Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Are captive animals better off than animals in the wild?

Which is worse? Taking an animal and putting it in captivity where it gets food, medical attention and safety for decades, or leaving it in the wild where it might die of starvation, succumb to injury and disease or live a few years before getting eaten by a predator or shot by someone who wants to hang its head on their wall? In a perfect world, animals could live safely in their natural habitat, but this isn't a perfect world. The stresses of locking an animal in a cage versus those of living in their natural habitat are not the same. I can't believe that anyone would suggest that there is even a remote similarity between the two. In my experience, you'll typically find that the public displays are as good as it gets for the animals, especially in the best zoos.

As an animal lover, I'm completely against animal abuse but I have a hard time buying into those articles you read about where an animal activist group accuses a theme park or zoo of animal mistreatment. These groups seems like they have an ax to grind and are probably finding a few disgruntled employees that are willing to throw the park or zoo under the bus. Most journalists today don’t even bother to actually contact the zoo and obtain the correct information. Zoos also need to be upfront when something does happen to one of their animals. Was there an accident or disease? Were they abused, or did they die of old age or something else that couldn't have been prevented? I'd like to see the statistics. If there is animal abuse taking place, I wish all the trouble in the world for the park and its lousy employees. But as of now, I'm totally not buying this. Going by what I’ve seen, I have every reason to believe the zoos are doing the right thing and the captive animals are better off than their wild brethren. 
I will add that habitat size is something that some zoos have not respected in the past. Sometimes animals are crammed in together to the point where they have nowhere to move around. However, more recently habitat size is something zoos have become very sensitive to, and they keep building them bigger. In San Diego, the elephants are getting a new place, much bigger than the existing one, and they did something similar in Columbus and Cleveland. Almost every new-to-me zoo I've been to in the last ten years has opened bigger habitats for animals that needed the room.

I would also like to think that zoos engage and treat their animals in ways that the average visitor never knows about. Take Sea World San Antonio for instance. After the water park closed they made the wave pool 100 percent chlorine free and filled it with natural fresh water. Instead of sitting empty and dormant all offseason they turned the waves on and put the sea lions in it to splash and play in a large environment. How cool is that?! Zoos take extra special care of their animals so that they are not always in their cages. It may not be the same as the freedom experienced in the wild, but that is exchanged for health, safety, and longevity and I think that’s a pretty sweet deal.