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What Value Do Zoos Serve

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Values that zoos possess are discussed as well as their importance. There are arguments that make people hesitate whether zoos are actually good or not. There are three purposes of zoos that are viewed. They are conservation, environmental education and entertainment. As there are more view points against zoos values and the very zoos, that is why cons will be described and given reasons for.

Nowadays, zoos serve three purposes, which are environmental education of children, species’ conservation, and people’s entertainment. Millions of people visit zoological parks annually to observe animals’ lives in captivity for fun. Educational purpose of zoos is about teaching children about nature and providing an opportunity for scientists to study animals’ habits and behavior. Conservation means that animals under a risk of extinction may be preserved and bred in captivity. However, many think that zoos provide no education at all, and that its only purpose is to entertain people. As for the species’ preservation in zoos, there is a number of different view points about it as of one of the zoo values. 

Most commonly, zoos are considered to be prisons for animals where they are kept against their rights and will. Animals belong in the wild. It is not permissible to be cruel to animals, to cause them avoidable pain or distress (Tudge 27). Besides, it is simply unethical to take them by force into captivity for someone’s own purposes. The word “wild” is the key word in combination “wild animals”. It states that wild animals should inhabit spaces where people do not usually live. But humans constantly break into the wilderness. Being kept within unnaturally small spaces behind the bars, animals suffer due to psychological distress, which makes them behave abnormally or even self-destructively. There were cases when animals died in zoos, because they were not comfortable with their new life conditions, which zoo provided. The problem is that zoological parks cannot upgrade cages to the state of animals’ natural habitat, as most wild animals live in the woods and valleys. That low-level imitation of wild life in zoos is not sufficient to support animal life properly. Besides, environment is not the only thing that matters. Zookeepers are often ignorant with animals. Poor food provision, low-level sanitation, and bad treatment also affect animals’ quality of life. It is a quite widespread problem that many species in captivity die of illnesses due to inadequate care.

The best example of animals that should not be kept in zoos is elephants. Due to their huge size, they need vast space for roaming.  Being in captivity, elephants are deprived of ability to move freely. Besides, they live in herds. Thus, spending time alone or with a couple other elephants puts them in a state of distress. No matter how good the conditions of their maintenance may be, elephants get health problems such as foot or joint diseases, muscular-skeletal ailment, arthritis, and reproduction problems. Some of illnesses lead to animals’ death. In general, elephants’ lives in captivity are much shorter than in the wild. And it is also necessary to acknowledge that unnaturally short life concerns not only elephants, but all animals in captivity. 

Premature death may be a salvation for some animals, but it does not make it good. First of all, many species suffer different diseases living in zoos. However, diseases are not the only reason for animals’ low activity. The thing is that captivity deprives animals of practicing their natural instincts. Being deprived of freedom, they no longer need to look for a reproduction partner on their own. Besides, there is nothing to keep creatures motivated, since they do not have to find their own food (What are the Pros and Cons of Having Zoos?”).Therefore, animals become less mobile and forgo most of their activities that usually help them survive in their natural habitat. In case they get their freedom back, they will not stand a chance of survival. That is why freeing animals is not practiced now, dooming them to be in captivity for the rest of their lives.

One of the activities that zoos involve animals in is breeding programs. These programs can actually bring something good into the development of biodiversity. However, breeding has some disadvantages. First of all, it is not always directed towards good purposes. Sometimes, the goal of breeding programs is simply a research on animals or a desire to create a new species. Second of all, animals born through breeding programs are not fully developed as they are supposed to be by nature. When zoos breed captive species, new generation does not have most of the instincts that wild animals have. Also, some diseases and disorders can be passed on to animals through breeding. Some of breeding programs are designed not only to support the population of endangered species, but also to increase it enough to release animals into the wild. Then, breeding of endangered animals whose natural habitat was destroyed is not always reasonable. If such breeding gives life to many animals, they will have to stay in a zoo for the rest of their lives, because there will be no suitable environment for them in the wild. Some breeding programs are designed for financial profit of zoos. It concerns those animals that are both endangered and valuable. Most zoological parks are meant to repopulate species that are going extinct or to support reproduction of some of them. While the animals’ number increases, zoos do not expand space to accommodate them comfortably. So when zoos get overpopulated with animals, they usually sell creatures to other zoos and animal sanctuaries. This happens because animals bred in captivity, as it was mentioned before, cannot be freed into the wilderness. There are some more places to where animals can be sold. These can be circuses where animals are trained from little age, canned hunting facilities, organizations, and people who actively participate in animal trade. The most terrible place for animals bred in captivity is where they are slaughtered. Carcasses may be used for culling, scalping, and cutting food.

