Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Our World or Theirs?

Although we all love the zoo and its many attractions, we have all probably (at some point) let our minds drift off and think of the animals in the exhibits. This week's post will focus on the standing debate of animals living in captivity compared to their natural environments. 
To better understand the issue at hand, let's take a look at some of the pros and cons associated with animals living in captivity (ex: zoo setting). The captive environment allows us to repopulate endangered species, as many threats such as disease and poaching are eliminated. Additionally, we can nurse newborns rejected by their mothers and rehabilitate sick or injured animals. These animals can bring a sense of appreciation to the public as children are exposed to their beauty growing up. 
However, the other side of captivity is often more complicated and can be quite dark. Captivity can expose animals to cruel practices and abuse, extensive or unnecessary scientific experimentation, and sometimes permanently altered animal behavior. Also, animals in captivity often have lower reproduction rates, non-seasonal diets, a level of stress from their interactions with humans, and a lack of enriching stimuli for the body and brain.
I have studied animal biology and worked and interned in a zoo setting long enough to form a basic opinion on the issue. However, like all opinions and beliefs, it is possible that it will evolve as I commit to a career in this field.
Animal welfare has become a trendy and more commonly discussed topic over the past several years. Advocate groups like Peta (People of the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and the WWFHuman Society (Wild Wildlife Foundation) are growing in popularity as we all find ourselves tearing up during those similar commercials, singing along with Sarah Mclachlanin. 

While I am clearly aware of the potential for life-saving, medical and disease breakthrough that continue to save countless lives, the "captivity status quo" is below the standards we should provide to animals. Zoos and other institutions must commit the budget to optimally create the animals "natural habitat"; funding levels play a huge role in the standard of care. Established rules are often not carefully followed, and some additional guidelines (and their enforcement) can dramatically improve the animal's quality of life. I believe as long as these and new more rigid standards are and can be met broadly across all our animal institutions, captivity is ultimately a beneficial thing.

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