06 October 2008

How to justify a zoo or aquarium?

Some powerful thought-provoking issues on zoos (which includes aquariums), their role in conservation and how things need to change by Jeremy Leon Hance in "Zoos: Why a Revolution is Necessary to Justify Them" on mongabay.com.

Here's some excerpts:
The True Purpose of Zoos?
The zoo inflicts seemingly needless suffering to fellow creatures that we, as ethical (hopefully) animals, must not only supply a very good reason for this subjection, but also achieve it."
Zoo: The Educational Institution?
When a visitor reads about logging in Sumatra or the bush-meat problem in Congo, what can they really do but shrug their shoulders in wonder and drop a quarter in a donation bin? Zoos need to take these conservation issues and make them applicable.

To truly reach visitors, zoos should employ a variety of new educational strategies: signs in front of a cage are simply not enough.

Let the visitor know that the zoo does not exist solely for their needs, but as a research institute and base for overseas conservation. Allow them to comprehend that animals are not mere entertainment for humans, but a vital part of ecosystems around the world that the makes our earth as wondrous (and effective) as it is.

Zoos are also rarely thought of as a place of science or serious conservation. Visitors view zoos as a form of entertainment, something akin to a fluff movie, and most zoos have bought into that. Yet for the sake of the future, zoos need to rise above their self-belief and their public-perception that they are a carnival, something akin to a Disney movie or a theme park.

While our cultural fixation on entertainment and distraction is bad enough, it is a terrible thing when zoos place themselves in this category. To do so only perpetuates the idea that other species exist solely for our amusement and use (or abuse). Animals are true and real because they are not us. These species are not our slaves or property.

Visiting zoos now is like walking through a set of commercials: Even more ironic is the dubious, if not atrocious, environmental records of many of these corporations.

Ineffective Zoos Are Immoral
When confronted with a caged animal, let us say the beautiful snow leopard, my brain sometimes flashes to Edmund Dantes from The Count of Monte Cristo, falsely imprisoned for fourteen years (incidentally about the lifespan of a snow leopard) that lead to madness and a desperate escape. Just because these are not humans in prison, does not mean that animals in the zoo do not 'feel' their confinement.

You and me and all of us are the reason these animals sits behind glass or bars; we are reason only a fraction of their habitat remains; we are the reason they have been driven to almost nothing; and may very well—sooner than we can imagine—be extinct and gone, forever flung from living.

What right do we have to this? And what right do zoos have to exist, if not to show us our illusion of mastery, our waste of creation, and our responsibility to make it right—as right as it can be?

Read the full article on mongabay.com.

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