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.
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’.
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.