Debate: Is it ethical to keep animals in zoos?

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Round 1

Side 1: While zoos are certainly fun to go to, they aren’t exactly the best places for animals. One major reason is that there is only so much room that a zoo can give to each animal species, so they are crammed into spaces far too small for them and surrounded by crowds of chattering people day in and day out. This leads to physical and psychological harm. Zoo animals have been diagnosed with depression, anxiety, OCD and other such mental illnesses—to the point where they are being prescribed meds to treat them. Also, the cramped quarters lead to pacing, overeating, teeth-grinding, vomiting, self-harm, shorter life spans and higher infant mortality rates. Zoos may mean well, but in no way are they creating truly healthy atmospheres for Earth’s wildlife. There are better ways to interact with animals and include them in our world.

Side 2: While zoos can certainly be a limiting environment for the animals in them and certain animals certainly do worse in captivity than others, we can’t ignore the conservation aspect zoos provide. Zoos can be a place away from predators for the world’s most endangered species. Would giant pandas still be alive had they not been captured and put in a place where they could live or reproduce without fear of predation? Tigers are a targeted species because of the threat they can impose on local villages. Would the tiger population be at an acceptable level without a number of tigers in captivity? I understand that a zoo can be an incredibly small place compared to the territory the wilderness provides. However, zoos are one of the most powerful tools we have left in a world of increasing human expansion.

Round 2

Side 1: Zoos are also a great way for younger generations to get introduced to science early on. How many biologists can trace their careers back to family trips to the zoo? I’d imagine quite a few. In a society based so much on junk entertainment, a zoo can fill a similar role to a museum in fostering a more aware, smarter future. These same kids learning from zoos may grow up to be environmental scientists or conservation officers making it more possible for animals to be safe in the real world. We can only lower the need for zoos if we can become more environmentally aware, and I think zoos, ironically, teach this best. This isn’t to say zoos are infallible. Places like Sea World exploit intelligent creatures, effectively killing them. This is inexcusable, but most zoos aren’t Sea World. I guess my main point here is that while zoos can be seen as human meddling with the environment, they can help us get to a future where conservation won’t rely on captivity to save endangered species.

Side 2: Yes, zoos can help save the fate of more endangered species, but at a certain point it comes down to the quantity of life versus quality of life, which would take its own debate to even briefly explore the question. Zoos as temporary places to save animal lives make sense because it wouldn’t be like they’re being imprisoned their whole lives. However, keeping an animal alive only for it to be miserable is a little cruel, even if it is unintentional. Places like preserves, however, mimic their natural environments better and are thus a better option. They do require more land and resources, but since part of our environmental issues stem from lack of natural spaces (i.e. lack of groundwater absorption due to roads and rooftops and lack of forests due to monoculture crops), this isn’t a bad thing to encourage more of. And yes, zoos are educational. But so are TV shows about wildlife and these are more accessible to kids from lower-income brackets or with guardians with no time to take them. The TV shows also can have a lot more variety and depth, so for a kid who’s really interested, that’s the better option anyway.