Surely we can begin to agree that animals which share 98 per cent of our DNA should not be kept as entertainment for us to gawk at in a zoo
Yet again, captivity has taken an animal’s life. The latest victim: a 17-year-old gorilla named Harambe, who was gunned down after a young boy managed to crawl through a fence before falling into his enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo.
The incident (which could have been prevented by surrounding the enclosure with a secondary barrier) has generated a great deal of debate online, some extreme – one tweet said, “[I]f you have to shoot – aim for the least endangered one,” while an Express columnist took the view that “zoo staff did what you might think all people would want: they put the human life first”. But arguing over whose life is more valuable misses the point. What we should be asking is why intelligent, self-aware animals are still being displayed as living exhibits for humans to gawk at.
Harambe and other animals serving life sentences in zoos are leading lives of quiet desperation. They are denied the most basic freedoms, including being able to choose where to roam, when and what to eat, and whom to socialise with. It’s no wonder that these magnificent animals frequently exhibit signs of extreme depression and related psychological conditions, such as pacing, rocking and eating their own vomit, which is unheard of in their wild counterparts, as they struggle with the confines of their captivity. They’re also prone to cardiac disease: in 2011, the Smithsonian Institution revealed that 30 of its gorillas were on heart medication.
Zoos try to justify their existence in the name of “conservation”, but warehousing animals in these facilities does nothing to help protect endangered animals in the wild. In fact, some say doing so actually harms wild populations because it diverts much-needed funds away from the protection of animals in their natural habitats.
After all, capturing (yes, some zoos still snatch animals out of their natural habitats), transporting and maintaining non-human animals for the professed purpose of “conserving” them is enormously expensive. It costs about 50 times as much to keep one African elephant in a zoo as it would to safeguard sufficient natural habitat to sustain that elephant and countless others.
When, in 2007, the Zoological Society of London spent £5.3m on a new gorilla enclosure, Ian Redmond, the chief consultant to the UN Great Apes Survival Partnership, said: “£5m for three gorillas [seems a huge amount] when national parks are seeing [three gorillas] killed every day for want of some Land Rovers, trained men and anti-poaching patrols. It must be very frustrating for the warden of a national park to see”. Clearly, the same amount of money a zoo spends on buying expensive animals could benefit so many more of the same animals living in the wild. Our need for entertainment is expensive, unnecessary and without discernible benefit, then, to the animals involved.
The most controversial animal kills
The most controversial animal kills
1/5 Walt Palmer (left), from Minnesota, who killed Cecil, the Zimbabwean lion (pictured here with another lion shot in Africa)
Walter James Palmer has been named by Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force as the shooter of Cecil, a 13-year-old prized lion. He is now wanted by Zimbabwe officials on poaching charges. The lion was protected and the subject of a decade long study by the Wildlife Unit of Oxford University in the UK. He was outfitted with a GPS collar and was killed in Hwange National Park. The Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Authority and the Safari Operators Association said that two men were charged with poaching in connection to Mr Palmer
2/5 Kendall Jones hunting images
Kendall Jones, a 19-year-old Texas Tech university student, has provoked worldwide fury after posting pictures of herself smiling next to animals she hunted, including a lion, rhinoceros, antelope, leopard, elephant, zebra and hippopotamus
3/5 Rebecca Francis hunting images
Rebecca Francis, a huntress who has killed dozens of wild animals has been sent death wishes by furious social media users after a picture showing her lying down next to a dead giraffe was circulated. Rebecca Francis has a website and Facebook page dedicated to the animals she has killed in hunts across Africa and America. Francis, a prolific hunter who has also co-hosted the television show Eye of the Hunter, regularly posts pictures of herself posing next to dead bears, giraffes, buffaloes and zebras, among other animals. She uses a bow and arrow to kill her prey
4/5 The slaughter of Marius, an 18-month-old healthy giraffe in Copenhagen Zoo
Copenhagen Zoo made the controversial decision to euthanise a healthy giraffe named Marius, which was later dissected and fed to lions as visitors watched. The slaughter sparked a furious backlash from social media users and zoo staff have received death threats by phone and email. Soon after the incident, Copenhagen Zoo faced an international outcry once again after four healthy lions were put down
5/5 Swiss Dählhölzli zoo kills healthy brown bear cub
A Switzerland zoo faced heavy criticism from animal rights groups, after keepers put down a healthy brown bear cub to spare it from being bullied by its dominant male father. The 360 kg male bear Misha had already killed one of his 11-week old cubs in public and was bullying the second, staff at the zoo said, because he was jealous of the attention the cubs were receiving from their mother, Masha. Both adult brown bears had been donated to Bern’s Dählhölzli zoo in 2009. Campaigners condemned staff there for not separating the cubs, who are being referred to as Baby Bear Two and Baby Bear Three, and their mother from Misha after their birth in January
While zoos spend millions on keeping animals in captivity, wild animals continue to experience habitat destruction and poaching. Virtually none of the captive-bred species that do face extinction in the wild – including gorillas, elephants, polar bears, gorillas, tigers, chimpanzees and pandas – will ever be released back into their natural environments to bolster dwindling populations. The truth is that most zoos have no contact of any kind with reintroduction programmes.
Perhaps the only thing more tragic than Harambe’s death was his life. While the debate about whether Cincinnati Zoo should have killed him or not rages on, surely we can all agree that animals deserve better than a life sentence in a zoo.