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ALACT Public Meeting

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Griffin Centre
20 Genge St, Civic


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Zoos justify their existence on a number of grounds, including conservation, education, and science. But are today’s zoos really the champions of animals that they say they are?

Up until the early 19th century, animal menageries were private collections of wealthy aristocrats and political figures. Then in the 1950s the zoo industry really took off. People realised that there was a market for this kind of family ‘entertainment’.

But the original objectives of zoos in maintaining collections of wild animals is no longer acceptable today, largely due to the animal protection movement that has highlighted the poor living conditions of zoo animals in captivity.

Tiger 1

A tiger kept in a small enclosure at Canberra's National Zoo and Aquarium

Zoo enclosures are typically inadequate for the animals’ needs. Confining animals in artificial and often small enclosures inside zoos is stressful and causes them harm. Animals in zoos are bored and lonely creatures who spend their days shuffling, swaying, and pacing back and forth.

Zoos have therefore adopted an overt conservationist approach to the keeping of animals in captivity, developing breeding programs and educational programs about threatened and endangered species.

For example, Canberra’s own National Zoo and Aquarium states that its mission is:

To inspire and assist in the conservation of the natural world through
innovative and exciting educational experiences.

But what is really behind this conservationist attitude of zoos? Does it come from a genuine desire to care for the animals and ensure that they have a happy existence as well as giving them a helping hand? Or is it merely to protect the zoo’s own financial interests?...

After all, only a very small number of threatened or endangered species are involved in international zoo breeding programs (approximately 120 out of almost 6,000 threatened or endangered species). Many species, including endangered species such as pandas and elephants are also notoriously difficult to breed in captivity.

And what is the point of conserving the species if their natural habitat is being destroyed? Species threatened by habitat destruction will have no home to be re-introduced to unless suitable areas for the species have been protected.

So what do zoos really show us? That animals are just things and it’s ok to lock them up?

Tiger 2

Another tiger kept in captivity at Canberra's Zoo and Aquarium

 Unfortunately, regardless of their claimed intent, zoos simply reinforce the notion of human domination over non-human animals, which is never beneficial to animals.

Funds should therefore not be funnelled into zoos, but be redirected to wild animal and habitat conservation – for example by establishing protected reserves.

And if you truly care about animals and conservation, stay away from zoos such as the National Zoo and Aquarium in Canberra, and instead make a donation to one of the many wildlife charities working to save animals in the wild, or even just turn on the TV for a wild animal program. By showing animals in their natural habitats, today's wildlife documentaries and programmes give viewers a much greater understanding and appreciation of these animals than zoos ever could.



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