Gorilla death reignites zoo debate

Born Free has been saying for years that the educational and conservation claims of zoos are paper thin. A handful of conservation success stories simply do not justify the millions of animals locked away for life. And the fact that even research by zoos themselves remains inconclusive about whether zoos really educate the public or not speaks volumes!

So the Sunday Times article “If animals have feelings, can we justify ogling them in zoos?” really had its finger on the pulse when it reported the comments of the ethologist Mark Bekoff, “A baby in the wild is born into a large social group. What kind of life is the baby animal going to have in the zoo – sentenced to a lifetime in captivity? Zoos say it’s about repopulating wild populations but that’s a lot of bull. They’re going to make a lot of money, selling cute toys and candy.”

And I was really pleased when the paper followed up with my letter.

A Death Knell for Zoos THE tragic death of an infant gorilla has sparked global media interest in the ethics of keeping and displaying animals in zoos (News Review, last week ).We have been highlighting the plight of captive animals for 25 years, and are encouraged to see this reevaluation of the validity of zoos entering the mainstream.

Over the years, superficial changes have taken place in some zoos, but even though cages have been dressed up as “enclosures” and captivity as “conservation”, the fact remains that wild animals in zoos remain locked up for life in the name of tenuous and largely unproven education or conservation claims. Your article is right: staring at captive animals teaches us little, beyond reinforcing the outdated view that animals should be controlled, confined and dominated.

If we learn one thing from the death of this infant gorilla and the distressed eyes of his mother, it is how little zoos have really changed.”

As Edinburgh Zoo plans to bring in two Giant Pandas from China for a £2m 10 year ‘breeding loan’  and when many countries in Africa, South America and Asia struggle to fund the money to protect their natural heritage, there’s never been a better time to say enough is enough. Let’s stop messing around with wild animals and put our time, effort and resources into conserving them in the wild!

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