The recent high-profile killing of the silverback gorilla in Cincinnati zoo illustrates the madness of humans. We are locking up animals then punishing them for acting naturally. This killing was a clear example of how we rate a human more precious than any other animal. It follows in the footsteps of the killing of two lions in a Chilean zoo last month when a suicidal man clambered into the big cats’ cage apparently enacting the biblical story of Daniel. He was saved but the lions were shot dead. Humans are more precious and more valuable than animals; that is the moral of the story.
But how far would we go? How many animals are worth the life of one human? As the Times journalist Janice Turner writes:
“Who wouldn’t wipe out a whole ape family to save your child, an entire species even…So we lock up these wild creatures all their lives, then when a human trespasses into their prisons and they dare manifest natural behaviour, we shoot them dead.”
She asked the question as to why zoos still exist in civilised societies. I think the answer is that we are not yet civilised enough although we think we are. Zoos are a legacy of “capricious kings” and “gentleman collectors” from a bygone age.
Zoos have evolved. There are much better than they used to be. The enclosures are much more natural but there are still problems. Back in the old days zoos in the West were sparse places where great mammals sat immobile on concrete slabs developing arthritis and dying at half their usual age. This sort of zoo still exists widely in less well developed countries. We should remember that.
Modern zoos in the West have lavish landscape enclosures. They try and avoid heavy prison bars which, by the way, is perhaps one reason why the 3-year-old boy was able to climb into the gorilla’s enclosure at Cincinnati zoo.
Animal rights activists, and I would have to include myself in this category, believe that animal and human life have equal value. Sometimes people consider such animal rights people to be the “angry fringe”. I don’t think we are. We see it as natural that animals and humans have the same value. It seems to me to be a more normal state of affairs to believe that then to believe that animals have a much lesser value than humans.
Change is coming – slowly, too slowly. If we look at the long history of captive animals whether they are in zoos or circus or other environments, we can see a gradual change towards allowing wild animals to live in their natural habitat. The focus should be on that.
The SeaWorld story is illustrative of a change in public opinion. A recent documentary Blackfish followed the case of a male killer whale (orca), Tilikum, at SeaWorld. He was captured as a baby and living under the dark depressing conditions in which he was placed, this perversion of nature sent him mad until he killed his keeper. Attendance figures at SeaWorld plummeted. The theme park has announced it will no longer breed orcas. Live shows will be phased out. The public’s taste has changed and thank God for that. The whole organisation of SeaWorld should be shut down in my opinion.
Human progress, for what it is worth, is seeing the gradual shift away from accepted and insidious animal cruelty in captive situations and a general shift in public opinion. This is also illustrated by the furore surrounding the killing of Cecil the lion on a “trophy hunt” in Zimbabwe by Dr Walter Palmer, the Minnesota dentist. There was uproar. It was international and the Internet played a big role in condemning his behaviour and the behaviour of the Zimbabwean authorities. Cecil’s value was higher than that of the dentist for a brief moment.
The photographs that we see of big game hunters with cheesy grins and their rifles, kneeling next to majestic creatures are becoming more and more repulsive to many thinking human beings. This sort of behaviour should have died out with the Raj.
How can you still justify keeping captive polar bears, great apes and tigers who do badly in captivity but who are good for profits?
“It is time for these melancholy mammal museums to die out.”-The words of Janice Turner.
Costa Rica has become the first country to disband all zoos. The animals have been re-homed in conservation parks. Costa Rica is leading the way it seems to me. Why can’t Britain and the USA do this? It is time for a bit more human progress and to value animals more highly.
My sincere thanks to Janice Turner for her ideas and thoughts which chimed with mine. I had to use her work and spread the word.