The oldest known zoo that was thought to have existed since 3500 BC has been discovered in Egypt in 2009. It followed the discovery of a broad range of animals that included baboons, wildcats, and elephants. It is suggested that zoos, also called animal parks, zoological gardens, or menageries, have existed for a long time in history, being a part of human life (Vittana n.d.). However, there is a controversy regarding the realization that animals in the zoo tend to suffer from solitude and other challenges. As such, the problem implies a debate on the benefits and disadvantages presented by animal parks. Considering that Hanako the elephant spent all her life in isolation, it is affirmed that zoos deprive animals the freedom to co-exist and live freely in their natural habitat.
Historically, the first existed zoos did not feature animals, especially those that existed in the Western hemisphere. Instead, it was composed of people with different peculiar traits such as dwarfism or albinism. For example, the Ota Benga was an example of a human exhibit that was common in zoos. He lived in Bronx Zoo and St. Louis Zoo as late as 1906 (Vittana n.d.). Nevertheless, zoos have existed for a long time and have primarily acted as centers for implementing breeding programs to overcome genetic bottlenecks that have been a challenge for the endangered species. Throughout history, it is the main reason for the existence of zoos with records indicating that the background of their establishment is as long as the subsistence of human beings (Vittana n.d.). In the past, some of the animals have been endangered; hence, the idea of keeping them in a zoo has ensured that those that were close to extinction have been protected. However, thought-provoking issues have since been occurred as ethical concerns are continually being raised over the possibility of abuse of animals’ rights or the use of such facilities for political gain.
The debate on whether zoos are needed or whether they have not to be created has necessitated the need to examine the benefits and problems associated with these animal cages. The primary advantage of zoos is that they are an excellent educational resource where people can be taught about different animals. As a rule, the zoo’s staff are knowledgeable enough about the animals, and regardless of one’s socioeconomic status, one can always learn something useful there. The other benefit is that they provide protection for endangered species as there is a significant risk of poachers being apparent in such animals’ natural habitats. Lastly, the zoos have been used for a long time as a place where animals can receive humane treatment (Vittana n.d.). Some animals are extremely rare so they need to be treated well for them to survive and increase in population. The best-known case is that of the Przewalski horse that was found in the wild in 1966. 13 horses were captured considering the unique presentation of 66 chromosomes instead of the typical 64. Following their rehabilitation, they survived; as a result, there are more than 1500 such horses today. Thus, it highlights the fact that when zoos serve their right purpose, they can be benefiting to animals.
However, there have been concerns associated with zoos as critics often argue that they deprive animals their rights to co-exist naturally. The ethical dilemma implies issues that are raised over the possibility of solitude being a factor in reducing the lifespan of animals kept in the zoo. The well-known case is that of Hanako the elephant, who has lived in Tokyo’s Inokashira Park Zoo for almost six decades. Ulara Nakagawa – a concerned visitor of the zoo – noted the elephant’s state and described the experience in his blog post, “Totally alone in a small, barren, cement enclosure with absolutely no comfort or stimulation provided, she just stood there almost lifeless – like a figurine” (National Geographic Society n.d.). Many other elephants have been reported to live in isolation, including 38-year-old Teru at Kofu City Yuki Park Zoo, 40-year-old Himeko at Himeji City Zoo, and Izumi – an elephant that died at 62 years at Kiryugaoka Zoo (National Geographic Society n.d.). Thus, the associated difficulties include the possibility that the life in captivity could change an animal’s behavior. As such, zoos are being perceived as recreational facilities with no guarantee for species survival (National Geographic Society n.d.).
Having explored the subject in its entirety and considering the adverse effects that zoos cause to the animals, I believe that they are not necessary. It is hypothetical that they are educational facilities that enable the animal to thrive, especially if they are endangered. However, the reality is that animals can survive without people’s help in their natural habitats. The case of Hanako the elephant dying in isolation while people watched her is depressing and disheartening. It requires the re-examination of ethics associated with animal parks. To overcome the challenge of poaching that necessitated zoo creation, it is recommended that stringent policies are enacted to ensure that those found poaching face extreme legal action to stop the issue altogether.
National Geographic Society. These Zoo Elephants May Be the Loneliest in the World. National Geographic Partners, LLC, 2015, https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/08/wildlife-watch-japan-zoo-elephants-solitary/. Accessed 17 May 2021.
Vittana. 21 Pros and Cons of Zoos, 2017, https://vittana.org/21-pros-and-cons-of-zoos. Accessed 17 May 2021.