Question 69: Don't zoos contribute to the saving of species from extinction?

Zoos often claim that they are "arks", which can preserve species whose
habitat has been destroyed, or which were wiped out in the wild for other
reasons (such as hunting). They suggest that they can maintain the species
in captivity until the cause of the creature's extirpation is remedied, and
then successfully reintroduce the animals to the wild, resulting in a healthy,
self-sustaining population. Zoos often defend their existence against
challenges from the AR movement on these grounds.

There are several problems with this argument, however. First, the number
of animals required to maintain a viable gene pool can be quite high, and is
never known for certain. If the captive gene pool is too small, then
inbreeding can result in increased susceptibility to disease, birth defects,
and mutations; the species can be so weakened that it would never be viable
in the wild.

Some species are extremely difficult to breed in captivity: marine mammals,
many bird species, and so on. Pandas, which have been the sustained focus of
captive breeding efforts for several decades in zoos around the world, are
notoriously difficult to breed in captivity. With such species, the zoos,
by taking animals from the wild to supply their breeding programs, constitute
a net drain on wild populations.

The whole concept of habitat restoration is mired in serious difficulties.
Animals threatened by poaching (elephants, rhinos, pandas, bears and more)
will never be safe in the wild as long as firearms, material needs, and a
willingness to consume animal parts coincide. Species threatened by chemical
contamination (such as bird species vulnerable to pesticides and lead shot)
will not be candidates for release until we stop using the offending
substances, and enough time has passed for the toxins to be processed out of
the environment. Since heavy metals and some pesticides are both persistent
and bioaccumulative, this could mean decades or centuries before it is safe
to reintroduce the animals.

Even if these problems can be overcome, there are still difficulties with
the process of reintroduction. Problems such as human imprinting, the need to
teach animals to fly, hunt, build dens, and raise their young are serious
obstacles, and must be solved individually for each species.
There is a small limit to the number of species the global network of zoos
can preserve under even the most optimistic assumptions. Profound constraints
are imposed by the lack of space in zoos, their limited financial resources,
and the requirement that viable gene pools of each species be preserved. Few
zoos, for instance, ever keep more than two individuals of large mammal
species. The need to preserve scores or hundreds of a particular species
would be beyond the resources of even the largest zoos, and even the whole
world zoo community would be hard-pressed to preserve even a few dozen
species in this manner.

Contrast this with the efficiency of large habitat preserves, which can
maintain viable populations of whole complexes of species with minimal human
intervention. Large preserves maintain every species in the ecosystem in a
predominantly self-sufficient manner, while keeping the creatures in the
natural habitat unmolested. If the financial resources (both government and
charitable), and the biological expertise currently consumed by zoos, were
redirected to habitat preservation and management, we would have far fewer
worries about habitat restoration or preserving species whose habitat is gone.

Choosing zoos as a means for species preservation, in addition to being
expensive and of dubious effectiveness, has serious ethical problems. Keeping
animals in zoos harms them, by denying them freedom of movement and
association, which is important to social animals, and frustrates many of
their natural behavioral patterns, leaving them at least bored, and at worst
seriously neurotic. While humans may feel there is some justifying benefit
to their captivity (that the species is being preserved, and may someday
be reintroduced into the wild), this is no compensating benefit to the
individual animals. Attempts to preserve species by means of captivity have
been described as sacrificing the individual gorilla to the abstract Gorilla
(i.e., to the abstract conception of the gorilla).

Question 70:
Don't animals live longer in zoos than they would in the wild?

In some cases, this is true. But it is irrelevant. Suppose a zoo decides
to exhibit human beings. They snatch a peasant from a less-developed country
and put her on display. Due to the regular feedings and health care that the
zoo provides, the peasant will live longer in captivity. Is this practice

A tradeoff of quantity of life versus quality of life is not always decided
in favor of quantity.

Question 71:
How will people see wild animals and learn about them without zoos?

To gain true and complete knowledge of wild animals, one must observe
them in their natural habitats. The conditions under which animals are
kept in zoos typically distorts their behavior significantly.
There are several practical alternatives to zoos for educational
purposes. There are many nature documentaries shown regularly on
television as well as available on video cassettes. Specials on public
television networks, as well as several cable channels, such as The
Discovery Channel, provide accurate information on animals in their
natural habitats. Magazines such as National Geographic provide
superb illustrated articles, as well. And, of course, public libraries
are a gold-mine of information.

Zoos often mistreat animals, keeping them in small pens or cages.
This is unfair and cruel. The natural instincts and behavior of these
animals are suppressed by force. How can anyone observe wild animals
under such circumstances and believe that one has been educated?

All good things are wild, and free.
Henry David Thoreau (essayist and poet)
see also
question 69-70

Question 72: What is wrong with circuses and rodeos?

To treat animals as objects for our amusement is to treat them without
the respect they deserve. When we degrade the most intelligent fellow
mammals in this way, we act as our ancestors acted in former centuries.
They knew nothing about the animals' intelligence, sensitivities,
emotions, and social needs; they saw only brute beasts. To continue such
ancient traditions, even if no cruelty were involved, means that we insist
on remaining ignorant and insensitive.

