College student at the zoo

Columnist Sam Jefferson argues against the negative connotation normally associated with public zoos.  

Zoos have been a fond pastime for many people. I remember how fun the zoo was when I was a child. I’d see all the animals lazily sitting around their habitats, from the mighty lions to the various birds that had enough different colors to fill a box of crayons. There were monkeys that couldn’t sit still, and a dimly lit reptile room where lizards and snakes of various sizes would stare stoically back at me, as if daring me to try and tap on the glass.

There’s no denying the fun I had visiting zoos, and I still enjoy the occasional visit now and then. Sadly, I can no longer enjoy it as I once did due to the negative controversy that I’ve started to hear surrounding them. Many people have come to view zoos as little more than prisons, denying animals their freedom and leaving them to be looked at by thousands. I’ll admit zoos aren’t perfect, but they aren’t as unethical as one would initially think. In fact, zoos have many conditions that ensure that animals are treated humanely.

While there are some who view zoos as cruel institutions, the government has procedures set for any constructed animal habitat. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums is a nonprofit organization that ensures proper rules and regulations are put in place for any animal exhibits in the United States. Many of these conditions have been set help ensure the safety and proper treatment of the animals. Two of the rules include:

  • “Recognize the moral responsibilities of the individual and the institution not only to our professional associates, fellow employees and volunteers, and the public, but also to the animals under our care.”

  • “Promote the interests of wildlife conservation, biodiversity and animal welfare to the public and to colleagues.”

These statutes are just a few examples of the multiple rules dedicated to ensuring that animals are treated humanely, rather than being cramped into what’s the equivalent of a well-gardened cell meant to mimic a habitat.

Though zoos might have a bad reputation, they not only safely house animals, but support the survival of their species. Sometimes, when an animal has been placed on the endangered list, zoos will make an effort to provide aid to these animals. A good example of this is the Iberian Lynx. The last lynx in the wild was killed in 1972, but zoos had already held some of them in captivity. Breeding programs were instituted to help the population recover, and today there are around a thousand of them in the wild.

Zoos might not be loved by everyone, but they still serve to house and help numerous species. Their treatment of animals isn’t as ugly as it would initially appear. Next time I’m at a zoo, I’ll try and remember this, and hopefully, I’ll find that sense of joy that I had as a child.

Sam Jefferson is a senior writing, rhetoric and technical communication major. Contact Sam at jefferss@dukes.jmu.edu.