I am very happy that a millionaire conservationist who inherited a zoo from his parents has said that small zoos should be closed within ten years and the larger ones in 20-30 years. He’s going to convert his zoo to a rescue centre eventually. The reasons he provides are cogent. In fact when you honestly think about zoos, the argument for closure that he presents are common sense.
Millions of animals are kept in poor cages because a tiny number of people might become activists and take an interest in conservation. I think that makes us barbaric as a species.
He is Damian Aspinall, chairman of the foundation that runs Howletts Wild Animal Park in Kent, UK. Aspinall says that zoos exaggerate their contribution to wildlife conservation. They conceal from the public the scale of hybridisation and disease among their animals. If animal are not purebred they cannot be classified as the genuine article and conservation of that animal is thrown out the window.
He says that some zoos carry out a ‘breed and cull’ policy to ensure that there is a sufficient supply of young animals on display to please the public. Also, inbreeding is an issue for some iconic species such as the ever popular white tiger. Bad inbreeding results in deformities and inbreeding depression (general poor health).
Parents should not be taking their kids to zoos….that’s my honest answer. There is no excuse for any zoo today. Because parents take their kids to zoos when they are young by the time those young grow up they are culturised that zoos are fine.
In other words zoos educate kids not in true conservation but that keeping animals in cages for the entertainment of humans is okay and acceptable.
Aspinall also said that only 5% of mammal species in European zoos were critically endangered and three were in viable breeding programmes: eastern black rhino, gorilla and orang-utan.
He says that the £15 million spent annually on keeping elephants and rhinos would be better spent on tackling poaching in Africa.
Comment: It is hard if not impossible to argue against him. The editor of The Times newspaper rather foolishly does. He writes that by and large zoos operate responsibly and that ‘their work is genuinely vital in preserving the variety of animal life on Earth’.
I think that statement is very naive. In the West zoos are generally run well but are still not worthy of remaining open per Aspinall’s argument. However, in a huge number of countries, especially developing countries, zoos can be despicable hell-holes of animal torture with zero connection to preserving animals. More like killing animals to make a fast buck. There is no doubt that one day, not that long into the future, zoos will become extinct unless humans have successful driven all ‘interesting’ animal species to extinction in the wild at which point these animals will only be in zoos and they’ll be badly inbred and dying out there too. Humans have the capacity to do that. It may well happen.
P.S. We must not forget the vast number of private zoos in America. These are owned by self-indulgent people with more money than sense who want tigers for pets. It is pathetic and tragic. There are more tigers in private American zoos than the entire populaton of the world’s tigers in the wild.
P.P.S. I have just remembered that wild cat species don’t breed well or at all in zoos because of the stress. How’s that for crappy conservation? They have to take fresh stock from the wild.
SOME MORE ON ZOOS: