There has been no shortage of tragic animal incidence in the news of late- we have had the tragic killing of Harambe the gorilla, who was shot last month when a young child fell into his enclosure, the two lions that were tragically shot in May in a zoo in Chile as a man jumped into their enclosure in an attempt to commit suicide, and the barbaric poaching of Cecil the lion, which showed the canned hunting industry is still well and truly alive.
We can see some positives in these incidents though, with the recent rescue involving 33 circus lions across South America, the outroar around the shooting of Cecil the lion and the general reaction to these stories all seem to create new tougher rules and regulations around the mistreatment of animals.
There are many issues that animals are facing at the hands of humans, but for this article I would like to focus on their exploitation for our entertainment and if there is any ethical reason for keeping animals in enclosures such as petting zoos, regular zoos or circuses.
Is It Ethical?
The short and general answer is no – it is certainly not ethical for petting zoos containing young cubs as this supports the canned hunting industry, with those cubs often being sold on when they are no longer young and controllable to be shot in a hunting set-up (what kind of reference?)
The way that animals are treated in circuses is generally abysmal, with 96% of circus animals’ lives being spent in chains or cages. Often the animals will be mutilated with the removal of teeth, claws and other parts that those working with them would find to be dangerous. This is not taking into account the process of training these animals into obedience. An example of this is the spirit-breaking process of the elephant, in which a young elephant is taken from its family, kept in a tiny cage where it is unable to move whilst it is beaten and starved, up until the point where it is too scared to do anything else but submit to entertaining tourists every day for the rest of its life.
Coming lastly to the zoos, it could be argued that some of the animals are well treated in some parts of the world however, you have to ask what the motivation is behind them being in captivity, where they were purchased from and how long the zoo plans to keep them (as often animals are moved around the world).
According to PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) captivity often drives animals insane, taken from their website-
“In the wild, elephants walk up to 30 miles each day, bears are active for up to 18 hours a day exploring their home ranges for up to hundreds of miles, and tigers and lions love running and climbing and will roam many miles to hunt. But when these animals (or any wild animal) are imprisoned in cages or small enclosures at zoos, they don’t get to do the things that are natural and important to them. Instead, animals in zoos are kept in cramped spaces with virtually no privacy and have very few opportunities to exercise or keep their minds active.”
Is it safe?
In the grand scheme zoos and circuses (at least in the west) are safe for humans, with the average incidents in the US over the last 26 years being 10 incidents a year in zoos, and 123 circus attacks in the same time frame, with the majority of those incidents involving the handlers of the animals.
Given that they do not have a choice in the matter, the main concern should be the safety of the animals. Again, it is not good news. We have covered the psychological dangers and the mistreatment in circuses but the physical dangers for the animals in zoos are also very real.
Animals in zoos in the west and all over the world have been poisoned, starved and been denied vital veterinary care.
Other animals have become sick or even died after eating rubbish thrown into their enclosures, and some animals have suffered abuse at the hands of those who are supposed to be their carers.
Also in an emergency when human evacuation is necessary, the animals have no way of protecting and sustaining themselves. An example of this is during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, where almost all of the 10,000 aquatic animals within the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas died when humans needed to evacuate.
Really, animals are at the total mercy of those who are caring for them, they have no autonomy and are completely out of their natural habitat because of humans putting them into that situation.
Is there any point in zoos or circuses outside of our entertainment?
I don’t think that I need to delve too deeply into circuses as, my opinion is that there is no point outside of our entertainment. As for zoos, there is the conservation argument.
However, a 2015 study from the Journal of Applied Ecology concluded that unless we focus on the protection of wild animals, breeding in captivity will not make a difference.
Most animals that are kept in zoos are not endangered and for the endangered ones it is usually impossible to release them back into the wild.
Most threatened species such as elephants, polar bears, gorillas, tigers and chimpanzees would not survive in their natural habitat. Zoos do not breed animals with the intent of replenishing their population in the wild, it is usually to bring more people into the zoos and to have rare animals for our entertainment.
What can we do about it?
The first and most obvious thing is to not visit zoos, circuses or any kind of animal exploitation activities! They may seem fun, harmless and a great day out for the kids, however when you support these activities you are supporting the unethical treatment of animals.
You can support the natural conservation of animals by visiting game reserves around the world where animals are wild and surviving in their natural habitat – the only place that they truly belong – either as a guest or a volunteer.
An example of this would be the volunteer project at the Global White Lion Protection Trust, located in the Greater Timbavati region of South Africa. The trust prides itself on maintaining a no-contact approach with their lions, shifting the focus to volunteers getting involved in a variety of activities which truly preserve the habitat for these beautiful creatures, and so ensure their survival for the future. This can include habitat management, removal of problem plants, lion monitoring, and even visiting the local schools and teaching the young children the importance of living in harmony with the country’s animals.
I just wanted to say thanks to wildlife filmmaker and conservation blogger Jess Murray for helping me out with this article, you can follow what she is doing on Facebook Here
Luke Miller is the author of this article and creator of Potential For Change. He believes that spirituality is the foundation for good health and likes to blend psychology and spirituality to help you create more happiness in your life.Grab a copy of his free 33 Page Illustrated eBook- Psychology Meets Spirituality- Secrets To A Supercharged Life You Control Here
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