Zoos go by several different official names. They can be called “animal parks,” “menageries,” or “zoological gardens.” Despite the different names, each offers visitors the chance to view animals that are confined in an enclosure. Many zoos have breeding programs in place to help eliminate genetic bottlenecks, especially when dealing with an endangered species.
Zoos have been part of our human history from the very beginning when early humans began documenting what happened to them. One of the oldest known zoos was discovered in Egypt in 2009 and was believed to have existed in 3,500 BC. Evidence of elephants, wildcats, baboons, and hippopotami were discovered at the location.
The benefit of having a local zoo is that it gives people an opportunity to learn more about the animals and nature. It is a way to engage children in science, bring families together, and help save certain animal species that are close to extinction.
As for the disadvantages of a zoo, the facilities that are offered can be abused for personal or political gain. One of the earliest zoos in the Western Hemisphere didn’t feature animals. It featured people that had different physical traits, such as having dwarfism or albinism. Even the Catholic Church has a zoo which feature a collection of people from different races and tribes as late as the 16th century.
Ota Benga was part of a human exhibit at zoos in the United States as late as 1906, in St. Louis and the Bronx Zoo.
The pros and cons of zoos are important to consider from a modern standpoint. Our views about zoos may have changed, but is it still ethical to support animal captivity?
What Are the Pros of Having Zoos?
1. Zoos provide an educational resource.
The modern zoo plays a critical role in education children and families about the different animals with whom we share this planet. Staff from a zoo will travel to local schools to make presentations, offer special programs on the zoo grounds, and partner with community providers to extend educational opportunities to everyone. No matter what a person’s socioeconomic status may be, there is a chance to learn something new because of the work of a zoo.
2. A zoo provides a protected environment for endangered animals.
There are several animals which are poached frequently because of certain items. Having a zoo provides these animals with a safer place to live because they are behind multiple levels of protection. Although poachers have been able to break into zoos to take animals in the past, this is not a frequent occurrence and is normally not successful when it does occur.
3. Zoos can provide a place for the humane treatment of rare animals.
One of the best examples of this is the Przewalski horse. In 1945, there were 13 horses that were captured from the wild and placed into a zoo. The last Przewalski horse was seen in the wild in 1966. Because of extensive breeding programs and an effort to reintroduce these horses into protected habitats in the wild, this unique species can continue to survive. It is a unique breed in the equine world because it has 66 chromosomes instead of 64. More than 1,500 of these horses exist today and all can trace their lineage back to the 13 that were captured at the end of World War II.
4. Zoos can also be an economic resource for a community.
Zoos do more than just provide a place for animals to reside. They are a place that provides jobs, creates tourism opportunities, and can even be an economic nexus for a community. The Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle has an annual budget that exceeds $36 million and they pay $17 million in wages annually. Another $5.2 million is paid in outside vendor contracts. The zoo was established in 1898 and 70% of its revenues come from zoo visits and private contributions.
5. Zookeepers are trained with specialized knowledge about their animals.
In the past, zoos were a place where animals were kept behind steel bars. Those who oversaw these animals had a general knowledge of upkeep, but not much more. Today’s zookeepers are highly trained and educated people who have specialized knowledge of the animals that are under their charge. This has reduced accidents and attacks, especially when handlers follow established policies and procedures to maintain safety.
6. Zoos offer animal activities to maintain natural instincts and movements.
Animals that were kept in zoos in previous generations were given an enclosure, maybe a toy or two, and that was considered “cutting edge.” The modern zoo is hyper-aware of the dietary and physical requirements that animals need to maintain proper health. Activities are arranged for the animals to help keep them mentally alert. This doesn’t fully replace hunting or migration, but it does eliminate the boredom, deterioration, and eventual degradation of the animal at the zoo.
7. Most zoos are required to go through an accreditation process of some sort.
One of the most common arguments against the existence of zoos is that they are not carefully supervised. In the past, this was a valid observation. Zoos in the developed world must go through an accreditation process to maintain operations. Inspections that include habitat cleanliness, humane practices, and proper care occur regularly. If a zoo is unable to meet those standards, they can potentially lose their accreditation and their animals will be transferred to a zoo that does meet them.
8. Preservation efforts at zoos can stop extinction events.
Zoos around the world work together to preserve rare and extremely endangered species. These connections make it possible to bring a pair of these animals together to begin the mating process so that the species can continue living. If these rare animals were forced to find each other in the wild, the result could be very different. Animals that have been saved from likely extinction by zoos include the Arabian Oryx, Golden Lion Tamarin, Puerto Rican Parrot, and Freshwater mussels.
9. Veterinary care is readily available at most zoos.
Many zoos have what is referred to as a “treatment room.” This is a place where any animal can be brought in for an examination so that its good health can be maintained. Veterinarians are no longer working on their own in these facilities either. Treatment teams include pathologists, technicians, zookeepers, and other specialists who can create and maintain virtually any care plan. Screenings, quarantine procedures, parasite removal, and other common treatments are part of the standard care process now as well.
