Captivate without captivity


Tim Stolp

Tim Stolp, Entertainment Editor

Timothy Stolp, Entertainment Editor

I am not a vegan, an active animal-rights activist nor an expert on animal rights law; what I do know is that the evidence mounted against zoos is hefty.

It is common perception that zoos are a less-than-perfect, but still perfunctory educational and entertainment tool for the public. It is true: by many standards, zoos have been improving over the last few decades. The problem within lies in the inherent maltreatment of captivity and inaccurate claims of improved conservation efforts. With options for more sustainable programs and allocations of funds, it’s confounding not to see action taken on this front.

The most well-known of zoo-related issues is the concept of captivity: what makes caging bad? The expansion of “habitats” for animals, the addition of moats and other realistic environmental elements are a step in the right direction, but fail to see the bigger picture. At current sizes, zoos provide animals with an atrociously disproportionate area for living quarters in comparison to what they would have in the wild.

According to VICE contributor James Nolan, “the average lion or tiger has 18,000 times less [space] in captivity than it does in the wild; polar bears a million times less.”

To assure zoo-goers of the healthiness of the animals, zookeepers are instructed to inform of the policies and procedures that keep the creatures safe and fit. However, such vast deletions of the territorial bounds these animals require as part of their biological instinct is shut out of their system, creating long-lasting physical and psychological effects.

Take for instance the critically-lauded documentary “Blackfish,” which put SeaWorld under scrutinous light. Interviews with former employees and scientists advocating against the institution illustrated the essential torture killer whales go through in captivity, subject to entertain. Though SeaWorld does not provide as spacious territory for their fauna, the psychological trauma of caging is true across the board. This all being without even delving into known abuse and neglect cases that crop up time and again, in either arena of animal enclosures.

Ironically, SeaWorld, like many animal-based entertainment entities, tout their addition to global conservation efforts in order to come across zoo-like. In reality, the assertion could not be more trivial, because preservation work is dismally low.

As Tim Zimmerman of Outside Magazine tells Public Radio International, “Less than one percent of the species kept in zoos are actually part of serious conservation.”

Frankly, if the wholescale mind and body damage brought onto these creatures does not demerit the convention, the misinformation of “conservatory status” should do the job.

This leaves the economic question at hand: how and what to do we do to promote the zoological industry? We need only look 3,500 miles to our south: the small transcontinental nation of Costa Rica.

Costa Rica is the prime example of a country fighting to break down the broken system. To be certain, the environmentalism beacon of our hemisphere was unable to close its two zoos and repatriate the animals. But, it’s the action that the government is continuing to make since the 2014 court case that kept the zoos open that we should look to.

“We are getting rid of the cages and reinforcing the idea of interacting with biodiversity in botanical parks in a natural way,” said Costa Rica’s Environment Minister René Castro, as reported by Kristine Wong for TakePart. “We don’t want animals in captivity or enclosed in any way unless it is to rescue or save them.”

The returning of animals to their natural habitats would not only provide captive critters with renewed strength, mentally and physically, but provide for environmentally sound economic growth.