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Zoos: Helping or Hurting?


Many people enjoy spending a day seeing animals at a zoo or a safari park. These animals are on show and are used to entertain the public, but keeping wild animals in captivity is often used to ensure a secure population for particular species. Conservation schemes are used especially for rarer species. But is it really right to keep an animal in captivity? Is there really any benefit to this conservation?

One reason that people do not believe zoos are beneficial to animals, is the fact that zoos cannot provide sufficient space or space that would be equivalent to an animal’s natural habitat, particularly for species who roam larger distances in the wild. For example, tigers and lions have around 18,000 times less space in zoos on average than they would in the wild. Often this can cause health problems. A government funded study of elephants in UK zoos showed that 54% of the animals exhibited unnatural behaviour during the day. One elephant was monitored for a 24 hour period and exhibited signs of unnatural behaviour for 61% of the time.

People often are oblivious to the fact that animals are taken from the wild. A case in 2003 occurred where the government gave permission for the capture of 146 penguins. They were then shipped to South Africa and were then sold to zoos in Asia. I don’t believe that taking animals out of their natural habitat is ethical unless they are in need of help.

But back to the question: are zoos benefiting the conservation of these animals? Some people make the mistake of thinking that breeding can be used for releasing animals back into the wild, but breeding programmes are really for ensuring a captive population and so reintroduction will never occur. In addition, if an animal bred in captivity was released into the wild, it is highly unlikely that it would be able to hunt for food or protect itself from predators.

But what are the benefits of breeding programmes? Have there been any successes? A very successful release project was that of the black footed ferret which was re-released into the plains of North America after a breeding programme. Some animals only exist in captivity - for example, the black soft-shell turtle that has been extinct in the wild since 2002. Also, in captivity the threat of predators and poachers is taken away and the effects of natural habitats being destroyed is taken away.

Some people do not like the idea of animals being in captivity just for show and entertainment, but without the money spent by the public on zoo visits, projects to help these animals could not happen. So if zoos were banned, maybe the treatment of these animals would in turn become worse. Zoos are also positive for people, providing jobs and education for the public. Have you heard of people studying zoology in university? Without zoos this education would not happen and would leave 142,000 people who are employed by zoos jobless.

In my opinion, zoos can only be beneficial in some cases and they should only be used to protect endangered species. I think to achieve this we should have stronger law enforcement on the conditions within zoos and regulations on treatment with guidelines on things such as space, diet and welfare. I think that the 1,041 endangered species that are held in zoos are important to be kept in captivity so that their breeding can continue. Other animals that are kept in captivity just for entertainment, especially ones that have been taken from the wild, should not be in zoos, as in the long term, this will have a negative effect on the species’ population.  


By Jane

Credits to Getty Images (Photos)