Animal Rights Over the Past Essay

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Animals in captivity, for example, have often been genetically, behaviorally or anatomically manipulated in order to enhance acclimation to the new environment. Similarly, animals have been neutered, declawed or defanged to be more compatible with their human keepers. Those who are in support of captivity of animals need to revisit such earlier condoned behavior and ensure that animals receive necessary care, nutrition and exercise and live in proper caging areas. Further, depending on the specific animal, there may also be behavioral or psychological concerns in captivity. For instance, captive animals, particularly those that are not domesticated, may develop repetitive and what appears to be random motor behaviors called "stereotypical behaviors," due to their abnormal environment (Bostock 88). Those who maintain animals in captivity, especially zoos and similar institutions and research laboratories, need to attempt to prevent, decrease or eliminate such behavior by introducing novel stimuli, known as environmental enrichment.

Zoos receive even more criticism than wildlife parks, and many people believe that they should be shut down. This is not a new idea. Even 200 years ago in Versailles, a group of Jacobian sympathizers marched down the street with the goal of liberating the royal menagerie (Bostock). The sentiments of these animal liberators were very similar to those continuing to demonstrate today at many zoos and animal entertainment events. According to the American philosopher Jamieson (Bostock 109), there are three reasons for defending these traditional animal institutions: 1) We can deny that animals are comparable enough to humans to make the moral comparison appropriate; 2) We can explain that the animals we are keeping captive are actually in a state of well being, perhaps better off than they would be in the wild and 3) We can spell out the advantages to humans that follow from keeping animals: notably assistance towards conservation, science and education, plus recreation or entertainment.

Bostock agrees that certain relatively wild animals can be kept in zoos in a state of well being. However, it is important to note that many of today's zookeepers continue to fall short of their responsibility, by both Bostock's and other animal caretakers' criteria. For a variety of reasons, this does not mean that all zoos should be shut down, First, there are a growing number of zoos that set high standards in their level of care and conservation achievements. Second, the latest ethological research is providing greater insights into how to keep wild animals satisfactorily captive. Third, the zoos will be playing an ever-increasing role in safeguarding many large vertebrate species in response to a growing human population worldwide. Fourth, zoos increase empathy and appreciation for other living beings.

As Bostock admits, not all zoos and other animal centers of information for entertainment place the well being of animals first. The Canadian Federation of Humane Societies (CFHS), for instance, states that it only "supports only those zoos or wildlife enclosures which adhere to the principle that the needs and welfare of the animals are of primary importance, must take precedence over consideration for human visitors, and should not be compromised by economic factors." Any zoological sites with barren enclosures or those with a shortage of materials for stimulation, a lack of educational materials, and animals demonstrating repetitive behaviors such as pacing, indicate that they are not meeting animal welfare standards. There are more than one hundred zoos and wildlife collections and about two dozen major zoos across Canada. Some of these provide high-quality care for their animals and place a priority on animal welfare. These zoos make important contributions towards education and conservation, reports the CFHS. Unfortunately, many others do not adequately provide for the animals in their care, do little to promote animal welfare, and do even less to further education or conservation. It is such zoos that need to be recognized and updated. Those who support animal captivity feel just as strong about maintaining high standards; in most cases, their concern for the overall well being of animals is not any less than those who call for animal rights.

If it were at all possible, there are many who would call for a total separation of animals and humans. They would want the human species to have no contact with any other animals, not even domestic ones, much less those that are wild. Kiley-Washington (195) has called this approach the "animal apartheid." It cannot be denied that the process of slaughtering an animal -- as well any other injurious activities such as confinement, mutilation, transport and teethering -- is an experience that billions of unfortunate animals face every year. Such maltreatment should not be condoned under any circumstances. Yet, there are also thousands of animals every year that are saved and thousands more protected through supportive captivity and conservation programs.

One last benefit needs to be noted when discussing animals. It was not long ago that human ancestors came down from the trees and began to walk the earth. It has only been about 10,000 years since they first grew crops and lived in cities. During this short period of time, humans have become increasingly alienated from the natural world. Despite the many pleasures of the Western lifestyle, there is often a sense of alienation or a feeling of meaningless and not being part of the world. There still remains much in humans that is connected to nature, which continues to be removed farther and farther from their daily lives. When people see animals in captivity, if they are unable to see them in their natural environment, they are given a link to their past and a foundation of who they are.


Bostock, Stephen. Zoos and Animal Rights. New York: Routledge, 1993

Canadian Federation of Humane Societies. (n.d.). Animals in the Wild. 17 April, 2010,

Claggett, Hilary. Wildlife Conservation. Bronx, NY: Reference Shelf, 1997.

Eakins, Paul. Captivity vs. extinction: Is wildlife served by zoos. North County Times. 1 July, 2007. 15 April, 2010

Frey, R.G. Interests and Rights. The Case Against Animals. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980.

Kenny, A.J.P. Will, Freedom and Power. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1975.

Kiley-Washington, Marthe. Animals in Circuses and Zoos -- Chiron's World?," Basildon, UK: Little Eco Farms Publishing, 1990

MacIntyre, Aladair. Dependent Rational Animals: Why Human Beings Need the Virtue. Chicago: Open Court, 1999.

Martin, Howard D., Wilson, Sandra C., and Carpenter, James W. Animal Welfare and Wildlife in Captivity; A perspective on veterinary ethics and responsibilities. Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine 23.3 (1992): 273-275

Rose, Margaret and Adams, David. "Evidence for Pain and Suffering in Other Animals." Gill Langley, ed., Animal Experimentation:…[continue]

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