The Morality of Zoos

Tragic photos show plight of lonely polar bear as it struggles to cope with 40C heat in Argentine zoo Click on photo to read more.

During the summer between my junior and senior years of high school I spent a month in the jungle of Peru. To get to the village I was staying at, I had to take a boat up various rivers including the Amazon for 36 hours.

On the return journey back to the US I stopped by a zoo in Iquitos, an isolated city in Peru. I’ve never been crazy over zoos, but I figured one in a foreign location such as this one could offer some new sights that would provide entertainment for my layover day.

I was mortified. Animals languished in a murky area of life where the body is still alive but the soul is dead. The monkeys slowly walked around, never venturing into the trees, their eyes vacant of the usual curiosity so common to all members of the monkey species. The cages were filthy to a degree that I found shocking. Rust, mold, algae, excrement, food gone bad. All laid out on the ground baking in the South American heat.

At one point, I left the group I was with to go and hide in a poor excuse for a bathroom. The scenes before me were disrupting to the point that I feared I could not finish the day. Luckily, the zoo was small, and I was able to find my way out and on to the shore of a small lake with some picnic tables and refreshments. Like I said before, when my soul is troubled, water is the remedy.

Obviously Peruvian zoos do not have the standards that American zoos would be subject to. However, this one visit turned me around and made me see that they were all very similar. The concept of lining up to look at animals living in captivity as a form of entertainment makes me sad.

To be clear, I am not against zoos. They supply many low-income families the chance to see sights that otherwise would be way beyond their reach, giving opportunities to explore new fields that were previously off-limits. Ideally, people would seek out these same animals in their natural habitat, finding un-obtrusive ways to observe species in their normal roles in the ecosystem. Would some animals be unobservable? Most likely.

It just makes me sick, and I haven’t enjoyed going to a zoo ever since then.

I do, on the other hand, enjoy aquariums very much. What’s the difference? I’m not exactly sure. The whole situation is a lot of blurred lines in my head.

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