10. Zoos are working with universities to develop in-depth degree programs.
The Smithsonian National Zoo is one of many that have worked with local colleges and universities to create thorough degree programs at graduate and doctorate levels. The National Zoo has a training program for fourth-year veterinary students and offers a 3-year residency program for another school so that veterinarians can train to become zoological medicine specialists.
What Are the Cons of Having Zoos?
1. Holding any animal in captivity has questionable ethics.
There may be educational value in a zoo, but keeping animals in captivity offers an ethical dilemma. Some animals, like the average house cat, will thrive in a captive environment. Others, like orcas, do very poorly when living in captivity. An orca in the wild may live up to 100 years in the wild, but the average age at a captive orca is less than 30 years – and it’s 17 years for a male orca.
2. Breeding programs create dependencies.
Wild animals struggle to adapt to a confined environment, but many can make the transition – even if it is forced upon them. The same cannot always be said for the newborns that become part of local zoo breeding programs. If the animal is part of a predator species, most newborns that are born in captivity will die if they are released because of the dependencies they have on the captivity.
3. Most zoos are treated as a recreational facility.
Since the 19th century, in both good and bad ways, most zoos were established to further a scientific understanding about the nature which surrounds us. That has changed over the years to the point where many see a zoo as nothing more than a recreational facility. Established zoos cater to this attitude and justify it because they need to have funds to further the research or preservation efforts that are taking place.
4. The lives of animals are secondary to the lives of people.
Because zoos are treated more as a recreational facility, visitors do not always have respect for the boundaries and borders that keep them safe from potentially dangerous animals. If visitors intrude into the animal enclosure, it is usually the life of the animal that is put at risk. An example of this occurred in 2016 when a 3-year old boy was left unsupervised long enough to crawl into a gorilla enclosure. To save the boy, the zoo killed the male gorilla named Harambe.
5. Even if captivity extends a lifetime, it can change animal behavior.
Elephants are often the focus of this key point because of their size compared to their enclosure. Elephants are also migratory animals, so restricting this instinct can cause them to become more aggressive. More than 75 elephants have been euthanized at zoos before reaching the age of 40 when their lifespan is estimated to be 70 years in the wild. Predatory animals become more aggressive as well when restricted, which puts zookeepers and visitors at an increased risk.
6. Many zoos are struggling financially and can no longer care for their animals properly.
The Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle is thought to be one of the best in the US. In 2015, their expenses were $2 million more than their incoming revenues. Their status as a 501c3 organization, however, can help to provide a buffer on years where losses like that occur. Other zoos do not have that luxury. Many zoos euthanize healthy animals because of their cost or to “preserve” genetic health. In Agate, CO a wildlife sanctuary euthanized all 11 of their animals because of a denial to relocate their facilities due to “ongoing flooding.”
7. Conservation is a goal that isn’t always sought.
Most zoos have a goal of conservation when it comes to animal species. There are certainly success stories, such as the Przewalski horse. Unfortunately, this goal tends to be more of a marketing technique than an actual mission statement. It is quite common to have offspring created at a zoo to be moved to another zoo, sold to raise money, or in the case of the Giant Panda, used as a financial resource for an entire country.
8. Even natural habitat enclosures do not fully serve the needs of all animals.
The goal of many modern zoos is to replicate the natural environments of the animal for their enclosure. For some animals, such as the elephant, this is virtually impossible within the confines of a zoo. A herd (or memory) of elephants is known to travel between 30-50 kilometers every day. In the wild, you’ll find them grouping into herds of 40+ individuals. That is a habitat which a small zoo cannot replicate.
9. Zoos can set an improper standard for future generations.
Children learn from the adults in their lives. When they go to a zoo, what they are seeing is that it is okay for people to put animals into enclosures for entertainment purposes. For a zoo experience to be beneficial, there must be an effort to take all visitors through the scientific and preservation components of a zoological program. Unfortunately, most zoo visitors go to look at the animals and nothing more, which shows imprisonment can be entertainment – and that may transfer to their views about humanity.
10. Breeding programs are not a guarantee for species survival.
The Giant Panda is an example of how difficult breeding programs in captivity can be. Up through the 1990s, just 30% of the Giant Pandas in captivity could successfully reproduce. When the cubs were born, more than 60% of them would die while still in infancy. Survival percentages have risen to over 70% since then, but this is because of artificial insemination and husbandry efforts that essentially force the newborn cub to be reliant on humans for potentially its entire life.
11. Animals in captivity can develop severe health problems, even with a high-quality treatment plan.
The Alaska Zoo was struggling to care for Maggie the Elephant. Because of the local weather conditions, she would often be forced to stay inside a very small enclosure. Her treatment team brought in a treadmill that could help her get the exercise she needed, but she refused. Without the proper amount of activity, her feet began to degrade to the point where it became difficult for her to walk.
A zoo can be an integral part of our community and world with the right approach. Each key point deserves consideration so that a personal decision regarding zoos can be reached. That way they can be more than entertainment.