But the cruelty does exist and is inherent in these spectacles. In
rodeos, there is no show unless the animal is frightened or in pain. In
circuses, animals suffer most before and after the show. They endure
punishment during training and are subjected to physical and emotional
hardships during transportation. They are forced to travel tens of
thousands of miles each year, often in extreme heat or cold, with tigers
living in cramped cages and elephants chained in filthy railroad cars. To
the entrepreneurs, animals are merely stock in trade, to be replaced when
they are used up.

David Cowles-Hamar writes about circuses as follows in his "The Manual
of Animal Rights":
Not surprisingly, a considerable amount of "persuasion" is required
to achieve these performances, and to this end, circuses employ
various techniques. These include deprivation of food, deprivation
of company, intimidation, muzzling, drugs, punishment and reward
systems, shackling, whips, electronic goads, sticks, and the noise
of guns...Circus animals suffer similar mental and physical problems
to zoo animals, displaying stereotypical behavior...Physical symptoms
include shackle sores, herpes, liver failure, kidney disease, and
sometimes death...Many of the animals become both physically and
mentally ill.

The American rodeo consists of roping, bucking, and steer wrestling
events. While the public witnesses only the 8 seconds or so that the
animals perform, there are hundreds of hours of unsupervised practice
sessions. Also, the stress of constant travel, often in improperly
ventilated vehicles, and poor enforcement of proper unloading, feeding,
and watering of animals during travel contribute to a life of misery for
these animals.

As half a rider's score is based on the performance of the bucking horse
or bull, riders encourage a wild ride by tugging on a bucking strap that
is squeezed tightly around the animal's loins. Electric prods and raking
spurs are also used to stimulate wild behavior. Injuries range from
bruises and broken bones to paralysis, severed tracheas, and death. Spinal
cords of calves can be severed when forced to an abrupt stop while
traveling at 30 mph. The practice of slamming these animals to the ground
during these events has caused the rupture of internal organs, leading to a
slow, agonizing death.

Dr. C. G. Haber, a veterinarian with thirty years experience as a meat
inspector for the USDA, says: "The rodeo folks send their animals to the
packing houses where...I have seen cattle so extensively bruised that the
only areas in which the skin was attached was the head, neck, legs, and
belly. I have seen animals with six to eight ribs broken from the spine
and at times puncturing the lungs. I have seen as much as two and three
gallons of free blood accumulated under the detached skin."

Question 73:
But isn't it true that animals are well cared for and wouldn't perform if they weren't happy?

Refer to questions #72 and #74 to see that entertainment animals are
generally not well cared for. For centuries people have known that punishment can induce animals to perform. The criminal justice system is based on the human rationality in connecting the act of a crime or wrongdoing with a punishment. Many religions are also based, among other aspects, on a fear of punishment. Fear leads most of us to act correctly, on the whole.

The same is true for other animals. Many years of unnecessary and
repetitive psychology experiments with Skinner boxes (among other gadgets)
have demonstrated that animals will learn to do things, or act in certain
ways (that is, be conditioned) to avoid electric shocks or other punishment.
Animals do need to have their basic food requirements met, otherwise they
sicken and die, but they don't need to be "happy" to perform certain acts;
fear or desire for a reward (such as food) will make them do it.
see also
question 14, 51, 72, 74

Question 74: What about horse or greyhound racing?

Racing is an example of human abuse of animals merely for entertainment
and pleasure, regardless of the needs or condition of the animals. The
pleasure derives primarily from gambling on the outcome of the race. While
some punters express an interest in the animal side of the equation, most
people interested in racing are not interested in the animals but in betting;
attendance at race meetings has fallen dramatically as off-course betting
options became available.

While some of the top dogs and horses may be kept in good conditions, for
the majority of animals, this is not the case. While minimum living standards
have to be met, other factors are introduced to gain the best performances
(or in some cases to fix a race by ensuring a loss): drugs, electrical
stimuli, whips, etc. While many of these practices are outlawed (including
dog blooding), there are regular reports of various illegal techniques being
used. Logic would suggest that where the volume of money being moved around is as large as it is in racing, there are huge temptations to massage the

For horses, especially, the track itself poses dangers; falls and fractures
are common in both flat and jump races. Often, lame horses are doped to
allow them to continue to race, with the risk of serious injury.
And at the end of it all, if the animal is not a success, or does not
perform as brilliantly as hoped, it is disposed of. Horses are lucky in that
they occasionally go to a home where they are well treated and respected, but
the knackery is a common option (a knackery is a purveyor of products derived from worn-out and old livestock). (Recently, a new practice has come to light: owners of race horses sometimes murder horses that do not reach their "potential", or which are past their "prime", and then file fraudulent
insurance claims.) The likely homes for a greyhound are few and far between.

Race horses are prone to a disease called exercise-induced pulmonary
hemorrhage (EIPH). It is characterized by the presence of blood in the lungs
and windpipe of the horse following intense exercise. An Australian study
found 42 percent of 1,180 horses to be suffering from EIPH.
A large percentage of race horses suffer from lameness. Fractures of the
knee are common, as are ligament sprain, joint sprain, and shin soreness.
Steeple chasing is designed to make the horses fall which sometimes results
in the death of the horse either though a broken neck or an "incurable"
injury for which the horse is killed by a veterinarian.
David Cowles-Hamar
see also
question 72-73

HerbWeb logo

l i n k s

BLTC Research
Animal Liberation
The Vegan Society
Hunt Saboteurs Association
League against Cruel Sports
Vegetarians International Voice for Animals