegan zookeepers, I am friends with meat-eating recyclers, I am friends with rescue-pet owners.
I’m here to tell you that caring even the slightest bit, and doing the smallest thing, can have and does have an impact.
THAT is what good zoos teach.
Good zoos educate and inspire in a way that reading a book, watching a TV show, or Googling just can’t accomplish.
Good zoos don’t judge you for eating meat or certain products. They bring your attention to better, more sustainable food purchases such as sustainable seafood or sustainable palm oil.
Good zoos show you small ways to help nature every day, and make you feel like a wildlife warrior.
Good zoos plant a lifelong passion for animals in children who could become the next great conservationalists.
Let’s also be honest here. Not everyone can become vegan, sell all their belongings, and live off the land in the name of conservation.
Instead, by visiting zoos and supporting them, the funds generated by your tickets go towards conservation efforts and towards the excellent care for the animals in zoos.
The following are actual comments on zoo posts and my rebuttals (graphic language from posts made to social media and images from poaching will follow):
We’ll start first with the argument that protected animal preserves and even death is better than being in a good zoo.
What rhinos on preserves could actually face:
My rebuttal: The “horrible” housing of the rhinos at the San Diego Safari Park (PS why haven’t they invented sarcasm font yet?).
More anti-zoo facebook comments:
Take a look at what is facing gorillas (and many other animals) in the wild.
Below is a photo from the Dublin Zoo in a mixed species exhibit (Photo by: Fran Veale).
Now I know those are extreme Animal Rights statements and I’d like to hope they were just trying for shock value in the heat of the moment to make a point, but if you truly care about animals why would you wish them dead instead of trying to save them, like zoos do every day?
Now onto the next favorite argument.
This one is made by extreme Animal Rights Activists but also by well intentioned, but probably misinformed, people who care deeply about animals.
(Side note: we love people who care deeply about animals like we do! Visit your local zoo and ask tons of questions! If your questions cannot be answered satisfactorily, then there may be a problem!).
Not all zoos are bad and not all sanctuaries are good. Painting either with a broad brush is harmful to animals.
See below a photo from a sanctuary.
Notice the caging in the background? Not exactly the vast open spaces people picture when they hear or see the word “sanctuary”. Also, why is he touching this big cat as if it is his personal pet?
More anti-zoo facebook comments:
Doesn’t seem like these lions are in “tiny little compartments”…in fact it looks like more space than the cages of the above “sanctuary”.
They also don’t seem tortured to me. Again, visit your local zoo and ask questions to learn more about the great things zoos are capable of in Animal Welfare!
This comment is particularly vexing to me since often times when at a zoo, I hear people complain that they can’t see the animal. If they can’t see the animal, doesn’t that mean it has “privacy” and a place to get away from people if they so choose?
Nowhere to hide at this AZA accredited zoo that covers 1,800 acres (seriously, why is there no sarcasm font?!).
Now, to be fair, there are good and excellent sanctuaries just like there are good and excellent zoos.
Next, to another extreme comment. Not quite as bad as, “the animals are better off dead”, but it is equally as troubling for those of us who have devoted our lives to the welfare of zoo animals.
The comparison of zoos to prisons or jails or animal abusers.
Alright, let’s take a moment and close our eyes and take a deep breath because what you just read was intense.
Lots of hate and misdirected anger and passion.
Lots of screaming caps lock, exclamation points and a few swears.
But if you noticed…not any facts or proof that all zoos are evil.
If people need to compare good zoos to something, that is fine by me, but at least be accurate about it.
Modern day, good zoos are not like prisons or even close to worse than prisons.
For some reason (and I don’t know why) I feel like people have the following mental image in their minds of zoos.
P.S. This was from Paris in 1793…and just a reminder we are now in the year 2017 (thats over 200 years difference).
(Photo from JoyceGeek blog)
If you want to compare zoos to something then it should be an all inclusive resort (and even then it’s not fully accurate because you don’t get free medical at all inclusive resorts).