The pros and cons of zoos often come from two very different points of view. From a legal standard, animals are often treated as property. That means they have little in the way of rights, so a zoo seems like a positive place to maintain a high quality of life. For others, the forced enclosure of any animal feels like an unethical decision. Wild animals, it is said, are meant to be wild.
Michelle Carr's article ,"The Reality of Zoos", published on the website of PETA, the vocal animal-rights organization, reflects a growing hostility towards zoological collections. Could it be one of the causes of disaffection with some famous zoos? In 1968, the Zoological Park in Vincennes, a suburb of Paris, once a popular landmark for the French, counted 1.5 million visitors. In 2005, they were only 300,000 (see Jean-Charles Battenbaum, "Rénovation du Parc Zoologique de Paris"). Other signs of disaffection are visible in many other zoos worldwide. Is this the end of the era of zoological parks and should we applaud it? Or should we support those zoos, like Vienna’s Schönbrunn Tiergarten, one of the first zoos in history, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which defends on its website that “modern zoos”, have become educational centers”, showcases for teaching and research, “and valuable partners for many nature and species conservation projects”?
- conservation of endangered species by joining international reproduction in captivity programs
- environmental education by planning environment-related activities, conventions, exhibitions, educational routes for schools and so on.”
But how true are such assertions? Have zoo owners truly become environmentalists, as they seem when we read most of their websites, or is this “greenwashing”—a façade of words for the sake of political correctness?
In China, the famous “Garden of Intelligence” was conceived as a representation of the divine by the Chinese monarch Wen-Wang as early as the 9th century B.C.E. Throughout Chinese Western and Islamic history, maps and geographic knowledge (which included information on zoology and botany) were highly strategic. In a profoundly religious culture the one who demonstrates knowledge of creatures unheard of (white bears in the Far North, tigers in the Orient, etc.) has a world view that few humans can even dream of. Only the
Creator of the Universe or an exceptionally wise human being with special powers could have a bird's eye view of the full immensity and richness of the Cosmos. Hence the success of geographic scholarly books or simply travel literature for centuries before and during the age of printing. Furthermore, actually owning a population of live animals gives a potentate a symbolic power as a reenactment of Noah thering the animals in his Ark, for example.
The first animals were collected and kept there as early as the 1500s. An imperial menagerie existed as early as 1540 serving all the purposes mentioned above. But in 1752, the Schönbrunn Palace’s menagerie became a genuine animal museum, first, for a limited number of privileged visitors, then, in 1779, for the general public. Later, animal rides, sporting events and even ballroom dancing were held on zoo grounds in an era when visiting a zoo often meant a day-long journey outside of the city limits. The name of the Schönbrunn menagerie, “Tiergarten”, —animal garden—coined the word that remains to this day the German word for “zoo”.
the home page of Hamburg's famous zoo, created by entrepreneur Carl Hagenbeck. Another page of the same website is an excellent summary of the Hagenbeck experience... or ideology: "Its landscapes and enclosures are world famous. More than 1,850 animals from all continents live here (...) Carl Hagenbeck's panoramas, listed as landmarks, characterize zoo architecture of the 20th Century to the present. In 1907 he fulfilled his dream: he opened his Stellingen zoo, just outside Hamburg. For the first time, a flow of visitors were able to
go through the famous Art Nouveau entrance into other worlds and marvel at predators in gridless leisure facilities and panoramic views."
Acclaimed animal and nature photographer Fritz Pölking (1916-2007) warned that he could not guarantee absolute reality when presenting his images. Because it is acknowledged that photographic images often hide or transform the reality that they portray, the animals can only be objectively perceived in their own environment, and only with your own eyes. On the other hand, one may ask where would you see or even know how an extremely rare wild animal, such as a snow leopard, looks like, if not from a photograph or a zoo. On the other hand, the
kind of stages or giant dioramas that Hagenbeck invented to expose animals are no more than an illusion of “wilderness”, simulacra. Isn’t then the ethical discourse an alibi? An early example of “greenwashing” as we call it today ?
which their predecessors were held in the early-mid 19th century. And there is worse: from a purely humanistic perspective, the history of zoos is tainted by a history of colonialism and even racism.
considered as one of Haggenbeck’s masterpieces. “The impression was appalling. Many infrastructures, supposed to imitate a natural landscape, were crumbling. Other animals seemed miserable in their pens. Across a high cement wall, in an enclosure without the slightest element of vegetation, a lonely Indian elephant, obviously seeking some company, was caressing the back of another solitary
elephant of the African species. The most pathetic scene was an adult gorilla sitting in a minuscule cage near the entrance. ‘Do not feed’ ordered the sign on the cage. But the minute we approached, the gorilla stuck out its large hand in an obvious gesture. When it became clear that we had no food to give out, it opened and closed its fingers insistingly. Begging from visitors seemed to be one of its only distractions….”
may be challenged by viruses from a species that they would never otherwise meet. Surplus animals could create a problem for zoos as well. In some cases, zoo animals are bred simply to attract visitors, and pressure on space and resources means that some animals are then disposed of or killed at the end of the season. For example, some zoos and safari parks have supplied animals for experiments. Certain species are 'recycled', in other words, fed to other animals. A few zoos have supplied animals like bison and ostrich to exotic meat
farms. While zoos might argue that raising animals for their carnivores is logical, supplying the exotic meat trade for humans is clearly questionable.
