How do YOU feel about zoos..?

It's not something I've given much thought to before, but a few months ago I realised I have conflicting thoughts on zoos... 

One of my best friends decided to take her daughter to ZSL London Zoo for her birthday, and asked if I'd like to come along. I was free, and so obviously I said yes (shift work does sometimes work well in these circumstances!). I have always loved animals, and used to volunteer in an animal sanctuary when I was a teenager; so what better way of spending a sunny afternoon?
And here's the Blog post soundtrack for today... cheesy, right?!! Ah, everyone loves a bit of Lion King.....
                     Meet The Black-Capped Squirrel Monkeys... just don't interrupt them fighting over flowers..! 

Monkeying Around...

It started to dawn on me as I wandered around that I wasn't sure how I felt about zoos, given that I spend so much time with an animal by my side 'in real life'... Here I was, staring through either glass or bars at rare and/or exotic animals, and they weren't animated (*like Rod is a lot of the time), or communicative (ditto for the last statement), but then - do I know what they'd look like if they were? Would I be able to recognise a joyful monkey, an enthusiastic parrot, or a comical ape..?

"Ah yes, I remember the tightrope act..."
I don't have any answers to this post, just questions really. As explained to us as we wandered through the ape enclosure by a very helpful and enthusiastic London Zoo volunteer, each of the beasts has their own story; one of them was rescued from a travelling circus (which it was NOT happy about - the circus, not the animal...), another taken from the threat of death as there were no other apes of its kind in the area. And whilst I listened to these stories with interest, I wondered if living in captivity was a fate worse than death... Again, I know this is a controversial statement to make; but I am merely presenting the 'sentimental' facts as I felt them. If we love animals, do we save them at any cost, even if it means they're unhappy and living an artificial existence? Or is it infinitely better to recognise the value of these creatures while they're still with us, before they turn into a museum relic, for us to gawp at alongside the skeletons of dinosaurs?

Resisting my animal instinct to run...

One of my best friends made the point that zoos exist BECAUSE of human beings' interference in wild animals' lives; when you consider poaching, human encroachment on animal habitats, the production of certain food stuffs like palm oil (and the knock on effect on orang-utans), all of these facts are playing with animals' ecosystems. 

Feeding time...
He also went on to say that the zoo in Jersey, for example, has gone to great pains to replicate the animals' true environments and natural habitats, and that the main reason why zoos are so valuable to us is that they create a healthy interest in animals, so that children (or visitors of any age) go on to sponsor and support conservationist work in all sorts of capacities. 

Prowling, feeding, bathing... it's a hard life being a big cat...

We managed to get a good view of one the critically-endangered Sumatran tigers, Jae Jae, during feeding time with live commentary from the keeper, and I did feel I was in the presence of a majestic animal... it's so sad to hear that over the past decade, the wild tiger population has been decimated, by a massive 95%...

Such massive characters for such little meerkats
In fact, as you can see from my photos, there was more than one occasion during the afternoon when I was genuinely interested and entertained by the animals at large, and I felt blessed to be in such close proximity with such amazing beasts. The monkeys had a way of showing us WE were the ones who were misplaced (they have been known to bite visitors to their open walk-through enclosure...).* The lion regarded us with a look of disdain (in the way only cats know how), and the pigs and sheep in the petting farm were so utterly engrossed in their food that I felt like I was interrupting dinner time (which I was). Three meerkats took turns to keep watch, sunbathe, and scavenge for food, all the time regarding us behind our high wall with what seemed to be pity... So if the sight of an animal going about their business as if you were invisible, is a clear sign they are content, then there are a lot of contented animals at ZSL London Zoo... 

*NB Here's an article printed recently in the London Evening Standard about London Zoo's monkeys' unhealthy appetite for biting visitors on a regular basis...

No primates were harmed in the taking of this photo!
I'm no politician, and nor would I like to be (what a thankless task!), however I am interested in what people think about these things, and I enjoy learning through other peoples' debates; so let's do it! 

Zoos - a functioning educational institution that serve to save exotic animals otherwise in danger of becoming extinct; OR an outdated form of entertainment that serve to keep families busy for an hour or two, to the detriment of the animals themselves?

FYI, Knowsley Safari Park is one of my favourite places in Liverpool..! I know, I'm just a walking contradiction...


