Is It The Zoo's Turn For Extinction?

                                 Photo credit : Jo-Anne McArthur -  Zoo's - 'Lioness, Copenhagen Zoo. Denmark 2015'

                                Photo credit : Jo-Anne McArthur - Zoo's - 'Lioness, Copenhagen Zoo. Denmark 2015'

Like many people, I used to love going to the Zoo when I was younger, it was always a day trip I looked forward to. I have always been a lover of animals and this was a great opportunity to see them when I was little. I went to the Zoo again (since childhood) about 3/4 years ago with some friends, but for me it was a completely different experience from my younger days. As I went round I was overcome with sadness rather than the childhood excitement I used to go through. I was filled with sorrow looking at the bored and depressed faces of all these beautiful animals, looking at what they have to live like every day. Every step I took walking around the zoo I felt miserable, thinking about how many animals there were in this Zoo and then trying to grasp that on a larger scale - how many Zoo's there are all around the world and all of those poor animals living this type of life there. This particular Zoo is supposed to be all about conservation, the animals seem well taken care of in the sense of, the enclosures looked clean and the animals weren't starving. But is there really any place for Zoo's now? Don't they seem like outdated forms or entertainment? 

There was a programme on BBC 2 very recently addressing this question, it is called 'Should we close our Zoo's?' and this was presented by Liz Bonnin. This programme discussed the various different conservation angles of some Zoo's and even if certain animals were even suitable for captivity. This was a really good documentary to be on, I followed along with the programme and the Twitter hashtag chat. There was a lot of good discussion going on and it definitely got people thinking more about the animals as beings rather than just something they've paid to see behind a glass wall. Liz also took a visit to SeaWorld Orlando, Florida. Liz spoke to a SeaWorld Veterinarian and too be honest, she didn't seem too convinced by what he was saying. I can only imagine that seeing Tilikum and his fellow captives close up can only confirm that these huge, magnificent creatures should definitely not be held captive. How can a tank ever compare to the ocean? 

A part of the documentary that seemed to shock viewers was the culling of certain animals within Zoo's in Europe for other animals (Lions etc) to eat and the fact they did these practices in front of the public. From what the Zoo employers were saying - this practice has never been a secret and it has been performed for many years. It has always been there, but like most things people have turned a blind eye to the truth. Along with this culling practice, breeding programmes were also discussed in depth. Certain sex's are bred to fulfil the the Zoo or the Parks needs for future breeding and essentially, to make sure the money keeps coming in. Every time the phrase 'breeding programme' comes up, my body cringes. Not only did we take animals from their natural habitat or buy them from another Zoo/park but we now have the power to decide exactly what we want. What sex, what breed, mix of breeds, who mates with who and more often than not - they don't even need animals to perform the act themselves. To me this all seems to be the most unnatural thing in the world and incredibly messed up, things should not be done this way just because we want them to be.

Conservation, a lot of Zoo's in the U.K have conservation programmes now and promote it a lot (this is a great marketing ploy to think you're doing something really helpful and useful by going to their Zoo), it seems to be the latest craze to have a conservation programme of some sort. Within these programmes there seems to be a big education angle included for the younger generations. I definitely think education is good - for all generations, education about animals and their natural habitats. But to have the words conservation and Zoo's in the same sentence seems to be a bit of an oxymoron - especially with Zoo's and parks being in the state they are. Zoo's and parks do not only breed the animals that are in short supply over the world - they breed everything. To me this says they are sparing no thought for the animal that will undoubtedly have to live its entire life behind a glass wall. Every day having swarms of loud and excited public bang on the glass because they want the perfect picture with the animal. Flash photography at every corner, inconsiderate people walking past their enclosure every day of their lives, shouting to get their attention. Being able to see the outside but never having the freedom to experience it or the choice to spread their wings. 

 Photo credit : Jo-Anne McArthur :  Zoo's - 'Canadian Zoo 2008' .

Photo credit : Jo-Anne McArthur : Zoo's - 'Canadian Zoo 2008'.

I think Zoo's have positioned themselves very cleverly in today's society, in time unfortunately I think Zoo's and parks will be the only place we will be able to see certain (probably most) species. Animals all over the world are decreasing and going extinct at an alarming rate, we are over fishing the oceans (and often catching other marine life in the fishing equipment), slicing shark fins off for soup, trophy hunting, polluting the animals with our waste, tearing down their rainforest homes, animals are being used and killed for medicine, fashion, food, entertainment and the list goes on. Zoo's will look like the star organisations because they will be necessary, they may have to repopulate lots species (this is a horrific thought and one I hope doesn't happen). The truth is they can help stop this disaster happening now, but they won't, they are all about making money because at the end of the day they are a business. No matter how much they dress it up, they are making their money by keeping animals in cages their entire lives. 

I saw a picture this year someone tweeted of their visit to Edinborough Zoo, this picture was of a Panda. Their Tweet was something like 'awwww cute', when all I could see was one lonely Panda, in a concrete box with a few bits of bamboo flung around. A Panda should not be in Scotland - it's ridiculous. There should not be a Lion in Colchester, or penguins everywhere - the list is endless. I know the idea of seeing a Bear, Panda or Elephant sounds appealing, some people may never be lucky enough to witness these magnificent creatures in the wild. But the crux of it is, it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter if you never get to see a Panda or a Polar Bear, it is not essential to your life. Two hours of entertainment for you does not justify keeping animals locked up their entire lives. 

I am (if you didn't know already) very passionate about Orca's, I do everything I can to share and raise awareness that they should not be in captivity. If someone told me I could never see these wonderful creatures in the wild and the only way I would ever see an Orca was to go to SeaWorld or another marine park, I would still never go - you couldn't even pay me to go. I would never want to see these majestic animals locked away in a tiny, barbaric tank and I would never want to support an organisation like SeaWorld. My few moments of happiness would never justify the misery of captivity. 

Animals are not on this earth for our entertainment, full stop. They deserve to have a full life without human interference. The solution? I'm not sure, maybe the breeding programme should be stopped for those animals that aren't extinct. Maybe they should be the last of their kind in captivity and then die out from that Zoo and then all Zoo's would die out. There is no doubt in my mind that more can be done for actual conservation, they have a long way to go and I hope actions are taken before It's too late. Zoo's could play a very vital and positive role in the future of species but for the moment - I'm not convinced.