It has been observed and well-documented that animals behave drastically different once taken away from their natural environment. "There is about as much educational benefit to be gained in studying dolphins in captivity as there would be studying mankind by only observing prisoners held in solitary confinement" once declared Jacques-Yves Cousteau. Indeed, animals become noticeably sad and
depressed and experience lack of sexuality, which in turn complicates the reproduction.
Virginia McKenna is the actress who played Joy Adamson in the movie version of her best-selling autobiographical account Born Free—the story of Elsa the lioness, one of the icons of the conservation movement as perceived by the public in the mid-1960s. The story was about how Joy and her husband George, who operated a private game reserve in Kenya, adopt an orphaned baby lioness, Elsa, and then refuse to give her to a zoo. Instead, they train her successfully to return to the wild. “She was born free and she has the right to live free!” shouted by Virginia McKenna in one of the most dramatic scenes of the screen version viewed by millions. A few years later, the actress and her late husband Bill Travers, who played George Adamson in the film, abandonned a great part of their acting careers and took over George
Adamsons’ private lion sanctuary after he and Joy were killed by poachers. In 1991, with their son Will, they founded the Born Free foundation, now one of the world’s highly reputable conservation societies. One of its main targets are zoos and Mrs. McKenna is very outspoken about their hypothetical usefulness for science and conservation : “We can learn as much about lions by studying them in
their captivity as we can about men by studying them in their prison cells".
So what does an institution tell about itself when its policies favor the fake versus the real? Could it be that spectacle is more important than science, or that entertainment is more important than education? This leads to the next disturbing question: is nature what we even think it is? What do we mean by “wilderness” and “civilization”.
The case of the famous “Elephant Man” is only one of the most notorious examples of such show business cruelty. Curious crowds came to view “freak shows”: the suffering of living beings behind cages, including humans—physically handicapped or mentally ill people such as “geeks” (yes, that it is where the word originated) and “wild men”, i.e., alcoholics having fits of delirium tremens, or other manifestations of hysteria and dementia. The morbid nature of the public's curiosity is revealed here: observing captive living beings considered as inferior, indulges a person's or a group's sense of superiority. It is a form of sadism. The vision of the beast or of the wild man conquered and put behind bars constructs the viewers' own identity of conquerors, which is gratifying for the ruling classes—the great industrialists and merchants who invested in the colonial economy—but particularly for the middle classes and the uprooted popular masses, the main clients of zoos— i.e. the mediocre or the disenfranchised, observing creatures less fortunate than oneself and enjoying the illusion of belonging to the elite. The feeling provided an “opiate of the people”, a compensation for their own miseries or frustrations. The participants in such violent orgies as public executions or racist rallies, deny their cruelty through philosophical rationalizations (“the criminal is evil and deserved it”). In the case of zoos, the alibi is scientific and educational. Can it even take on the disguise of conservation?
(Federal archives of Germany, with permission)
risk to sooner or later tolerate cruelty towards humans as well. There is probably no stronger evidence to support this accusation than the historic experience of zoological exhibits in one of its ugliest aspects: the phenomenon of the human zoo. The expression is neither a sarcasm nor a label recently coined by historians. From the mid 1800s, entire groups of individuals were seduced into leaving their tribal villages and coming to large European cities to be exhibited. These exhibits were often held in zoos. They were presented next to the animals and “human zoo” are the exact words used in some of the official advertisements. Groups of inhabitants from colonies were shown to the public in their national clothes, often, on a stage with reconstructed houses and artifacts of their native land. The case of the “Hottentot Venus”, a slave exhibited as monster for her anthropomorphic features so different from the European representation of the human body (particularly her very large buttocks) is another sinister example of how exhibitions of the “wilderness” and its “natural inhabitants”" were far from innocent. Once again, Alan Aftonfalker remembers. "Children visiting the Paris Museum of Anthropology at the Trocadero Square (a division of the Museum of Natural History mentioned earlier) would laugh at this mummified naked body (not always realizing that this was an actual cadaver, not a wax statue) exhibited in a glass display case. I have seen this as late as 1971!" Thus not only zoos or circuses participated in this unsavory form of spectacle. A respected educational institution, no less than New York’s American Museum of Natural History, has committed even far worse in the way it represented animals and people “from the wild”. The story of the six indigenous Greenlandic companions of Polar explorer Peary is the sad evidence. The future great discoverer of the North Pole had convinced to come with him to New York. Neglected by Peary who abandoned the group in poor quarters, weakened by a long trip, cultural shock and consequent disorientation, suffering from the unusual climatic conditions and the polluted air of an early 20th century industrial
urban environment, the travellers from the Arctic withered and died, except for one little boy, Minik. The body of Minik’s father was then stripped of its flesh and his skeleton was put on display in the Museum (see the PBS documentary "Minik, the Lost Eskimo").
