What does the next generation think of today’s issues? The Big Smoke’s Next Gen program publishes Australian students mentored by TBS writers. Today, Bailey, 14, asks: Are zoo-goers sanctioning the imprisonment of animals?
Student: Bailey Mason
Mentor: Jordan Rivkin
Topic: Are zoos just prisons for animals?
Like many people, I was brought up to believe that zoological facilities where animals are caged up and gawked at by thousands of people a day were great places to spend the day for “entertainment”, and that it was perfectly fine as most zoos preach “conservation” and “education”. I now realise that all is not as it seems.
I’ve come to the realisation that zoos aren’t what the general public want to believe they are, and that it’s a distorted picture. Zoos claim to be about entertainment, with a conservation message of saving wild animals by giving children a deeper appreciation and connection to wild animals such as monkeys, lions, giraffes and elephants.
Australia has many zoos that are popular, especially among families with young children and school excursions in primary and high school. This means that this generation is being taught that animals are here for us to cage for entertainment and “educational” purposes.
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Zoos would like us to believe that they are educational and all about conservation but it’s very questionable as to how exactly they are giving people a love for these animals and saving the animals in the wild. The truth is that most animals at zoos aren’t even endangered, but are continually bred in captivity and never released in the wild, they are held in captivity until the day they die. Breeding wild animals in captivity does nothing to protect their natural habitat and people are being taught a dangerous message that animals are here for us to exploit.
Elephants are highly complex and over a dozen zoos have shown mercy to elephants by ending the exhibition of them, as zoos are unable to provide for elephants’ complex needs. Elephants can travel 50 miles a day, yet zoos across Australia continue to import them and breed them in an environment that doesn’t come close to their natural habitat in the wild, where they belong. Sydney’s Taronga Zoo and Melbourne Zoo have shockingly imported elephants from Thailand to fill up their exhibits.
In January 2008, The Age reported that Melbourne Zoo had received animal cruelty claims by senior zoo experts and the RSPCA, who were concerned about an elephant that was stabbed over a dozen times by a frustrated animal trainer. This was reported by zoo keeper Bryan Welch in a confidential memo and Melbourne Zoo confirmed that this incident did happen, justifying it because of potential risk to staff. It’s not just an elephant battling abuse at Melbourne Zoo, but seals are being poorly treated. The chlorine in the seals’ swimming pool caused four of them to have partial blindness.
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The truth is that large enclosures aren’t ever going to come close to replicating the wild. Many uneducated people would argue that animals at high animal welfare zoos are “happy” because of naturalistic and large enclosures. When you learn that elephants can travel up to 50 miles a day in the wild and that wild giraffes can run as fast as 35 miles an hour, it becomes crystal clear that they can’t have a fulfilling life even at the most spacious of zoos.
Zoos also kill perfectly healthy animals that are deemed “surplus”. A surplus can be an animal at the zoo that is no longer useful for captive breeding programs or an animal the zoo considers isn’t making them profits. Dubbo Zoo has sold endangered antelope to Bob McComb, a member of the Shooters Party, to kill them on a private game reserve. During the same month, Taronga Western Plains Zoo was suspended from selling animals for misleading the public about selling their endangered antelope to the same hunter.
We need to stop supporting zoos as they are detrimental to the health and wellbeing of animals and promote a negative message that animals are here to enslave for our entertainment. I choose to learn about wild animals from documentaries and contribute to saving their natural habitat by consuming less products that contain unsustainable palm oil and supporting effective environmental organisations.
Wild animals in captivity isn’t conservation, it’s animal cruelty, and the time is now to abolish zoos.
This article is part of a series for The Big Smoke Next Gen.
The Big Smoke Next Gen is a program which matches professional and experienced writers, academics and journalists with students who wish to write non-fiction articles and voice their opinions on what is shaping the nation.
For more information about our program at The Big Smoke, or to become a mentor, please contact us.