Earlier this year, I wrote a blog on my personal web page discussing the uproar (pardon the pun) over the death of Dalu Mncube, killed by a tiger at Zion Wildlife Gardens. I was somewhat impressed by the fact that writers from across the political spectrum were coming together to agree that greater concern needed to be paid to zoos and wildlife parks. Just as importantly, these columnists were pointing to a much bigger concern: that the primary objective of most zoos is not conservation or education – despite the public bleating of officials to the contrary – but profit.
Today I was amazed to see a conservative columnist from Canada reach the same conclusion in the wake of a recent spate of tragedies at the Calgary Zoo in Alberta. Margaret Wente – one of the contenders for the title of “columnists I love to hate”, meaning that I read her religiously, even though I usually disagree vehemently with her views – of the Globe and Mail has posted a thoughtful and reflective column on zoos. She makes a number of excellent points, including the fact that elephants should not be in zoos – ever – and that the rush for profit puts animals at risk, despite the PR statements coming from zoo directors about the values promoted by these “living museums”. [As an aside: I’ve long wondered about the messages that are being supposedly promoted by zoos. My favourite is where people tell me that zoos allow kids to “think about our relationship with animals” and gain a new found respect for animal life. I usually point out that I’ll believe this when they stop serving hot dogs and hamburgers at zoos. Why not giraffe burgers, while they’re at it?]
Wente stops short of calling for the abolishing of zoos, but I’ll still throw her a rare “kudo”, for a solid and provocative column. Zoos tend to escape scrutiny from the mainstream public unless something goes horribly wrong. It’s important for society to understand that its not individual tragedies that are the problem in zoos. These breakdowns are just symptoms of the bigger concern: zoos themselves, being run “for profit”, usually at the expense of the animals contained therein.