Breeding programs can make zoos profitable, but they need investments as well. After all, the animals that are involved in such programs need better treatment and care. Therefore, zoos should attract money to take proper care of them. Main financing partners of zoos happen to be government and charity. As neither government nor charity invest much means into zoos, their (zoos’) economic condition is quite bad. It takes a lot of money to maintain animals’ welfare, which includes provision, sanitary works in captive habitats, and veterinary help. However, many zoos do not provide everything in a way they should. That is why a lot of animals look thin and unhealthy. They get starved, because they are not fed properly, they are sluggish due to the lack of vitamins and microelements that animals’ organism needs. Besides, the quality of food sometimes leaves to desire the best. For example, forage for predators may contain bacteria or viruses that may consequently lead to serious diseases. In some zoos, species do not get food at all and they have to eat other captive animals in order to stay alive.

Insufficient feeding is not the only problem. Cleaning of enclosures influences animals’ health directly. If zookeepers do not provide good sanitary work, species can pick up some diseases. And in case animals are outworn, the possibility of getting sick is even higher. The medication they will get in such zoos will not typically be sufficient.

Another important thing for animals’ health is training. It represents a set of exercises directed to keep animals’ bodies in tonus. If species are not trained, they may have problems with mobility. Some joints may get atrophied, which may lead to serious diseases. Animals with grave diseases may actually be put away, killed, or left to die alone. And it is beyond understanding how zookeepers kill healthy captured species for reducing the costs on maintaining the zoo. For example, a coati was beaten to death in a Swedish zoo just because the zoo did not have a room for it and could not afford a vet. In the same zoo, two of four lion cubs were starved to death so that the zoo could reduce costs on feeding the litter. The Swedish zoo made a good profit out of killing three of their captives, while the director got a salary raise  (Malm, Sara. “Fresh horror at zoo where animals were 'clubbed to death' as it is revealed they were then 'fed to Polish park workers'.”).

Educational purpose of zoos includes mostly scientists’ research on species kept in captivity. Some zoos allow scientists to study animals that they keep. However, observing species in captivity does not provide the real picture. Because wild animals’ behavior and habits change due to the fact that beings are not in their natural environment. It is quite unlikely to distinguish whether a species behaves the same way in a zoo it would behave in the wild. That is why zoos can only allow to study animals’ appearance characteristics or changes in demeanor from the moment they were taken into captivity. It is worth indicating that some zoos give away some species for medical experiments. These animals can be of no need to zoos owing to overpopulation in captivity. Such experiments are completely unethical and dangerous for animals, not to mention that they are illegal. Zoos should better give these animals to sanctuaries. The least part of educational purpose is devoted to teaching children about nature and vast biodiversity. However, young generation considers a visit to a zoo as an opportunity to have some fun either with parents or with schoolmates. Shashank Nakate states that people do not visit zoos for educational purposes. It is just a means of entertainment for them. He says it is observed that visitors tend to abuse animals by throwing objects or shouting at them, and that such careless behavior by visitors has a negative effect on animals (Nakate, Shashank. “Pros and cons of zoos.”).

In addition, in cases when the main purpose of the zoological park is entertainment only, zoo animals are trained to perform tricks. Professional trainers actually make animals suffer teaching them to do things that they are not meant to do in either captivity or natural surrounding. The stress is quite big, especially if animals are made to work with things or animals that they are originally afraid of.

And finally, beside the argument that it is unethical and against animals’ rights to take them from the wild by force, there is one more good point against captivity. Taking species from the wild can make the population endangered because the remaining animals will be less genetically diverse. It will be more difficult for them to find mates. Thus, zoos are actually interfering with species conservation in the wild and putting it in danger.

Nowadays, zoos keep popping up all over the world. They are believed to serve good values, but who knows what they are really established for. Some zoos seem to have better conditions for animals’ lives and welfare. However, creatures are still restricted in their freedom. It would definitely be better for animals to live in their natural habitat without human intervention, unless there is a grave reason for it. No zoos should be directed to serve the only purpose of entertainment. Such establishments should be either shut down or redirected to purpose similar to wild animal sanctuaries. Wild nature needs protection and preservation, as it is an important part of the planet.

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