There’s Nothing Captivating about Captivity

The recent event that unfolded at Cincinnati Zoo in Ohio has divided many people on the internet. I’m sure most of you have heard about gorilla, Harambe who was shot dead by zookeepers after a 4-year old boy found his way through a gap in the structure and fell into the enclosure.

Huge uproar has followed with anger being directed at the parents of the child for allowing the boy to leave their care and climb into the enclosure. Anger has also been directed at the zoo for shooting the animal — suggestions have been made that tranquilising would have been a better alternative. The zoo maintains tranquilisers take too long to be effective and would have aggravated the gorilla first before taking effect and this would have further endangered the child.

Regardless of where you stand in this argument, one fact remains. Had Harambe never been put into captivity, their would be no enclosure for this boy to fall into, and an innocent, 17-year old, endangered silverback would never have needed to be killed.

Many zoos would have you believe that the captivity is used for conservation and they are protecting endangered animals from extinction. A study conducted by Captive Animal Protection Society (CAPS) found that almost half of the animals in breeding programs in the EU were not even endangered in the wild. It is also very unlikely the animals who are endangered species in captivity will ever be relocated to their natural habitat.

This idea that we as humans have a right to dictate the way another animal lives is beyond me. Is it not enough to know these animals exist? To read about them, watch documentaries on them? Apparently not. We demand to see them for ourselves, to see “how they live”. I can guarantee if you observe an animal in captivity, you are not seeing how they live. You are seeing how they live in captivity. These are two very different things.

It is not until something bad or inexcusably cruel is reported in the media that suddenly, we as a society, are reminded why animals do not belong in captivity.

The issue of animals in captivity garnered huge attention and public outcry after the movie “Blackfish” was released in 2013.

I’m sure most people are aware of zoos in today’s society, but what they may not be aware of is that zoos once held a different type of animal, Humans.

In the late 1800’s, Europe had been filled with “human zoos” in cities like Paris, Hamburg, Antwerp, Barcelona, London, Milan, and Warsaw. New York too saw these popular exhibits continue into the 20th century. There was an average of 200,000 to 300,000 visitors who attended each exhibition in each city.

Throughout the early 20th Century, Germany held what was termed a, “People’s Show”. Africans were brought in as carnival or zoo exhibits for passers-by to gawk at.


Brussels, Belgium in 1958

Just four years shy of the 20th Century, the Cincinnati Zoo kept one hundred Sioux Native Americans in a mock village at the zoo for three months.

Yes, I am referring to the same Cincinnati Zoo that has been in the media this past week. Goosebumps. Note: I did not know this fact at the beginning of writing this article.

Now that we are [slowly] recognizing all humans as equals, humans have turned their attention to other animals who (even Microsoft Word is telling me to correct ‘who’ to ‘that’, but I won’t. Animals matter) have little to no rights. Honestly, what is wrong with the world?

It is this twisted idea that animals were put on this earth to serve as entertainment for humans.

Taronga Zoo (VIC) published this statement in regards to Zoo animals and wild animals, “The animals in Taronga’s populations are cared for to a standard at least comparable to, but in most cases far exceeding the conditions that their wild counterparts would experience.” Do they honestly believe this?

They believe that because these animals are fed, sheltered and cleaned that they are living in great conditions. But what is a life without freedom? If their life in a zoo is so fantastic and is apparently exactly where these animals want to be…. Then why do they need cages? If that animal is truely happy they would remain where they are even when presented with the opportunity to leave. But in a cage is not where their instincts tell them to be.
Sanctuaries and rehabilitation zoos can be beneficial. However, removing an animal from its wild habitat is never the answer. Majestic animals like these are not found in cities, therefore zoos close to the city cannot justify removing an animal from it’s wild habitat and placing it in captivity. Sanctuaries are built close to, or within, the habitat of animals it helps.

The best thing we can do is to stop visiting zoos. The short-term solution is confronting as a very real possibility will involve a number of the animals currently in captivity being put down. However, the long term future looks more promising. If people make a conscious decision to boycott zoos they will eventually have to close their doors and this will end the cycle. Supply and demand – If there is no demand to see animals in zoos then there is no need to supply zoos with animals. The time is now.