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  • #395


    Zoos constitute exploitation because:

    • they treat the animal as a means to achieve some human end
    • they fail to treat animals with the respect they deserve
    • they violate the animal’s right to live in freedom
    The animal welfare answer

    From the welfare point of view it is wrong to keep an animal in a zoo if the animal has a less pleasant life than it would have outside the zoo.

    Reasons why people think keeping animals in zoos is bad for their welfare:

    • the animal is deprived of its natural habitat
    • the animal may not have enough room
    • the animal is deprived of its natural social structure and companionship
    • the animal is forced into close proximity with other species and human beings which may be unnatural for it
    • the animal may become bored, depressed and institutionalised
    • animals bred in zoos may become imprinted on human beings rather than members of their own species – this prevents them fully experiencing their true identity
    • although animals may live longer lives in zoos than in the wild, they may experience a lower quality of life

    There is more to treating animals in an appropriate way than keeping them healthy: It’s possible (and used to be common) for zoos to keep animals in perfect physical shape, but in conditions that cause the animals to display serious behavioural problems.

    Zoos and conservation

    But where a zoo is keeping animals in order to preserve a species that is under threat in the wild, and treats its animals in an appropriate way, then this is purportedly morally acceptable from the welfare point of view.

    Some animal activists argue that the conservation argument is flawed. They list the following weaknesses:

    • a zoo may be unable to keep a large enough number of individuals to provide a sufficiently varied gene pool for the species to breed without problems
    • where animals are rare and hard to breed in captivity, removing specimens from the wild to zoos may result in the population falling
    • returning animals to the wild is difficult
    • the benefits to the overall species population do not compensate the individual animals for the negative effects of living in a zoo
  • #469


    Summary from Ethics of the Zoo by Jozef Keulartz

    Today, the animal world is under increasing pressure, given the magnitude of anthropogenic environmental stress, especially from human-caused rapid climate change together with habitat conversion, fragmentation, and destruction. We are witnessing a global wave of species extinctions and declines in local species abundance. To stop or even reverse this so-called “defaunation” process, in situ conservation (in the wild) is no longer effective without ex situ conservation (in captivity). Consequently, the zoo will play an ever-greater role in the conservation of endangered species and wildlife—hence the slogan “Captivity for Conservation.”

    However, the integration of zoo-based tools and techniques in species conservation has led to manifold conflicts between wildlife conservationists and animal protectionists. Many wildlife conservationists agree with Michael Soulé, the father of conservation biology, that conservation and animal welfare are conceptually distinct and should remain politically separate. Animal protectionists, on the other hand, draw support from existing accounts of animal ethics that oppose the whole idea of captivity for conservation, either because infringing an individual’s right to freedom for the preservation of the species is considered morally wrong, or because the benefits of species conservation are not seen as significant enough to overcome the presumption against depriving an animal of its liberty.

    Each side views animals through a different lens and addresses different concerns. Whereas animal ethicists focus on individual organisms and are concerned about the welfare and liberty of animals, wildlife conservationists perceive animals as parts of greater wholes, such as species or ecosystems, and consider biodiversity and ecological integrity as key topics. To put an end to this seemingly intractable controversy and to transcend both perspectives, a bifocal view has to be developed in which zoo animals are perceived as individuals in need of specific care and, at the same time, as members of a species in need of protection.

    Based on this bifocal approach, which has lately been adopted by a growing international movement of “Compassionate Conservation,” the modern zoo can only achieve its mission if it finds a morally acceptable balance between animal welfare concerns and species conservation commitments. The prospects for the zoo to achieve such a balance are promising. Over the past decade or so, zoos have made serious and sustained efforts to ensure and enhance animal welfare. At the same time, the zoo’s contribution to species conservation has also improved considerably.


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