  1. Your friends make most of the pro zoo arguments for conservation. I would also argue that a very important role of zoos is to get people interacting with animals, seeing them in the flesh etc. because it is a lot easier to have an infinity for an animal you have some experience of than it is for an animal you've only read about or seen on television at best. Then there's the actual science of being able to study animal physiology / psychology up close... there is an argument that animals don't show the same behaviour they do in captivity than they do in the wild, which is true. You could argue the difference in the life expectancies between wild animals and captive animals. Captive animals live a lot longer. You can also argue that captive animals are under a lot less stress than wild animals as proven by stress hormone studies of captive and wild animals. As a tutor once told me "The wild is a HORRIBLE place to live. Your constantly trying to find something to eat, without being eaten. You've probably got any number of parasites , not to mention competitors from your own species to contend with... and that's before you've even found a mate and reproduced". You have actually highlighted one of the biggest problems people (and animals have) which is anthropomorphization (I'm sure that's the American spelling, but dictionary is up stairs...) if you explained all this to a lion... do you know what the lion would say? "Rorrrrrrrrarrrrrr" and take a swipe at you for your trouble.... because it's a lion.... do you know what a giraffe would say? "Snnnnnisssssss" and kick you in the head as it runs away.... because it's a girafe. The thing is a lion will act like a lion... a giraffe will act like a giraffe... they will not act like people because they are not human. I'm not degrading animals. Just trying to point out that they don't think like people. But people like to think they do. Now, you probably asking why is that bad for the animals. Surely it encourages sympathy even empathy between people and animals... I say ask the Tetly chimps trainers, ask the woman who punches a cat because it looked at her funnily, or the bloke who rubs his dogs nose in the spot it urinated in 5hrs before because he thinks it will know what did wrong, or the people living in a cities who think that the elephants should know not to eat fermenting hops and then go on a drunken rampage through a village, esp. when people don't even know not to do that. My point is that..... my neighbour is currently shouting at her dog to come to her, and then complains that he doesn't come when she "calls" him. A case in point. I've tried explaining to her that the dog isn't going to know it's in trouble and come to her. It's going to know it's in trouble and stay the *insertswear* away.... I've tried explaining about keeping a level tone even if it's trying to hump the cat again... anyway.... my point is you shouldn't expect animals to think and act like people even when in zoos. You could argue that that should be part of a zoos education programme.... and it usually is.... but with tact because people misread it as being callas and degrading animals. An argument seized on by animal rights groups. There is tones of stuff about this both pro and anti zoos. Some very interesting arguments. One your friend touched on by saying about how zoos exist because of human interference. As early as the early 70s people where arguing that human influence has extended so far that there tech is no such thing as "the wild" as people understand it anymore... anyway got ta go. Enjoy your evening and have a safe journey home.

    1. Firstly, thanks SO much for commenting Justin; I'm glad it inspired a discussion on the merits of zoos! :)

      I completely agree with you, being given the chance to interact with something/someone you wouldn't otherwise interact with, gives you much more empathy and reason to help, whether that's working with vulnerable people/animals/places.

      However, there are conflicting viewpoints as to whether animals prosper in a captive environment, as opposed to in the wild... and as with all research, the findings published are funded by the people it benefits... (Have you watched 'Blackfish'? You should...)

      The points you make about us humans being more intelligent than animals, and knowing what's best for them, sound a lot like politicians' reasons (throughout history) for colonising foreign countries... I know, I'm getting more controversial by the minute, right?! But seriously, if we make their environments better, and stay out of them, surely that's the best thing for them..? Of-course, that's not an option with animals due to our interference (with industrialisation etc) - and so we come back to the conservationist argument to preserve whatever we can to help them live for as long as possible, no matter how 'foreign' the surroundings.

      Now... with regards to humanising animals... anyone who's had an 'intimate' relationship with a beast will tell you that they communicate. I may well sound a bit 'away with the fairies', but when Rod (my dog) prods my knee, then goes to the back door and jumps at the handle, I know he wants a wee. I have, at no point, taught him how to do this. He also brings me his lead (when he can find it) for the same reason - and sticks his nose in his bowl whilst growling if I'm late feeding him (heaven forbid!). You may well argue I'm imagining this, and the fact he comforts me when I'm upset, but I believe there are millions of remarkable stories out there, of people and their animals communicating; not just out of need (e.g. for food/shelter) but also from an emotional point of view (elephants mourning when their 'masters' die, dogs waiting for their owners who have passed away..,). Hell, if I'm being a sentimental ass, then that's what I am!
      *But I do recognise there's a fine line - and there are people who will conveniently recognise that their pet wants to wear something, like pink pyjamas... That's NOT what I'm like with my pet. Rod only wears his anorak when it's raining... Am I joking..? :)

