Do we really need zoos anyway?
After 140 years, Buenos Aires will shutter the doors to its zoo.
The closing is not due to a lack of funds or waning interest by visitors. Instead, the zoo will close out of pure respect for the animals it once housed.
Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta said in a ceremony Thursday, “This situation of captivity is degrading for the animals, it’s not the way to take care of them.”
The 2,500 animals currently housed within the zoo will be gradually moved to nature reserves throughout Argentina. Those who are deemed too old or too sick to move will remain in the park, which will reopen as an ecopark later this year, Fusion reports.
The timing could not be better for the animals. The zoo has been plagued with scandal in recent years, as the BBC reports, particularly over its deplorable living conditions for polar bears. Three years ago, the zoo’s last remaining polar bear named Winner died during a particularly hot summer.
But Winner’s death wasn’t the last. In 2015, two sea lions died within days of each other in the zoo, one due to overeating and the other due to stress.
During his speech Rodríguez added that this is “a historic day for the City. We are convinced that is the right step, in line with similar decisions taken in other major cities around the world.”
Rodríguez may already be correct in this assumption. Global News Canada reported Thursday, the equally scandal-plagued Bowmanville Zoo will also close its doors at the end of 2016. Before this news, in 2013, the entire country of Costa Rica closed all of its zoos and banned animal acts in circuses.
In the United States, zoos have also come under public scrutiny, particularly after the death of Harambe, a 17-year-old male silverback gorilla living in the Cincinnati Zoo. Harambe was infamously shot after a 3-year-old fell into his enclosure.
Before this incident, the case of a killer whale named Tilikum entered the public lexicon thanks to the public rage-inducing documentary, Blackfish.
The film followed the lives of whales living in captivity inside Sea World parks around the globe. For what seemed like the first time, the public finally got to really see what life was like for these wild animals living in glorified swimming pools. The film caused such outrage that the state of California enacted a law banning orca breeding in captivity.
But still, many argue there is a greater value in zoos than simply viewing animals behind bars or inside tanks.
The Atlantic points to one such defender in its piece, “Do We Need Zoos?”
In an essay posted to his site, David Hone, a paleontologist, argues humans are gaining a global education when visiting zoos writing in part:
“Many children and adults, especially those in cities will never see a wild animal beyond a fox or pigeon, let alone a lion or giraffe. Sure documentaries get ever more detailed and impressive, and lots of things are on display in museums, but that really does pale next to seeing a living creature in the flesh, hearing it, smelling it, watching what it does and having the time to absorb details. That will bring a greater understanding and perspective to many and hopefully give them a greater appreciation for wildlife, conservation efforts and how they can contribute.”
He goes on to say beyond education zoos also allow for unparalleled conservation and research work.
However, when you consider facts like “polar bears in nature cover one million times the territory that they do in captivity,” as New York Magazine reports, it’s a hard concept to swallow that these enclosures are good for either human education or animal well-being.
So how can you educate yourself, and your children, on animals without a zoo? One Green Planet suggests a few things: Get outside, volunteer at local animal sanctuaries, and travel the world. (Check out the complete list here.) And if you still want to visit a zoo, make sure it’s one that is well-known for its research, educational programs and humane practices.
To help us all know which is which, the American Humane Association will enact the Humane Conservation initiative, which is the “world’s first certification program solely dedicated to helping ensure welfare, humane treatment of remarkable, endangered and disappearing animals living in human care.”
So far, the group says zoos from all around the world are stepping up asking to be audited. To date, four zoos have met the requirements: Shedd Aquarium in Chicago; Brookfield Zoo in Chicago; Delphinus in Mexico; and the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre in Canada.