by Alex Lemieux
As an aspiring vet, a strong interest of mine is the health and wellbeing of animals, no matter how big or small. Currently I am particularly interested in wild animals and during my research into zoo veterinary the question as to whether zoos are ethical pondered in my mind. If I want to go into the field, surely I should agree with the idea of a zoo, right? But unfortunately I found rather large elements of zoos, such as keeping the wild animals in a confined space, hard to justify. Counteracting this were many reasons as to why zoos are ethical such as how they increase the population of many endangered species through internal breeding so my internal debate carried on.
One obvious reason against zoos would be the cages most animals are forced to live in. From the animal’s point of view, removing them from their habitat and locking them up in a cage is against their rights and completely unjust and we, as humans, would never want that for ourselves; so why do we do it to animals? Animals have rights too, and we shouldn’t violate them by using them for our own entertainment. Domestic animals such as dogs are a common household pet and no dog owner would condone keeping a dog in a cage 24/7 so therefore we shouldn’t do it to any other animal, especially animals that belong in the wild. These animals are meant for the wild not cages and so we should let them live where they are most comfortable rather than force them to live where it is most convenient for us as there is no rule saying we are superior to all animals and have control over them.
However we should be caring for animals and if they are severely injured, it would make sense to give them the help they need that wouldn’t be available to them in the wild. There are many vets that specialise in zoo animals and it would be right to use their knowledge to aid the animals but this would need to be done in a place like a zoo where the animal is away from any further harm. If the animal was given the help in their natural habitat it would be harder for the animal to recover due to factors such as being preyed on or disease affecting them more due to their now weak immune system. Zoos are very good at rehabilitating unwell or injured animals that would otherwise not have made it in the wild and therefore keeping a species from becoming extinct. This demonstrates a positive aspect of the zoo and shows how ethical they can be in particular cases.
In cages many animals will become stressed as they are born to live in the wild and therefore in open spaces so the enclosed space will negatively impact them. In the case of humans, help is provided by the NHS to overcome anxiety in the form of mental health workers but there is little done to provide any such service in animals. Of course zoo keepers will attempt to help an animal that is clearly very distressed but any help is limited since they can’t let the animal out of their cage due to the risk it poses to the public and themselves. This means that there is no feasible way to minimize the stress to an acceptable level. If we believe so strongly in the importance of mental health zoos should not be allowed as I’d like to think animals are included as they have the right to being mentally healthy. I understand that at some zoos certain animals such as giraffes and zebras are in an open area where visitors go on a safari tour to see them, so anxiety would be reduced, but this certainly not the case for all animals or all zoos.