Voices For Animals of Western Pennsylvania laments Sunday’s tragedy, wherein a two-year-old child fell into the wild dog enclosure at the Pittsburgh Zoo and was sadly killed. Much has been said about parental responsibility, but not much has been said about the conditions that allow for accidents like these. Of course fences could be taller, or enclosures better fortified to protect exhibit viewers, but the fundamental state of animal captivity around which zoos are built is an overlooked point of fruitful discussion. It is paramount to remember that the animals who are kept in zoos are wild animals. Even when they are bred into captivity, this does not erase the natural behaviors and abilities that are innate to them and in which they long to engage, such as foraging, stalking and hunting prey, socializing and communicating with others in their family or group, burrowing, roaming large distances, and choosing their own social partners and mates, to name a few. Zoos, with their artificial environments of concrete enclosures and metal bars, cannot even begin to adequately meet these complex physical and psychological interests and needs; these can only be properly met in nature within their actual ecosystems. This means that animals in zoos are severely deprived of having their natural needs met, which takes a great toll on their overall well-being. Having food and water automatically provided to them, and having little else to do or go inside their concrete enclosures, animals in zoos become extremely bored, stressed, frustrated, and neurotic. This was clearly the case with the African wild dogs when they tried to break away from their chronic boredom by escaping from their enclosure only 5 months earlier, temporarily closing the zoo
Are zoos depriving wild animals of so much in order to achieve some greater goal? They tout the need for species conservation efforts, and present themselves as a necessary part of the solution to species decline and habitat loss. However, according to Born Free Foundation, even the “better” zoos put a mere 5-6% of revenues toward this end. Only rarely are animals released into the wild after their duration at a zoo. This results in a “conservation” separated from nature, existing only as an artificial menagerie to be observed from behind glass, concrete, and bars. True conservation means to preserve species within their natural ecosystems where they can interrelate with others of their own species and with other species, living and playing a part in their natural environments. Preserving species of animals as living relics, permanently captive in artificial conditions, makes a mockery of conservation and renders the concept meaningless.
As if the basic premises of zoos weren’t bad enough, accidents and neglect lead to injury and death for animals at their caretakers’ mercy. The Pittsburgh Zoo inadvertently added ozone to an aquarium tank in 2006, killing 10 black-tip reef sharks at once.
This past March, the USDA received a formal complaint against the Pittsburgh Zoo’s International Conservation Center in Somerset, PA, citing prolonged periods of confinement, restricted access to water and lack of stimulating activities for three elephants. Furthermore, zoo confinement creates chronic foot problems for elephants.
In fact, in 2006 the USDA heard testimony on this issue due to elephants dying from sore foot complications in Oregon, Milwaukee, Los Angeles, and at the National Zoo in Washington. This is part of the reason many zoos are deciding to permanently close their elephant exhibits, recognizing that elephants have complex needs that cannot be adequately met in any captive situation. Currently there are 18 zoos that have closed or will close their elephant exhibits, including the San Francisco Zoo, Sacramento Zoo, Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo, Alaska Zoo, Philadelphia Zoo, and the Bronx Zoo. The Pittsburgh Zoo, on the other hand, not only has no intention of closing its elephant exhibit, but spent 22 million dollars to create an elephant breeding facility in Somerset.
This is a testament to how little concerned the Pittsburgh Zoo is with the best interests of the animals in their care. http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/news/us/zoo-confinement-gives-elephants-problem-feet-459800/ - ixzz2BVvCfmmy
Zoo environments exploit animals through deprivation and neglect, even to the point of death. As we have unfortunately seen from the tragic but sadly preventable death of a child, witnesses of zoo exhibits aren’t safe either. These regrettable incidents serve as a painful reminder that humans are not in any position to own or control animals who belong in the wild. As long as we arrogantly continue to attempt to dominate wildlife and nature, animals both human and nonhuman stand to lose: fatalities like these will be inevitable. The wild must remain wild, and the consequences of ignoring this are as unrestrainable as nature itself.