Here, the line between an ethnographic educational project and a circus freak show becomes extremely blurry, especially in the mind of an uneducated public for whom making fun of a geek expressing alcoholic rage in his cage in a carnival was socially acceptable. The stage
upon which the Natives of the colonies were displayed were either actual zoos or special events like Paris colonial world fair of 1931. Among the entrepreneurs of such spectacles was no other than Hagenbeck himself.
In the conclusion to their history of zoos, Eric Baratay and Elisabeth Hardouin-Fugier (see our bibliography at the end) summarize what was, according to their research, the fundamental social role in Western societies of keeping and exhibiting captive animals. It was “to treat
them as proof of the existence of the Other, as hostages from a conquered world, as survivors of the universe on the road to extinction. Until the 20th century, zoos clearly reflected the will of a triumphant Europe to classify and dominate.” This does not mean that there was no real educational and scientific value. But as noted by the authors, the animals offered for observation “were more often virtual than natural”. Later, “torn between the persistent drive to exploit and the genuine desire to preserve and respect”, Western societies
transformed views “into an ersatz of natural, open space.” The illusion of nature, disguised the reality: that Western societies were not liberal and benevolent as they viewed themselves. They preferred to “transplant, then limit, cultivate and arrange nature however and wherever it liked, rather than leave places truly free of human influence. Here again a parallel is to be drawn with the processes of the colonization and neo-colonialism which expressed, and continues to express the same dialectic between sentiment and reality.”
inhabitants—animals as well as people—was part of an exotism that, in this fourth decade of the 20th century, communicated more positive values than the morbid freak shows and exhibitions of “wild men” and “missing links” of earlier generations: although trophies they were, the exotic animals and human beings were nevertheless seen as treasures, a national treasure to be valued. But this kind of paternalism may have been more harmful to the advance of true humanistic values than the vulgar racism of the 19th century. No less than Three million Frenchmen visited the "Expo Coloniale". Today, all historians who studied this festival agree with the numbers that were circulated eighty years ago to measure its success as a public relations operation to win public support for colonialism: before the exhibit, the majority of Frenchmen were either opposed or indifferent to exploiting a French colonial empire, after the exhibit closed, the majority of the French supported colonial expansion. The exhibition of beautiful animals was part of this great campaign machine.
Director of communications of the Zoo of Doué founded in 1961 in France's Loire Valley. In an interview by N&C, Mister Bondu expresses such strong words without hesitation. He hopes that they will be understood as a sign of a profoundly changing attitude by zoo keepers. Millions have been invested by the Doué zoo (which its executives prefer to call "biopark") for animal welfare inside its gates but also in the wild.
If we started dismantling zoos, wouldn't we be throwing away the baby with the bathwater? What would we do with hundreds of thousands of animals born in zoos and incapable of surviving in the wild? Where could zoologists conduct research essential to our knowledge and to the animals' welfare and that can only be observed in captivity? What would happen to almost extinct species for which the zoo is a last haven from poachers?
Monkey Jungle in Florida is a good example. In 1933, animal behaviorist Joseph DuMond released a troop of Java monkeys into his
private reserve to study them in an environment resembling their natural habitat. Soon afterward, to finance his research, DuMond let the first visitors enter his reserve. More species were added to the collection and the place became a new kind of zoo: a menagerie where the visitors are enclosed in long corridors of meshed wire while monkeys roam free in a floridian jungle. Monkey Jungle has thrived ever since. There is an enclosure around the compound of each species, but Monkey Jungle personel explained to us that the monkeys "enjoy two
to three times more space than they would usually occupy in the wild”".
a dozen regional organizations and by global federations, the most important of which is the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums
(WAZA). WAZA enforces a strict code of ethics for its members. Today, being excluded from WAZA or not being admitted into one of the regional or national associations for not respecting the modern standards of animal welfare could be a death sentence to a zoo in terms of
credibility and public image.
The S.E.C.A.S. - Société d'Encouragement pour la Conservation des Animaux Sauvages (Society for the Encouragement of Wild Animals
Conservation), is the NGOs supporting the zoo work of France's Museum d'Histoire Naturelle. It provides more interesting details about the history of international networking for conservation.
In 1973 was created a network called ISIS -International Species Information System. It is a computer database identifying, on a voluntary basis, zoo animals with their origin and genealogy. The goal is to collect information necessary for the creation of herd books
(studbooks) by species, allowing the initiation of coordinated breeding programs. Based in the Minnesota Zoo, ISIS maintains a list of approximately 550 participating zoos, over 1,3 million animals, including more than 350,000 6,000 species and subspecies.
