There is a duality to the existence of zoos. On one hand, zoos can be nothing more than an elaborate sideshow, showcasing strange animals in atypical environments. Yet on another hand, they can be a highly informative method of keeping people in tune with nature. Considering that a recent poll in the National Butcher’s Weekly showed that 17 percent of people surveyed think that pigs have wings, there is a definite need to be more in touch with nature and to understand all animals better.
Recently, Knut, a beloved polar bear known world-wide, captive in Germany’s Berlin Zoo suddenly died. The animal died in front of a crowd of tourists, armed with cameras and video recorders. A bizarre display of behavior was exhibited before the animal died in plain site of the crowd.
After Knut’s death, articles that something was terribly wrong with the polar bear’s situation were surfacing in news sources. Knut was abandoned as a cub and was completely raised by hand. Knut was unable to properly commingle with other polar bears and cried for human contact when no crowds were available. The debate about what should have happened with Knut will undoubtedly go on for years. However, it has shed a light on zoos as a whole – are they good for animals and the public?
One of the exhibits that often cause an equal amount of joy and disgust is the polar bear enclosure. We live in the midwest of the US and it can get very hot in the summer. Obviously, this is much warmer than the polar bear’s native habitat. We watch them try to escape the summer as their large amount of fur heats them up. We wonder how the zoo came to get the polar bear in the first place. We wonder why the animal is not kept in a native equivalent environment.
Is this an ethical thing to do to the animal? Should we even have zoos? Should we keep animals pure and in their native areas? How will people truly understand animals, or want to get into animal assistance if they do not experience the in-person beauty of the animals? Even city dwellers can be swayed by nature. We can all understand that there is a unique difference between reading about an animal and seeing the animal – experiencing the look in it’s eyes and behavior.
Should zoos have corporate sponsorship by companies that do harm to the natural world? Should zoos sell trinkets that are made by workers in far-away lands that create pollution from their production and transport? Should zoos be mandated to have proper enclosures for the animals? There are a multitude of questions surrounding zoos. As a family, we do not have the answers, but perhaps it is time that we started having a better dialogue about zoos and their impact on the world, and voting with our dollars.