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courtesy of Danielle Axline works at the Houston zoo and she said she was rewarding Pandu, the Malaysian tiger at the training window during a keeper chat.

Hypothetically, in another possible world, humans might not be the dominant species, and another animal could rise up to take the crown.

This new animal might be as similar to us as we are to apes, and they want their species to appreciate the homosapien. They act on this desire, and the homosapien becomes the crown jewel when they create a zoo. This other animal wanders around and observes homosapiens in a fabricated natural habitat while we do our normal human activities.

Now, imagine living in a cage as our ape cousins do today.

Zoos are very detrimental to the mental health of wild animals. Animal behaviorists are seeing animals suffer from psychological problems when living in captivity.

Giraffes are known to be suffering from anxiety issues, leopards with are dealing with clinical depression and brown bears have dealt with the obsessive-compulsive disorder.  A study on Orcas living in enclosures showed that 24% of them had significant tooth wear. Research found that 60% of Orcas would grind their teeth due to stress.          

Animals in captivity are dealing with physical problems as well. An article from ProCon states, “About 70% of adult male gorillas in North America have heart disease, the leading cause of death among gorillas in captivity, although the condition is almost completely absent in the wild”.

Elephants in captivity are living less than half of the average elephant living in the wild. The Guardian wrote, “A second report, commissioned by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, examined the welfare of 77 elephants in 13 UK zoos. It found that the animals spent 83% of their time indoors and 71 were overweight. Only 11 were able to walk normally”.

An appropriate counter argument is that animals in zoos are advocates for protecting animals in the wild. Allowing humans to see these animals in the flesh will promote awareness. It is necessary so the kids become inspired to help the environment. A utilitarian would argue that even if a certain percentage of animals are suffering in the zoo, the well-being of the entire species in the wild increases.

The Guardian states, “Romesh Ranganathan, a British comedian, stated, "It still slightly surprises me that anybody thinks that we should have zoos at all. The animals always look miserable in captivity... [T]he idea that kids only get excited about things they can see in the flesh is ridiculous. My kids are obsessed with dinosaurs that no longer exist, and Skylanders, which have never existed."

The raising of animal awareness is a good argument to keep zoos intact. Destroying the well-being of zoo dwelling would benefit the entire species outside of the zoos.

This is a logical response, but think about psychological experiments on humans. What if we tested the results of child abuse with twins and gave one child to abusive parents and the other to kind parents. We could add so much information to the study of psychology. We would never do this because it’s unethical even if it benefits the species as a whole. So why are we doing this with animals?

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Letter to the Editor Submission Link

(1) comment

Ryan Jeon

Valid article, especially because you provided two sides of the issue.
However I'd like to bring to light several issues that were not mentioned.

Rare and endangered animals, such as the elephants, the rhinos, the cheetahs, the lions, or any other "poachable" animal are simply not safe by themselves in the wild. As much as I'd like to believe in the human race, money is the underlying root of why many of these beautiful animals are near-extinct. The rarer an animal is... the trend is that they will be more expensive in the black market. Despite sanctuaries and national parks protecting animals, poachers will still find a way to kill these animals. It is impossible to monitor such a large space, especially at night, in a country like Kenya where capital and money is already an issue. Gates and fences arguably turn these sanctuaries slowly into a westernized zoo. I will not mention current trophy hunting, as there are several ethical problems with it, but I believe with drastic improvement, it can mitigate some of the financial burdens that rural Africans face.

Another issue I'd like to bring up is that a lot of these animals will actually starve to death in the wild. Lions, cheetahs, and other predator species do not live in the wild for very long for this reason. Once their joints and muscles are shot from old age, they simply can't keep up with the agility of their prey. In addition, when these animals get older, their immune ability slowly deteriorates, causing them to waste away in the wild. Sad right? So yes, zoo's provide veterinary care and food, which is what these animals literally need to survive. Unfortunately, due to human infrastructure, agriculture, and pollution, a lot of these animals suffer from these human-animal interactions. Some rural African farmers will even poison dead corpses so vultures and hyenas will be poisoned and die, which leads to a vicious cycle of other animals being poisoned and dying. In addition, cats and dogs that have rabies can spread their fatal disease to other wild animals. Rabies is a huge problem that inflicts devastating deaths on hundreds of different animal species in Africa. Animals in a zoo would protect them from these types of diseases.

Last, I'd like to bring up genetic improvement of these animals. We hear it all the time in the news, but what is lacking is the relationship between genetics and zoo animals. According to world renowned animal geneticist Stephen J. O'Brien, in his book Tears of a Cheetah (my most FAVORITE book btw) describes his work with African sub-Saharan cheetahs. His work discovered that among all the cheetahs he sampled, they were all inbred. Not like one generation, but if mice were inbred 20 times, that is how inbred they are. Do you think those cheetahs will live happy or healthy lives? They do not, and suffer from hundreds of genetically related ailments because of that. But now let's say we found a cheetah that is not inbred. It escaped population bottlenecking and was found to be so genetically different that it would rupture the cycle of inbreeding and allow for the birth of healthy and happy baby cheetahs. Should that cheetah really be left alone in the wild to be free? Where it can be poached into a handbag? No. I think that it should be kept in a safe and healthy environment with an appropriate amount of security. Like a zoo. A huge problem with rare and endangered animals is that because their base population is so low, it causes the vicious inbreeding cycle like the cheetahs. Only when a *relatively* genetically different animal is found, can the population be saved.

Thus, I believe we should reserve zoos for these animals, those that are not safe in the wild, cannot feed and fend for themselves, and have great genetic potential for improving inbred animals.
Do we need to enclose kangaroos camels beavers or sea lions? No, these animals are not nearly as threatened as poached animals. I believe we should leave those animals to "fend for themselves" while protecting those that can't- in a zoo.

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