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Zoos: a life without freedom

Zoos, contrary to what many people believe, often cause great suffering and stress to the captive animals. Animals in zoos are caged for life and deprived of the opportunity to develop and fulfill the full range of their interests and needs. They lose control over their lives and the environment they live in. Social animals are often forced to live in the misery of solitary confinement. Animals who would prefer to live alone are often forced into close contact with others. Some animals are confined next to their predators, and some are held in crammed, barren environments where they are constantly bullied by cagemates.

In zoos, many animals are taken from their families and sent to other zoos, or killed when their group size exceeds the space allotted to them. Animals such as lions, tigers, deer or elephants, who normally travel great distances over a short period of time in search of food, spend their days bored and alone or with no more than a handful of others of their species. Their normal behaviours are regulated and eliminated with regimes of food and artificial paring. The daily routine in zoos is repetitive and monotonous. In most cases there is no type of privacy or stimulation and, as such, just as we would, animals suffer emotionally. Many animals in zoos develop stereotypic symptoms, termed "zoochosis", such as such as pacing back and forth, rocking, swaying from side to side, eating their own excrement, continually licking or biting bars and self mutilation.

Educative aims?

The alleged 'educational' role of zoos needs to be challenged if we want to live in a just and equitable society that respects animals. If zoos teach anything, they teach us dangerous lessons. They teach us that humans have the right to enslave animals and reinforce the notion that animals have no other purpose other than for our benefit. Zoos do not teach us to respect other individuals and their lives. The behaviour of animals in zoos is typical of many other animals in captivity. It is stunted and unnatural. Zoos do not teach children about the natural attributes of animals, on the contrary zoos provide a distorted image and teach them how animals should not be living. The disturbed and often bizarre behavior of animals in zoos provides further evidence that holding animals captive is simply wrong. If we want to instill values ​in children such as respect for others, we should start by not visiting places that enslave and cage animals for life.

Preserve species, condemn individuals

Another argument put forward by those who defend the existence of zoos is that they perform conservation, in other words, in these places they breed, raise and enclose endangered species through 'captive breeding programmes'. But what’s really important isn’t the disappearance of a certain species, but the death and suffering of those individuals who make up a species. A species cannot think or feel and doesn’t suffer from its disappearance. Those who suffer are each individual that forms part of it and, as such, the existence of a species never justifies the captivity of individuals. Habitat preservation and education are the ethical ways to guaranteeing the survival of a species.

Other non-human victims

The animals “on exhibition” are not the only ones who suffer due to the existente of zoos… rabbits, mice, chicks and other animals are born and slaughtered to be fed to the animals on show. Furthermore, some of the animals in the zoo fail to attract enough visitors and, as such, many are killed or sold. Deer, lions, tigers and other animals who get old (no longer being as attractive as they were when they were younger or smaller) or get ill are often sold to hunters who pay for the privilege of killing them in their private hunting enclosures. Other animals which are in “surplus” are also sold to circuses or less reputable zoos.

Beyond zoos

If you are interested in learning about other animals (lets not forget that humans are also animals) there is a lot that you can do to find out about other species. Firstly, don’t visit zoos or other enclosures where they are put on show and deprived of liberty. Animal circuses, aquariums, show farms, are all different sides of the same coin: animal exploitation. You can learn a lot about animals visiting websites, watching documentaries, reading books, and respectfully observing animals in their natural habitat. But perhaps the best thing for them is for us to learn to respect them and recognise that even though we are different in some ways, in what's important (the ability to experience emotions and sensations and enjoy our lives) we are equal. You can also help animals by encouraging others not to visit these places, talking with your friends and family about why they shouldn’t go to zoos, handing out leaflets or other information about speciesism, helping us to carry out our work etc. There are many ways to help animals and ensure that none end their lives in a zoo-prison.

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