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Texas has the second highest tiger population in the world due to zoos and laws that allow them to be kept as pets. 

One might guess that the most populous place of tigers would be somewhere in Africa, or perhaps China or Vietnam. Yet, in fact, the state of Texas has the world’s second largest tiger population. This is mainly due to laws that allow citizens to keep these wild animals as pets. However, keeping animals in captivity doesn’t just apply to private ownership.

Aquariums, zoos, circuses and more are all considered captive — and therefore unnatural — environments for animals to live in for the pleasure of humans. Keeping animals in captivity denies them the chance to live a normal and fulfilling life in the wild. Often, captive conditions are extremely inhumane for animal life and the process of captive animal-trade is one of extreme suffering for all creatures.

The main argument against animal captivity is that wild animals are meant to be just that, and locking them up denies them their very nature. For example, in the wild, whales live in intertwined and complex social groups and can swim up to 100 miles a day. In aquariums, they are often forced to live alone in enclosures where it’s only possible to swim small laps. Secondly, the phenomenon of a collapsed dorsal fin is almost non-existent for whales living in the wild. This negative health effect occurs in captivity due to a lack of exercise and a less nutritional diet than what the whale would be consuming in the wild. For whales, they typically live much shorter life spans in captivity than they would in nature.

Besides captivity denying animals the chance at what a normal life would be like for them, there’s also a list of health concerns for animals that are locked up. A study in the United Kingdom found that over 50% of elephants and just under 50% of lions experienced unnatural behavioral problems in a zoo environment. Circuses are notorious not only for inhumane conditions but also animal abuse. In order to teach animals tricks — like an elephant standing on a stool — whipping and beating the animal often takes place.

Animals kept in captivity also pose an unnecessary threat to humans that would otherwise be non-existent. In the past two decades, there have been almost 300 injuries to humans at zoos. While these kinds of accidents aren’t frequent, when they happen, they are mostly unavoidable and impossible to contain because they involve dangerous wild animals. In 2016, after a young boy fell into the Cincinnati Zoo’s gorilla enclosure. Harambe the gorilla was shot and killed by a zoo official. America was divided about the killing of the gorilla. Many thought it was shameful that Harambe had to die because of human error. 

A huge argument for keeping animals captive concerns conservation. This process helps prevent animals from becoming extinct. Yet, not every time an animal is endangered should they immediately become captive in bulk numbers. For example, if a disease is plaguing a certain area where tigers are prominent, work can be done to help eradicate the disease while the tigers continue to exist in the wild.

And to the conservation argument, most species do actually live longer in captivity. This is because in captivity, prey are free from their predators and diseases can be cured by professionals. Yet, an interesting thought is at what cost this longer life span comes for these animals. If they’re living in inhumane or completely unnatural conditions, the priority of keeping them alive for longer periods of time seems to be a moral question.   

Treating animals as a means to an end for human pleasure while compromising the welfare of the animal is morally wrong. Animals should be allowed the opportunity to live normal lives without the interference of humans.

 

Josie Haneklau is a sophomore political science and psychology double major. Contact Josie at hanekljr@dukes.jmu.edu.