Closing of Historic Zoo Opens the Door to Discussion of Captivity

Buenos Aires Zoo in 1875. Image from Google.

Amid the ongoing debate over captivity, zoos around the world have been cast into the spotlight. One of which is the Buenos Aires Zoo that in June announced it would be closing its doors, as discussed by Elahe Izadi in the June 25 Washington Post article “‘Captivity is degrading’: Why a major city is shutting down its zoo.” It is explained that the mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta came to the decision that, after more than 140 years of operation, it was best that the zoo, which has been at the center of much controversy regarding their treatment of animals, be replaced by an ecological park.

After reading over the 237 comments in response to the article I have come to the conclusion that a majority of the readers are in favor of the closing of the Buenos Aires Zoo, and all zoos for that matter, because they find forcing animals to live in confinement to be inhumane, despite all the benefits zoos can provide visitors.

Many commenters remarked that wild animals deserve to be in their natural environments where they can live free and happy lives. One such user, Spoosky Shepherd, brings up the point that these animals are meant to have access to unrestricted space, a necessity zoo enclosures cannot provide. To demonstrate what this kind of lack of freedom would be like, another reader, by the name of Oakes, compares humans keeping animals in zoos to an “advanced alien species” coming to earth and taking humans to their planet’s zoos, where they would then proceed to “breed us to avoid our extinction, making sure that the offspring would be caged, also, for life.” Ultimately, these comments are conveying that it is not ethical to subject animals to captivity, as it cannot allow for as enjoyable a life as in the wild.

Image from Google.

Furthermore, readers did not see it right to exploit animals for our own enjoyment. As the user Dorothy Cohen puts it, “It is not worth the suffering of living beings who feel pain and fear to keep them captive for entertainment.” Similarly, Mike Rr cannot justify keeping the animals in cages as spectacles, because, as he states, “They’re not toys or curiosities.” All the more capturing this argument that we should regard and treat with compassion and respect is a comment from a reader by the name of Ludovici, who says, “As the dominant lifeform on this planet, we should reach beyond our own species and extend our empathy to other species.” All of these comments touch on the idea that as empathetic beings, we should not find it acceptable to force animals to spend their lives in confinement for our own gain, thus putting our pleasure before theirs’.

Image from Google.

Still, quite a few commenters brought up the point that zoos are essential to educate the public, particularly the youth. One such user, by the name of QuineGeology, explains that zoos allow us to learn about “animals’ behaviors” and “our environment”, as well as “watch kids’ faces light up when they see an exotic animal for the first time.” Marcelo Vignali, building on this idea that visiting the zoo is an invaluable experience for kids, remarks, “It is through zoos that people, especially children, build an emotional connection to these unique animals. Without zoos I’m afraid the long term effect will be human indifference to animals and their precious habitat.” Ultimately, what these readers are getting across is that the enlightenment zoos provide will make it easier for future generations to appreciate, and therefore respect, animals and the environment.

In response to what closing zoos would mean for the future, many readers brought up alternatives. One possible option, as Tony Gambino puts it, would be to “create animal sanctuaries rather than zoos”, thus allowing the animals more freedom and a more natural environment.  Another user, Carla_claws, says she would approve of establishments that accommodate only “animals that have been injured or are no longer able to care for themselves”, provided that the habitats are “high quality”. Ultimately, many believe we would be able to get the benefits of zoos without actually keeping animals in traditional zoos, thus not having to compromise their quality of life.

Such opinions as demonstrated by these comments will likely shape the future of captivity as zoos become less publicly accepted and we see a shift towards sanctuaries and ecoparks, where the animals’ needs are put first, like we recently witnessed with the closing of the Buenos Aires Zoo.


Rhetorical Analysis: “After Harambe’s Death, Rethinking Zoos” by Andrew C. Revkin

In his June 2016 blog post entitled “After Harambe’s Death, Rethinking Zoos”, published by the New York Times, writer Andrew C. Revkin argues that, especially considering the buzz the Harambe incident has created and the insights on animal rights and psychology emerging in today’s world, now more than ever we should be revaluating zoos and our perception of captive animals. Revkin eases us into the topic using a personal experience, making for a nice transition into his development of relevant background information, in which he cites multiple credible sources, ultimately organizing his post in a way that is easy to understand and effectively makes his point.

Andrew C. Revkin has no problem making his piece easy and enjoyable to read. He starts by recalling a trip to the Bronx Zoo he took years ago with his wife and son, an experience many readers can probably relate to. Then, effortlessly we are introduced to the matter at hand when, in describing the gorilla exhibit he observed with his family, he writes, “The exhibit was powerful and memorable; my wife and I are still haunted by our eye contact with such a close hominid relation.” This comment not only touches on the idea of animal “personhood”, which he mentions later in the post, but it is also reminiscent of Harambe, Cincinnati Zoo’s slain gorilla, a connection he then goes on to make. Such use of a vividly described personal experience, that can also be made relevant to a widely known news story, is a very effective way to get the reader engaged, while at the same time setting up a good foundation for the rest of the post.

Photo included in Revkin’s post taken by his son on their trip to the Bronx Zoo, which he recounts in the beginning of the post.

