Ethics In Zoos Essay, Research Paper
At the beginning of this century you could visit a zoo near Hamburg in Germany where, alongside the animals, were displayed Lapps and Nubians. That people should have been exhibited like animals is thoroughly distasteful. But if animals’ needs are not so different from our own, then it could be argued that they should not be locked up either. Stephen Bostock’s book is an unusual combination of zookeeping and philosophy which seeks to address what he terms the ’special challenge to zoos’: the right to freedom for animals. He argues, however, that some animals can still be free to follow their natural behaviour even if held in a zoo. The hen, for instance, is not that different from its ancestor the jungle fowl, and its needs can easily be catered for in a non-natural habitat. Lions, on the other hand, may need large areas in which to roam in the wild, though the males spend a great deal of time resting and leave hunting to the females. Lions kept in zoos are, in any case, semi-domesticated, and wildness in zoo animals will always be relative. So if it is acceptable to keep fully domesticated animals in captivity, argues Bostock, it cannot be entirely wrong to keep slightly domesticated animals in good zoos. He maintains that captivity can have benefits: robins in the wild live only one-tenth of their potential life span and have only a 50 per cent chance of surviving from one year to the next. Good zoos provide protection from predation and ensure that animals are healthy and well fed. But, as Bostock
points out, no matter how well the animals are cared for, they didn’t ask to be ‘rescued’, and the protection cannot compensate for a life of dullness and boredom. Even providing animals with basic needs can be a mixed blessing. Many do go short of food or starve in the wild, it’s true. But because finding food takes up much of an animal’s time, doling it out on a plate denies it a purposeful life. Struggling to retain both his belief that animals have rights and that zoos are acceptable, Bostock goes on to ask whether caging them counts as captivity. The word ‘captivity’ holds ominous meaning in the context of humans, says Bostock, because it conjures up hostages or prisoners of war, but he suggests that animal captivity is essentially different. This slightly biased account (Bostock is the education officer for Glasgow Zoo) does not quite match up to the reality of most zoos today, but as a guideline for zoos of the future and the more enlightened around now it is a compassionate and well-thought-out book. That there are advantages to zoos is undeniable, and if zoos work together to make their primary aim the breeding of endangered animals, they may be able to maintain most of the larger mammals and many birds and reptiles for at least a century if these animals were to become extinct in the wild. As he notes, watching natural history films cannot replace zoos, since without zoos as conservation centres, celluloid evidence could be all that remains of many species.