      At any rate, I respect your arguments, passionately stated, and I'm pleased you shared them here. I think this is a topic that will keep coming up for as long as there are people feeling passionately about the issues surrounding zoos - Thank-you!! :)

    2. Ok,

      Bare with me, this reply may seem a little blunt at times. It's not meant to be. It's just I don't have alot of time. I'm in the middle of doing a couple things.

      (I) It depends on how you define propespering. Mortality rates, reproduction rates, self harm rates, homicide rates, happiness index? Certainly not all the research published is by the people in benfits (assuming you mean owners, keepers etc). Fourtanitly it doesn't work that way. Data is collected from mutiple sources, published, subjected to peer to peer review, evaluated, revaulated, argued over, agree to differ over, argued over, misrepresented, propagandisised... yada, yada, yada... the idea that it's not is just conspiracy theories used by intrest groups who oddly enough will reel out an expert of their own and hope noboddy asks if all the information is being surpressed where are are getting yours from... and why are you comenting on information you don't have? I have seen black fish, and numourous other documentries. (1) Orcas should not be kept in captivity. This is a welfare issue. Not an animal rights one. They are long ranging, deep water animals and a sutible enviroment can not and is not created for them. (2) Remember this when people tell you what was going through it's mind when it carried out it's attack. An orca could and probably would kill a human is seconds if it was in a rage. And it wouldn't be by drowning you slowly either.

      (II) You KNOW that's anthromorphising. People are the most intellegent organism on the planet. By ANY definition. (I feel a philosophical debate coming on) Although we're not the most sucessful. People just like to think we're separte from the natural world.

      (III) I have never heard anybody (a part from misionaries) use "it's for their own good" as an excuse to colonise another country... they're much better liars. Also, historicaly, politicians don't colonise counties. Populations do. Over a (relativly) long period of time. (And I don't mean invasion with armies, that rarley works out well for the invaders).

      (IV) About making the enviroment better for animals... see.. there's a whole thing about man made extinction verous natural extincition, about creating (improving enviroments) and as soon as you do that you will knock an ecosystem out of whack.. it will favor one organism over another... even just leaving an enviroment to return to it's "natural state" will often kill the enviroment. The closest thing I can think of off hand is the saying estate (as in big country estates) have about how unmanaged land is dead land... again there's a lot to it. Since you raised colonisation, human ifluance and the enviroment.... we're still acting like India, China, Egypt and in particalar Africa are colonies. Or more generally the developed word is patronising the undeveloped world. We tell them not to use fossilized fuel having built an empire using them. We critisise them for not being able to feed their people while buying their coffee, coco, tobaco, cotton *singing Cohen "Old black joe is still picking cotton for your ribons and bows" thank you, cds in the foyaya) and now to grow our eco fuels. We tell them it's all about green now. You gotta conserve now. Become tour guides (those that can) and take us to your wildlife, having flown there in probably the least enviromentaly transport available. We critise there goverments for being corrupt, as we hand over money to make things easier for ourselves.... again this could go on for hours. The point is, it's esasy to tell people how to live their lives when your not living them. And as is becoming more and more common as economies grow and as countries relise that, not only are we not the masters anymore and frequintly tell us to bugger of, but thinking about it, they've actually got us by the short and curlies... so... what do we do?


    3. (V) There is nothing wrong with being sentamental about animals. I sentamental about my own. Of course animals cominicate (although quite often people misread what they're saying). And they learn. For example they learn that knocking somebody against leg will cause them to get up and open the door so the can relieve themseves outside in there wee wee spot. Or pushing a bowl and growling will result in getting food. Or putting their paws over their head will result in lessing the noise of a baby crying. A dog will comfort a member of it's pack with calming behaviours if he senses she's upset. But dogs are not selfaware. They don't reconise themselves in a mirror. They don't even reconise themselves as even being a dog. If you show them themselves in a mirror they will do one of two things. Either show great intrest in the other dog by running up to it, trying to sniff it and wonder where the rest of it went when it round the back of the mirror. Or more comely, and often missed by owners, will avoid direct eye contact with the strange dog with mummy / daddy. That's why it's so hard take a photo of a dog looking in the camera. A dogs instinct is to avoid all confrentation and direct eye contact is seen as a challenge. Dogs have no sense of time. So how do they know your late feeding them? They know when they're hungry. And that's before you get into time release dog foods We have an elephant called Tina. And my grandfather tells the story of how it wasn't uncommon to see her keeper taking her for a walk at lunch time down the antrim road to his house for a spot of lunch. And the keepers will tell you that she was never the same after his death. And now she can only be worked with through partial contact because she has a habit of whacking people with her trunk. And is probably suffering from some sort of post morteum depression. Being a social matriartical herd animal it's highly likely.