At zoos, animals (and you if we’re comparing) would get free naturalistic housing, free 24/7 on-call medical assistance, monitoring, medication, surgery, physical therapy, etc.
(You didn’t think you’d honestly get through a zoo blog post without adorable Fiona did you?!)
At zoos, animals (you) would get daily turn down service (a zookeeper cleaning your habitat), your own dietitian/nutritionist to make sure you were getting everything that your body needs, (Taronga Zoo News)
enrichment (which to you would mean games and things that would encourage behaviors seen in your native habitat),
(Please click the above link to learn more about amazing zoo enrichment!)
freedom from predators including poachers,
Elephant Massacre Nat Geo (Photo by: Mike Fay/NGS)
The palm oil industry is continuing to desecrate Indonesia’s rainforests and encroach on the only ecosystem in the world (the Leuser ecosystem in Sumatra) where organutan, tiger, rhino and elephant cohabit. Palm oil is a vegetable oil which is contained in one in ten of our supermarket products; it is responsible for killing thousands of orangutans each year, many of which are burnt alive.
freedom from the destruction and pollution of your habitat, etc.
As an animal in a good zoo, you could have a committee of people dedicated to preserving your native habitat so your extended family could survive. Hopefully you may also return to your native habitat if the zoos are able to partner with governments and communities to gain enough interest to bring back the wild.
The new S.A.F.E. program by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) is one example of how zoos (and aquariums) are saving animals from extinction.
Here are some other examples of zoos doing thankless work because they care just as much as you do about animals and aren’t in it for the praise:
Seems like a pretty sweet deal to me. Sign. Me. Up!
Last but not least you have the main sad reason that some people hate zoos.
They don’t understand and haven’t researched why zoos are needed.
Zoos complete extensive scientific research and planning before implementing reintroductions of species.
Reintroductions require proof of a stabilizing wild for the animals to go back to since sending an animal back to an area where deforestation and/or poaching still occur is not helpful.
- California condor stats
- The bald eagle was one of the first species put on the endangered species list and are one of the few to be removed (2007).
- Google “Bald Eagle Restoration on the California Channel Islands” to find a PDF file with more information about how the San Francisco Zoo helped restore bald eagles.
- How black-footed ferrets were prepared for reintroduction
Except they aren’t already extinct…because zoos are amazing and can do the impossible!
And for no other reason than zoos are badass… here are some extra things zoos and zookeepers do to make the world a better place.
- There are carbon neutral zoos (Zoos Victoria, Hamilton Zoo, etc).
- Santa Barbara zoo for example uses mostly compostable utensils, cups, and plates. A majority of the meal at their eateries can be tossed in compost bins (not cup packets, etc.) Most zoos have variations of this type of program.
- WCS manages 200 million acres of national forests and run 4 zoos and aquariums. They work on the ground in 60 countries with over 500 projects as well as contribute 80 million dollars annually to conservation efforts worldwide. (www.WCS.org)
- AAZK (American Association of Zoo Keepers) “Trees for you and me” is a tree planting conservation program created through AAZK and Polar Bears International. (Trees For You And Me)
- Lots of zoos have cell phone recycling programs that partner with eco-cell where people can recycle their cell phones which helps reduce mining for coltan (especially devastating for gorillas) and deforestation. Also, any money raised as well goes towards conservation. (Cell Phone Recycling )
- This AZA Conservation link goes back to 2003. “Each year AZA publishes an Annual Report on Conservation and Science (ARCS) to summarize the education programs, field conservation activities, green business practices, and scientific research of the AZA community.”(Association of Zoos and Aquariums)
- Institutions like Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch (Seafood Watch,Vancouver’s Ocean Wise (Ocean Wise) Chester zoo’s Palm Oil Challenges (Sustainable Palm Oil), etc. promote local and sustainable food. These are good examples of zoos and similar institutions trying to mitigate animal and plant industry emissions.
- So if you liked this post, if you found it informative, if you made it this far, if you want to learn more about all the amazing conservation work and more that zoos do then follow Zoos Saving Species on: