Zoos: Ethical or Not?

Claire Gelber, Opinions Writer

For many decades, zoos around the world have been a controversial topic of discussion. Do zoos really have the best interest of their animals in mind? Is it ok for these creatures, some of which are so cognitively intelligent, to be in small enclosures for public viewing? These questions have polarized communities all over the world. So, are zoos ethical, really? 


  Early Zoos

   To understand this question a little deeper, let’s go back to the beginning. One of the first established zoos to become famous was the infamous London Zoo, established in 1826. When the institution was opened, it was extremely privatized. The zoo was more of a study collection than anything else, for rich members of the Zoological Society in London. The zoo became more public in the coming years of the mid 1830s, but animals didn’t seem to be living for long.


 “Many of its cages were barred and quite small and they didn’t have much vegetation in them,” says Dr. Michael Hutchins of the American Bird Conservancy. 


Into the 1860s, exotic animals became more prevalent in zoos, which is where ethical questions came more into play. Many of these animals were stolen from their wild homes and brought into zoos to entertain guests. Zoos seemed very circu-like; with exotic animals in tiny cages on display for anyone who would pay the money to see them. 


Later Zoos

As zoos have evolved, the focus has shifted from caging up animals for amusement, to saving animals with conservation efforts. 


Glenbard South Environmental teacher, Mrs. Fisher says that “the key to an ethical zoo is a focus on conservation and education. I believe that many zoos have been focusing on this more as the years go on.”


In the late 1900s, zoos started focusing on more enriching and natural enclosures, rescue and rehabilitation, and education. An example of a current zoo that is renowned and respected for this exact reason is the San Diego Zoo. This zoo has built its foundation on conservation, rehabilitation, and education. It has climbed its way to the most famous zoo in the United States. This zoo is massive- over 100 acres. The San Diego Zoo is also famous for its endangered species breeding efforts, and conserving exotic and endangered animals. 


So.. What Does This Mean?

 Although zoos have gotten better over the years, are they truly ethical? Many argue that from an ethical standpoint- humans do not have the right to breed and confine animals; ever. Others argue that zoos can provide enrichment for animals, whilst educating the public and conserving endangered species. Although many different opinions debate over this topic, it is clear that zoos have made lots of improvement in their care for animals; and just their objectives in general. 


Whether or not zoos are “ethical”- well who really knows. With the variety of zoos and their levels of care for animals, whether or not zoos are ethical with their animals varies. With this being said, the future is sure to bring new research and ideas that will benefit zoos and their animals across the world. 



Sources: https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/rearvision/the-ethical-history-of-zoos/6869776