In addition, Revkin organizes his writing in a way that is successful in developing his argument. Only after briefly stating some background information on the debate over zoos and animal rights does he go on to state his main point. Such an arrangement works because, even though it took some time to establish his point, he had been building up to it and essentially explaining what led him to the conclusion that we should “rethink” zoos. Subsequently, to further back up this idea we are presented with relevant sub-points, all unified through his use of words such as “tragedy” and “issue”, signifying a problem that needs to be addressed, or phrases like “times are changing” and “eventual shift”, suggesting an evolution. Thus, Revkin’s organization strategies manage to make his argument very coherent and easy to follow.

Image from Google. Book by animal expert Marc Bekoff, whom Revkin quotes in his post.

Furthermore, Revkin’s understanding of the topic and use of credible sources serve to drive his point home all the more effectively. Early on in the post, the writer attains credibility through mentioning his “having worked with Pace University students and faculty members” on matters dealing “nonhuman personhood.” He also explains how he has learned “much about animals’ feelings and rights from writers and scientists like Carl Safina.” Such relevant background information makes Revkin a more reliable source on the topic, because not only did he do his research, but he also has some firsthand experience. Additionally, in his post Revkin directly quotes credible sources, such as the organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and Marc Bekoff, an animal expert for Scientific American, both of which assert that in zoos an animal’s quality of life may not be up to par. The use of such evidence is effective because it comes from sources knowledgeable on the subjects of animal rights and psychology, therefore making their claims dependable and able to give reason to Revkin’s argument that we need to reevaluate zoos.

In conclusion, all of Andrew C. Revkin’s strengths as a writer work together to make “After Harambe’s Death: Rethinking Zoos” a successful post. His use of personal experience gives him a voice, allowing readers to more easily relate to him on a personal level and absorb his points. The structure of Revkin’s piece also adds to its overall readability and effectiveness, as all the ideas are introduced in a logical order, in turn presenting his argument in a way that is unbiased. Also contributing to this is the inclusion of outside credible sources, which make it easier for readers to see the validity in his statements. All in all, Revkin is able to effectively communicate his central point that, in light of Harambe’s death, “it’s time for a fresh look at zoos.”

Captive Animals: A Growing Concern

Photo of me at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in 2008, taken by my mother.

Like many other people, I grew up going to my local zoos and amusement parks, where I could get a glimpse of my favorite wild animals and even watch them perform in shows. Though this can be an entertaining and educational experience for children and adults alike, it is important that we also consider the effects living in captivity can have on these animals, something I have become more cognizant of in recent years as this matter became increasingly covered in the news and media.

Because of the prevalence of places like zoos, aquariums, circuses, and marine parks around the world and my avid interest in animal welfare, in this web series I will be exploring the topic of wild animals in captivity.

Some recent events have drawn attention to this issue, raising questions about animal rights and captivity. Most are probably aware of the killing of Harambe the gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo, as it became a major news story in May of this year. The death 17 year-old endangered animal, who was shot after a 3 year old child fell into his enclosure, has sparked much discussion around the globe, including the question of whether gorillas even belong in captivity and essentially whether the benefits of zoos outweigh the problems they can bring about.

Image of Harambe supporters from Google.

While observing animals up close can be captivating to us humans, it is important to realize that many species, like apes, are, like us, intelligent and emotional beings. Studies have shown that chimpanzees share a remarkable 98 percent of our genes. It has also been found that, “the average ape has the cognitive, quantitative and spatial skills of a 2½- to 4-year-old human child”, as reported by The New York Times. Knowing that animals are often more similar to us than we may think can definitely raise concerns over whether it is right for us to keep them confined in cages and tanks.

Such animal rights concerns were notably brought to light in the 2013 documentary film “Blackfish”, which opened the eyes of many people, including myself, and continues to have an impact today. The film exposed SeaWorld’s questionable treatment of their orcas, showing that their living conditions and having to perform was detrimental to the health and happiness of the animals. It also showcased the many incidents in which trainers were attacked by the whales. Since the documentary’s release, SeaWorld has been at the center of much controversy and has seen a decline in ticket sales.

As demonstrated with SeaWorld, though relevant to everyone, being informed on issues regarding the welfare of animals in captivity is especially important to adults, as we are the ones who are for the most part buying the tickets and thus financially supporting these establishments. It is also primarily our opinions that will shape those of future generations and potentially bring about change.

Image from Google.

Since the public has in recent years shown a greater concern for animal rights and welfare, we have already seen some changes being made. The circus company Ringling Brothers decided to stop including elephants in their traveling circus acts. SeaWorld, a company that has been in the business of entertaining visitors with marine animals for more than 50 years, announced in March that they would be putting an end to their breeding of orcas in captivity, and eventually their orca shows as well. And, on Tuesday, California became the first state to ban the captivity and breeding of orcas.

In the midst of these recent events, many questions still remain regarding this topic, which I would like to further explore in this web series. First of all, is it morally right to force wild animals to live in captivity? What laws and regulations are in pace to help protect these animals? What are the positive and negative effects of such living conditions? Are some species possibly more suited or warranted to be living in captivity? And lastly what will the future of zoos, aquariums, circuses, and marine parks look like?