Zoo Animals Human Beings Research Paper

Pages: 9 (2974 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 5  ·  Level: College Junior  ·  Topic: Animals

SAMPLE EXCERPT:

[. . .] Therefore, it cannot be assumed that successful breeding programs necessarily mean an increase in animal welfare, but rather that there are more animals of any given species, who may or may not be treated well depending on the specific zoo.

The idea that successful breeding programs necessarily mean an increase in animal welfare is so pervasive precisely because it feels so intuitive; the assumption is that if animals are reproducing, then they must have at least some minimal level of comfort. In a similar way, the idea that long-lived animals necessarily connote high standards of animal welfare is extremely popular, because it is easy to assume that long-lived animals must have led a comfortable life, or else they would not survive for so long. This notion appears especially accurate when one considers the difference between contemporary exhibits and zoos of the past; for example, when the first duck-billed platypus "to be seen alive outside of Australia" debuted at the Bronx Zoo, "it lived only forty-nine days" before passing away (four more had died on the journey over) (Hanson 71). Considering this, Willie B.'s forty-one years appear positively abundant, and allow one to easily imagine that the changes in zoo-keeping which allowed for these advances in animal longevity necessarily meant a dramatic increase in animal welfare, but this disregards an important fact; although Willie B. lived to be forty-one, the first twenty-seven years of his life was spent in what amounts to solitary confinement, where he became "listless and overweight" (Hanson 1). As evidenced by his earlier time spent in a concrete cage, the fact that Willie B. lived a relatively long life and reproduced cannot be taken as evidence that he experienced a high level of animal welfare.

Put another way, "a long life cannot be good if the zoo fails to provide fitting conditions," even as "on average, animals live much longer in zoos than in nature" (Wickins-Drazilova 28). This is why, for example, the argument that "elephants live better in captivity than in the wild with disease, drought, habitat loss, poaching, and conflicts with people" does not make a sufficient case for keeping these animals in zoos; just because elephants might live shorter lives in the wild, and occasionally die more violent deaths, this does not mean that the quality of their lives are necessarily worse than their captive counterparts (Cohn 714). Thus, while long-lived zoo animals represent a dramatic and positive change over the historical fate of zoo animals, this alone cannot be taken as evidence that the animals' welfare is being sufficiently cared for, and therefore more substantial metrics are required for determining animal welfare in zoos.

Thankfully, in recent years researchers have begun confronting these assumptions regarding animal welfare by proposing additional means by which zoos' treatment of animals may be judged. In particular, further examination of animal behavior has led to the realization that the aforementioned metrics for determining animal welfare are not sufficient, and that they should be supplemented with "other important criteria of zoo animal welfare: natural and abnormal behavior, freedom and choice, and dignity" (Wickins-Drazilova 27). The first of these criteria depends upon recognizing abnormal behavior, "such as self-mutilation, the vomiting and re-eating of food, and increased aggression," as well as "constant licking of bars or walls and head-swaying," or marching "for hours in geometrical paths" in lieu of open movement (Wickins-Drazilova 30). These behaviors are a sign of stress and discomfort, and demonstrate that the animal's welfare is not being adequately cared for, even if it manages to live a long life and reproduce.

The idea that abnormal behavior in captive animals is a sign of poor welfare has been challenged by "zoo apologists" arguing that "such behaviors have been observed in stressful situations in nature as well," and that these behaviors "are no proof of failed welfare as such behavior is similar to human behavior in overcrowded cities" (Wickins-Drazilova 30). This notion has led to claims that "zoo animals behave just like athletes running in stadiums," and "captive polar bears are like people training in swimming pools" (Wickins-Drazilova 30). Of course, these arguments fail because they do not take into account the most important difference between these human and animal behaviors; "people go to gyms and swimming pools voluntarily to spend only a part of the day there [whereas] animals have no choice but to be in their enclosures all their life" (Wickins-Drazilova 30). Recognizing the importance of this distinction leads one to the second useful criteria for determining zoo animal welfare: freedom and choice, especially in terms of food and habitat.

As hinted at above, considering freedom and choice as part of animal welfare depends upon recognizing that freedom and choice in terms of food and habitat are necessary components of a healthy mental state. The central argument against the use of this criteria is particularly interesting, because it uses recent advances in animal welfare to actually argue against continuing advances in animal welfare. In short, opponents of granting zoo animals greater freedom and choice of food and habitat claim that "only animals born in nature can show a desire for freedom, and, as most of today's zoo animals were born in captivity, they don't know what freedom is and cannot miss it" (Wickins-Drazilova 31). They point to the phenomena of captive-bred animals escaping from their enclosures only to return voluntarily as evidence for this claim, but in reality, this phenomena does not demonstrate that a yearning for freedom has been bred out of zoo animals, but rather that "survival incapability, mental and social underdevelopment, and strong dependance on man" has been bred into them (Wickins-Drazilova 31). Put another way, zoo animals that escape and then return are not demonstrating that they do not want freedom, but rather that their confinement has made them unable to effectively cope with that freedom (in much the same way that long-term human prisoners frequently have difficulty reintegrating into society).

The final criteria, dignity, is somewhat more difficult to define, but one can at least arrive at a useful formulation that depends upon recognizing and respecting the "intrinsic autonomy of the being" as well as "their ability to suffer" and "having their own interests" (Wickins-Drazilova 33). While this may appear like an attempt to imbue animals with human characteristics, in reality it is merely recognizing that animals, like people should be considered both in terms of "the self-interest of the being as well as the respect of the interest by others" (Wickins-Drazilova 33). In the case of zoos, this means recognizing that animal welfare depends upon animals being able to engage in "their own natural behavior, like cleaning themselves, or socializing with their own kind," and that disregarding this need not only robs the animals of their dignity, but also the dignity of those caring for them (in much the same way that "in a prison environment including torture and humiliation, it is nearly impossible to keep one's dignity, whether prisoner or guard") (Wickins-Drazilova 33). Thus, in a way, dignity for zoo animals will necessarily arise so long as the aforementioned criteria of normal vs. abnormal behavior and freedom are attended to.

These additional criteria for determining animal welfare are especially important because now more than ever, the conservatory function of zoos is paramount to the continued existence of biological diversity. Animals are dying out at an exponential rate due to climate change and other more direct human interventions, so zoos are actually more important. This is why the question of the ethics of keeping animals in zoos does not hinge so much on the actual act of keeping an animal in captivity, but rather the treatment it receives in captivity (especially because in some cases, the only way to ensure the continued survival of a species is to keep it in captivity, safe from whatever external forces have decimated its population). Therefore, so long as the welfare of every animal is attended to, according to a robust consideration of animal welfare that includes criteria for determining normal and abnormal behavior and ensuring freedom and dignity, it is entirely acceptable, and in many cases essential, to keep animals in zoos.

Works Cited

Bostock, Stephen. Zoos and animal rights: the ethics of keeping animals. London: Routledge,

1993.

Cohn, Jeffrey P. "Do Elephants Belong in Zoos?" Bioscience 56.9 (2006): 714-7.

Cui, Bingbing, and Dezhong Jiang. "The Problems and Countermeasures of Animal Protection in Zoos-Take Shenyang Glacier Zoo for Example." International Journal of Biology 3.1

(2011): 136-9.

Hanson, Elizabeth. Animal attractions:… [END OF PREVIEW]

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