In April 2017, Responsible Travel became the first travel company to stop promoting any holidays that included a visit to a zoo. Their reasons are centered around the education value of zoos, how much is spent on conservation efforts and what percentage of zoned animals are endangered.
This is a very courageous decision from a very responsible company rightly named Responsible Travel.
Times are changing indeed and slowly more and more realize that the (possibly) 2-4% of zoos in the world who are trying to do good things (while not being able to be good substitute habitats and psychological environments for animals), do not justify the existence of the industry anymore. Even prominent zoo directors agree that there need to be radical changes. For instance, the director of the Detroit Zoological Society Executive Director Ron Kagan recently stated in a 2015 TED talk that “Unless an animal can thrive in our environment in our region whether it’s climate or space or social dynamics we shouldn’t do it” (‘it’ referring to holding these species in captivity)… We could not agree more. Note also that we now know that this applies to large mammals, as well as to a plethora of other animals of various sizes and shapes.
The reasons that Responsible Travel (RT) highlights supporting their decisions are:
Zoos have frequently argued that keeping animals in captivity is justified for the following reasons. Each of which we have examined.
1. Education. Zoos argue that by educating people about animals we help conserve them.
RT view: “We have two objections to this argument. Firstly, there are many ways to educate people about wildlife in the wild (some outstanding natural history programs and educational materials) that do not require them to be held in captivity.
Secondly, there is no evidence that seeing animals in Zoos does make people become active in conservation.”
2. Zoos fund conservation programs.
RT view: “Our view is that this is overstated as a justification. The World Association of Zoos and Aquariums encourage their members to commit just 3% of their expenditure to conservation”.
While a few Zoos fund some good conservation work it’s hard to understand how they can justify claims to be conservation organizations when such minimal funds are committed.
In our opinion, most are simply commercial organizations that display animals for profit and donate a tiny proportion of expenditure to conservation.
3. They breed endangered species – either to protect the gene pool or for reintroduction.
RT view: “90% of animals kept in Zoos are not endangered. There is no justification for keeping them in captivity to protect the species.
There are very few examples of successful reintroduction programs of endangered species from Zoos. In our view, there are better ways to go about these initiatives than through Zoos.”
“Our conclusion is that Zoos are not appropriate in 2017. They are relics of the past, and the arguments to justify keeping animals in captivity no longer stand up.
In our view rather than being self-proclaimed conservation institutions, these organizations just keep animals in captivity for our entertainment and this is not acceptable.”
Ourselves we agree: The truth is that there are many other proven and much better ways to educate, to save endangered species, to rescue injured animals and to help the preservation of the wildlife habitats (which happen to be far more cost-effective). There is also an ample literature and an ever growing amount of evidence in the Science and Veterinary communities that recognize the extreme difficulties and the ethical dilemma of maintaining species in captivity, as well as some of the wrongs of some of the claims. However, that body of work is not yet making it widely to the public and we have to help communicate the reality (See few of our references).
So when we see such strong moves this makes us very hopeful that our societies are moving in a better direction. Thanks again to Responsible Travel for making this big step and statement!
Zoo visitors overestimate zoos’ spend on conservation in the field tenfold.
If you feel strongly one way or the other, feel free to engage us and leave a courteous message below. Thanks!