In 1980, the Association of Zoos North American (AZA) organized the first breeding programs involving captive animals called SSP (Species Survival Plan). In 1982, the UK implemented its own programs: JMSP (Joint Management Species Program). In 1985, the European Community created the European Endangered Species Programme.
thanks to them that the species is now back in Białowieża. A good recent example was the reintroduction into the steppes of Asia of the Przewalski horse. By the 1980s, this living fossil of prehistoric times had been reduced to quasi-extinction in the wild. Without the zoos where individuals had been preserved, the 300 horses living today in national parks in China and Mongolia would not have existed.
the subject of pets, Gilles de Turckheim, director of the “Montagne des Singes” (Monkey Mountain), a zoological park hosting one of largest populations of Barbary macaques outside of their natural habitat in Northern Africa, defended the usefulness of his institution: “the monkeys have maintained the exact behaviour they display in the wild, except that they no longer fear humans. Here in Kintsheim”, he continued “more than one thousand of these individuals belonging to the Macaca sylvanus species roam freely amidst the lush pine forest of the French Vosges mountains, near the German border.” This new hyper-realism is one of the standards that oganizations such as WAZA are attempting to enforce.
Apparently, even artificial environments in zoos can keep animals “happy” (or at least no less miserable than in the wild). One of the results of research on animal behavior in zoos is that interaction seems to be the main key to that goal. For most animals to “rest” is a severe punishment; in their natural habitat they would hunt, or run wild and play. So not only the surroundings must be carefully planned, but also, the accessories that will be included in these surroundings. For example, a penguin or a walrus in the zoo will potentially be happier if supplied live fish in their pool, so that they could hunt it. The same goes for other animals; even the ones that do not hunt need some toys and objects that would replace the ones involved in their natural activities.
Yet, “like almost everything else that goes wrong these days,” firmly declares Time's Nancy Gibbs, it “is a signal that America's zoos
are doing something very right”.
Big Cat Rescue in the suburbs of Tampa in Florida, does not even see itself as a zoo at all. The volunteers of this non-profit organization insist on being called a “sanctuary” and frankly explain to visitors that their presence is only needed to bring in funds. It grew out of spontaneous responses to emergency situations by people who just happened to be in the right place at the right time to respond to the immediate needs of injured wild animals found by the road (cats indigenous to Florida, like panthers) or pets, circus animals, or zoo animals abandoned by irresponsible owners or confiscated by the authorities from animal traffickers or criminals. It was either that or letting the cats just be euthanized. One rescue operation leading to another… and Big Cat Rescue was born. Dozens of lions, tigers, panthers and smaller felines live in rather large enclosures in a secluded patch of woods not far from Tampa. The place does looks like a zoo, but the managers see it only as a lesser evil, the only place where wild felines, those that can no longer be returned to the wild, can end their lives in a relatively comfortable although somewhat unnatural habitat. The volunteers are very militant in their efforts to educate their visitors about animal rights.
by Alan Aftonfalker and Yaroslav Rovenskikh.
All photos by Alan Aftonfalker except when otherwise indicated.
Alan Aftonfalker was a teacher at the Parsons School of Design and is now a free-lance photographer and writer; Yaroslav Rovenskikh graduated from Parsons School of Design,and is now a painter, garage rocker, dj and is involved with music management.
Exotic animals, in Antiquity and in the Middle-Ages had been, in essence, a sign of status. Possessing a collection of live exotic creatures was not just a demonstration of influence and wealth, but a testimony to exceptional power—the power of the greatest rulers. Traveling to the remote places where lived such creatures like the (rhinos, elephants, camels, great cats or any other alien beasts) and bringing them back alive represented an investment and an achievement comparable, in our own times, to creating a large museum of minerals from the Moon or Mars. Peackocks held captive in parcs but often free to roam around in this artificial landscape, like here in the Bagatelle Garden on the outskirts of Paris (left), were believed to have been brought from the mysterious Caucausus, land of the Golden Fleece. Peacocks are part of the representations of the universe in many religions including christianity.
Collecting animals is a practice already recorded in ancient Assyria, Persia, China and Egypt. Captive animals were gifts or trophies and embellished rulers’courts, even giving them, at times, mystical value.
Traveling to the remote places where lived such creatures (rhinos, elephants, camels, great cats or any other exotic beasts) and bringing them back alive represented an investment and an
Buffon (above) was instrumental in transforming the Jardin du Roi (King's Garden) into a major research center and museum, with teaching facilities and acquiring new botanical and zoological specimens. During the Revolution. Lamarck (below) was instrumental in the reorganization of the center into a public museum and a zoo. A breeding ground for ideas on evolution, the center grew into the impressive campus and park enjoyed today by all Parisians.
Whatever their name, animal exhibitions began opening to the general public in cities all over the Western world. The first after Schönbrunn was the Jardin des Plantes (Garden of Plants) in Paris. A botanical garden and a research center since 1626, it was reorganized as the Museum of Natural History in 1793, during the French Revolution. The next year, after persistent lobbying by naturalists
Antoine-Laurent de Jussieu and Jacques-Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, the revolutionary government let the Museum appropriate the royal menagerie of the abandoned Versailles palace. The menagerie soon opened to the public as a zoo. The Museum has grown to become
one of France’s principal academic institutions. Soon after Paris, in 1806, a scientific zoological and botanical permanent exhibition was created near the banks of the Volga river, in the far East of European Russia in today’s Tatarstan on the grounds of the young university of Kazan’, by an enthusiastic and charismatic professor of German origin , Karl Fuchs. The collection, a little known fact, has been open to the public ever since. The Zoological Society of London’s collection opened to the public in Regent Park in 1828. After that, zoos appeared in over 40 different locations across Europe, Asia and Latin America in the next 70 years. In North America, By the end of the 19th century, twenty-one major cities had their own zoo.