      My arguments about anthrormising animals isn't to take away from the conection you feel towards your dog. You know were social animals too. I just think that incourages people to have unreasonable expectations of animals and missunderstating the reasons for certain behaviors.

      After reading this through I'm worried I will come across the wrong way. I believe in animal welfare, although not animal right (that's a political debate) and I belive in conservation but reconise that it far more complicatited than just leaving the natural world alone. That's the real fast lane to extinction. Also I'm actually very left wing....

      If I ever have more time I leave you a bandwith busting reply (not just a charter busting one). I'm sure you'll read it. It will be very intresting. And full of jokes... some funny.

    4. Thanks again, Justin, for contributing your thoughts - this is precisely why I set up this blog in the first place, to have conversations like this :)

      And if this is you writing under pressure, then I suggest you do the same - I'd read your blog! :D

  2. Personally, I always found Zoos boring when I was a can guarantee I always got to go on a rainy or miserable day where the animals were just not interested in the slightest in entertaining uninvited guests.

    As an animal lover & one who is fascinated by such magnificent animals as lions, tigers & the various apes, I find it interesting you refer in your blog to us as humans gawping at 'museum relics' of animals that have unfortunately become extinct when surely a Zoo is a real life museum so is there much difference in the inhumane side of it? Would animals be better off in their natural environment at least having some degree of happiness than have a life in 'captive'?

    Some would argue that Zoos can also breed these animals to ensure they don't become extinct. I guess there are pros & cons but the pros seem to favor us humans rather than the animals in my opinion.

    1. Hi Mark, thanks for commenting - and yes, it's that age-old issue of wanting to see something, but not knowing how to go about it (in a PC/environmentally-friendly/unobtrusive way)... I s'pose this is why David Attenborough's documentaries are so popular; we're able to get an 'exclusive' view of animals as they really are, without making a nuisance of ourselves...

      And yes, ZSL London Zoo hopes their two lions feel amorous towards each other for that reason - but can they really make up for a 95% drop in their species' population? Even if they love each other A LOT, that's a tall order. I know I sound flippant when I say that, but it feels a bit 'Noah's Ark'; we're trying to keep all beasts alive - starting with these two animals... What I'm getting at is, the fundamental problem of poaching will still exist, even if we have fifty to send back to the wild; it feels like we're putting a plaster on a gaping wound - and avoiding the real issue of why this is happening in the first place...

      And this, Mark, is why I have no aspirations to enter into politics - there are far too many grey areas for my liking!! Thank-you again for commenting :D

  3. My only experience of zoos as a child was Chester Zoo, there's no way I'd have seen any exotic animals but for that place, it does provide education for kids, I've never actually been to Knowsley even though I've driven past it on numerous occasions, I've always wondered what it would be like.

    I think times have changed, Zoos play a major part in conservation with international gene pooling and swapping and despite education and awareness new found wealth in many countries has only lead to more exploitation especially in the areas of supposed treasured medicinal items such as Rhino and Elephant horns and tusks.
    My younger sister and her friends travel down from Liverpool to Monkey World in Dorset 2 or 3 times a year because they can see what that place does for the rescued animals and they can get to know them.
    Personally I think it would be a disaster for all zoos to close, there's always room for closing areas in which animals are suffering from depression etc but that can be accomplished by public pressure these days.

    1. You're right, there's a massive difference between zoos and what they do - all zoos are not created equally, and therefore 'one' can't make sweeping judgements about the work they do... I'm all for conservation work and education on these matters :)

      There are SO many facets to this discussion, my post just skimmed the nose of one part of a massive animal of a debate!!

      Thanks for commenting Brian :)


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