The democratization of culture through cheaper printing materials (illustrated newspapers, books and engravings) boosted demand for animal exhibitions.
The Grand Amphitheater of the Jardin des Plantes (left), built by Edme Verniquet in 1787-1788 is one of the teaching facilities planned during the long administration of Buffon (1739 to 1788, the year of the great encyclopedist's death). The building marks the educational and scientific ambitions of the Enlightenment and a turning point in the history of zoos.
A portrait of Carl Hagenbeck (1844-1913 - right): zoologist or showman? Watch recent videos below his portrait. The first is from the zoo he created just outside Hamburg the Tierpark Hagenbeck. The second is from a local Hamburg magazine (with comments in German).
Even today, exotism remains a trademark of the Haggenbeck tradition, as explicitely mentionned on the zoo's website: "In over 150-year of Hagenbeck family history, there were always contacts with foreign and exotic peoples. Originating from Asia bronzes and buildings in the park witness these encounters. But the view was not only the East, but also to the west. Two original totem poles are witnessing the culture of Tlinkit Indians of the Northwest Coast of North America."
When Hagenbeck, created his private zoo in the periphery of Hamburg, he was the first to formulate a revolutionary idea: “I desired, above all things, to give the animals the maximum of liberty. I wished to exhibit them not as captives; confined within narrow spaces, and looked at between bars, but as free to wander from place to place within as large limits as possible; and with no bars to obstruct the view and serve as a reminder of captivity. I wished also to show what would be accomplished in the way of acclimatization. I desired to refute the prevailing notion that luxurious and expensive houses with complicated heating apparatus were necessary for keeping wild animals alive and healthy. I hoped to show that far better results could be obtained when they were kept in the fresh air and allowed to grow accustomed to the climate. I wished my new park to be a great and enduring example of the benefits that can be wrought by giving the animals as much freedom and placing them in as natural an environment as ppossible.” Animals shown in pens designed in the shape of a rock formation meant to represent a crag in the African bush, a cliff in the Arctic or a pond in South Eastern Asia, became a landmark of the “Hagenbeck revolution”at the turn of the century.
Watch the video on abnormal behavior in zoo animals from the Born Free Channel ->
Frustration and boredom are commonplace amongst zoo animals and can lead to obsessive and repetitive behaviors in the form of pacing and swaying. Abnormal behavior in reptiles may manifest itself as climbing or scratching at their glass tanks because they do not understand why they can't get out. Other reptiles may become completely sedentary, seemingly sleeping their lives away behind a
"The snake charmer" (left), aka "The Nubian dancer" (by Charles-Arthur Bourgeois, 1862) is one of several sculptures decorating the Paris Museum of Natural History menagerie (the Jardin des Plantes). It is typical of a Western taste for exotism, an essentialist representation of "non-civilized" societies as static and undeveloped. Although "natural man's" closeness to nature has first been perceived by the Enlightenment as a superior mode of existence--living in harmony with nature and thus free from the corruption of society--such representations, in the nineteenth century, evolved into a view allowing to contrast the “noble savage” with a view of the West as flexible, developed and therefore superior. The animal world exhibited in zoos thus becomes a portal into the world of "primitive".
When we exhibit animals or look at them in captivity is it not, at least in our subconscious, to affirm our power over them—our power over the wild, the triumph of technology, the victory of civilization over nature?
The question is further complicated because numerous ideologies tried to address it, from the philosophers of the Enlightenment fantasizing about the “noble savage” living in harmony with nature and thus free from the corruption of society, to the racist ideologues who exhibited not only zoological specimens from their colonies but humans as well.
In the "the bear cub hunter" (left), an 1885 sculpture by Emmanuel Frémiet the theme of violence between man and beast is not a strange choice for the decorators of the the Jardin des
Plantes if we remember that the industrial age exalted the conquest and submission of nature to "civilization". It is therfore to be suspected, that the function of zoos in the heyday of the industrial age was not only to educate or simply to entertain, but also, to convey representations of nature consistent with the
vision of competition, conflict and conquest that permeated industrial-age ideologies.
Education or cheap frills?
The animals in zoos were not only curiosities but trophies in that struggle against nature.In those years, the public craved for exoticism and zoos provided plenty of it. It was nothing new. Peter the Great of Russia, for example, had once created entertainment
chambers to amuse and horrify his guests by presenting them abnormal animals or humans, including his own legendary giant dog, as well as humans with various degrees of deformities, or put more simply, “freaks”. Interestingly, what used to be those
A chinese leopard at the Paris Botanical garden (Jardin des Plantes, left) may be safer behind its glass-protected cage than in the wild where the risk of falling victim to poachers or environmental destruction is very high.
When one of our Nature & Cultures reporters attended a lecture by Born Free Society founder Virginia McKenna, he was sitting next to
one of the board members of the historic ZSL, the Zoological Society of London, that founded the
Also, research activities also continue under the auspices of DuMond Conservancy, a non-profit scientific organization. “The warm
climate,”, assures its staff, “allows us to keep our primates outdoors year round, either free ranging in lush, multi-acre forested habitats or in large enclosures planted with natural vegetation and situated in secluded woods.”
Still a family-owned institution, DuMond Conservancy continues to earn its reputation by conducting scientific research useful to our understanding of the ecology of primates, particularly its research on owl monkeys.
Large wild animals in an almost free-ranging environment (left) in Thoiry , made this private zoo in the park and forest of an eccentric aristocrat's domain, in the countryside west of Paris, a model of new approaches to collecting animals.
By 1989, Nancy Gibbs from Time Magazine (see bibliography)
could exclaim that “just about every aspect of America's zoos has
Injured animals or threatend animals find refuge and allow researchers to learn about their species and enrich gene pools by using the individual for reproduction. This male dolphin (left) found at a young age with a severely injured dorsal fin could not be
returned to the wild. He spends his days stimulated by play and vigourous physical and intellectual exercise with others of his kind in very wide pools the size of a small lake at the Dolphin Research Center at Marathon in the Florida Keys. The center, where the film and TV series "Flipper", filmed in extremely questionnable conditions, is an example of the most recent evolution of menagerie managers now committed to non-profit
zoological research, conservation, animal welfare, and education.
Snow leopard (left; panthera uncia or uncia uncia) at the
Jardin des Plantes, Paris (photo by Teri Worsham)
Breeding and reintroduction of endangered species is one of
the main achievements of certain modern zoos and it is difficult to find arguments agains such programs. One of the earliest examples of the benefits of zoos for conservation was the survival of the last bisons of Europe. After excessive hunting in their last wild habitat, the Białowieża forest on the border of Poland and Belarus, and the chaos of World War I and the wars between Bolsheviks and their
World famous zoologist and animal activist Jane Gooddall discusses the role of zoos
EAZA, The European Association of Zoos and Aquaria, defends its activities
New signs of change in mentalities are obvious in the zoo of Saint Petersburg, Russia. The presence of an important conservation organization presenting its program to the public (left) shows that local zoo management sees its purpose no longer as a form of entertainment but as a platform for education and conservationist lobbying. The LPP helps restore the population of Lake Ladoga's seals, mammals dwelling in Saint Petersburg's natural sweet water-reservoir and largest lake in Europe.
Conservation by zoos can be vital for markhors (Capra falconeri -right), the national animal of Pakistan, threatened not only because it is valued as a precious trophy, but because its protection is made impossible due to a large portion of its habitat coinciding with war zones in Afghanistan. According to the famous IUCN Red List of Endangered Speciesonly 2500 mature individuals remained in the wild in 2008, a population which has been declining until then at a rate of 20
percent per year. This specimen, living in the Paris Botanical Garden zoo, serves science, education and maintaining the diversity of its species genetic pool in exchange for protection from anarchic hunting in the conditons of political upheaval.
Providing protection against exterior threats combined with
advocacy is another of the policies a majority of zoos are adopting. Whether it results from public pressure or out of sincere conviction, the benefits of such policies would be too dangerous to neglect.When she was present at the inauguration of the Edinburgh Zoo enclosure, the famous primatologist Jane Goodall, generally no great fan of menageries, declared: “In an ideal world
chimpanzees and monkeys would be out in the wild as they were intended to be. But in the real world, there are not so many places
The Oceanographic Museum in Monaco (left) : not only one of the world's most reputable aquariums and marine life research institutions,but also, a support for popularizing conservation: it was the Museum that funded its director's Captain Cousteau's expeditions which gained exceptional global popularity through the famous TV exposure. Cousteau's now classic documentaries used this exposure to promote a powerful environmentalist agenda, contributing to make conservation part of the political culture as we know it today and that we often take for granted.
In fact, the mounting awareness in public opinion over conservation issues was fueled by scientists closely associated with zoos.
Are these animals even aware that they are in captivity? The aquarium section of the of zoo of Basel, Switzerland (right, top) shows an example of how animals can live in a confined space, seemingly without displaying abnormal behavior.
Jacques-Yves Cousteau’s 1956 The Silent World was to be the first in a long series of oceanographic documentaries with an openly militant environmentalist message which, during four decades, made him a global media star and one of the great icons of the conservation movement. In 1957, Cousteau became the director of Monaco’s Oceanographic Institute, an institution known by the public mainly for… its aquarium! As director of the Museum, Cousteau never objected to operating such a detention facility for marine wildlife. The Institute sponsored Cousteau’s expeditions and also, the upkeep of very rich collections of fish which have yielded treasures in terms of our
knowledge of marine ecology and how to better protect it.