Animal attractions such as zoological parks have long been a favorite amongst tourist. However there is a great deal of debate concerning the ethical responsibilities of placing animals on display. The purpose of this discussion is to investigate the ethic and pros and cons wildlife attractions. More specifically the research will address four main arguments as it pertains to wildlife attraction ethics. The arguments include scientific research, conservation, educating the public and entertainment. We will also discuss the deaths of animals at wildlife attractions. Let us begin by discussing the history of wildlife attractions.
History of Wildlife Attractions
According to Flippen (2004) the collection of animals has long been a form of colonial commerce. The ability of merchants to sell large animals was dependent upon factors such as the popularity of circus animals and the abilities of professional collectors who supplied them. The article explains that initially zoos had their own expeditions during which they would capture the animals. The author explains that
" Reports of these safari-like expeditions made great copy for the media, not only serving as advertisements for the zoo but also as exciting stories of navigating through foreign cultures and exotic peoples. The expeditions expanded the meaning of the zoo for its audience, spawning an appreciation of the diversity of both nature and culture (Flippen 2004). "
Initially displays were created to invoke a certain response amongst the American middle class (Flippen 2004). Even when wildlife attractions began to contain exhibits with moats instead of jail kike bars, there was very little consideration given to the recreation of the animals' natural habitat. It wasn't until environmental awareness became such a huge concern that animal attractions began to recreate natural habitats at zoos and other wildlife attractions (Flippen 2004).
Ethics of Wildlife Attractions: Pros and Cons
With the advent and subsequent popularity of wildlife attractions there has been a great deal of criticism concerning the ethics of wildlife attractions. According to the Animal Ethics Clarifier there are four main arguments that support wildlife attractions. These arguments include the following scientific research, public education, nature conservation, and public entertainment. Now let us investigate the contrary points-of-view of each of these arguments.
Those that believe that wildlife attractions are necessary assert that observation of the animals leads to greater scientific knowledge. According to Mason (2000) the research that can be conducted at wildlife attractions include 'taxonomy, basic observation, reproductive-physiological, veterinary, genetic, behavioral and productional and scientific research in zoos is under one of the following headings: to add to biological knowledge; to assist in the care and breeding of animals in zoos; to assist management and conservation and to assist in the solution of human medical problems. In relation to the scientific role of zoos, Broad (1996) saw a wider aim and indicated that they have the capability of explaining the value of ecosystems and the importance of biodiversity to all sections of society (Mason, 2000)."
Many advocates believe that habitats can be successfully recreated at wildlife attractions and that when this occurs the research of the animals is even more accurate. According to Bostock (1993) "A main way of keeping animals in zoos is in a semi-naturalistic enclosure, which may suggest the wild habitat to some degree or in some respects, but will not simulate it very closely: hence 'semi-naturalistic'. The more naturalistic it is, the better. But in any case it should provide whatever features the animals need to allow and stimulate a large portion of their natural behavior, certainly including whatever means of locomotion -- climbing, burrowing, swimming, and so on -- they would normally use in the wild (Bostock (1993)."
On the contrary those that are opposed to wildlife attractions assert that many attractions do not have the funding or the desire to conduct research and very few attractions actually conduct research that will be beneficial the animals and the facilities (Animal Ethics Clarifier). Opponents further argue that 'A few of the large prestigious zoo may do research, but it is not necessarily always significant or worthwhile. Zoo animals are unreliable subjects for behavioral research because their living conditions are artificial and many zoo animals are mentally deranged (see Welfare - Mental Health, below). So results can be misleading or useless (Animal Ethics Clarifier)."
So then it seems that those that advocate the use of wildlife attractions believe that there existence is necessary for scientific research. They view wildlife attractions as a way to observe animals and find out more about animals that may not be studied otherwise. However, those that are against wildlife attractions assert that research is usually inaccurate because the animals are not in their natural habitats and the conditions that they live in may be stressful to the animals and cause them to behave in ways that they would not if they were in their natural habitats.
Some argue that wildlife attractions are absolutely necessary for the purpose of conservation. They assert that wildlife attractions inform the public about rare and endangered species and that such awareness makes people more likely to support conservation efforts. It is asserted that the wildlife attractions play a significant role in keeping species from extinction (Animal Ethics Clarifier). It is also asserted that breeding programs provided by the attractions allows scientist to reintroduce species back into the wild (Animal Ethics Clarifier).
On the contrary those that oppose the use of animal attractions assert that most zoos do not have the resources to effectively impact conservation (Animal Ethics Clarifier). Only larger zoos have succeeded in providing any real conservation. In addition, most of the animals in wildlife attractions are not on the endangered species list (Animal Ethics Clarifier). Instead those that oppose wildlife attractions assert that the real "purpose of many large zoo animals, eg African lion, elephant and giraffe, is to pull in money-paying visitors. Zoos breed cute baby animals for the same reason and then have a surplus of animals to get rid of. Of course some species are charismatic crowd-pullers and endangered, like the panda, chimpanzee and snow leopard (Animal Ethics Clarifier)."
In addition, it has been argued that removing rare or endangered species into the wild negatively impacts the wild population (Animal Ethics Clarifier). Although many zoos breed other zoo animals, there are still some zoos that remove animals from the wild (Animal Ethics Clarifier). In addition, there is still a black market for the trade of wild animals and some of these animals end up at wildlife attractions (Animal Ethics Clarifier). As far as reintroducing animals into the wild is concerned 'Only a meager handful of species in zoos are successfully reintroduced to the wild. Notable successes are the golden lion tamarin to the rain forest in Brazil, the Arabian oryx to desert of Arabia, Przewalski horse (tarpan) to the Mongolian steppes and the field cricket to Britain. But these exceptions, although important, do not justify the captivity of a million other animals at zoos (Animal Ethics Clarifier)."
Finally those that do not advocate wildlife attractions argue that the attractions that do have endangered species will not be able to return them to the wild because much of their habitat has been destroyed (Animal Ethics Clarifier). Bostock (1993) asserts that
"many ecosystems -- many natural habitats -- we cannot conserve complete and undamaged, or cannot be sure we can indefinitely. Almost all are threatened in the end by the human population explosion, from a billion people around 1850 to two billion around 1930, four billion around 1980, and the prospect of eight billion looming very near (Ehrlich 1971:2-3). Whatever threats to habitats are with us now -- demands for rainforest timber, or for agricultural land or building space -- or simple human greed for a quick and considerable profit from rhino horn, ivory, whatever -- will intensify as humans multiply (Bostock 1993)."
The opponents point out that the inability to return animals to the wild is particularly true for large animals such as elephants and Rhinos (Animal Ethics Clarifier). In addition even if there is habitat in the wild, zoo animals often have a difficult time surviving in the wild because they become dependent upon human beings for food and they have not developed the skills needed to avoid predators (Animal Ethics Clarifier). Those that oppose wildlife attractions assert that
"The priority for conservation must be to conserve animals in the wild along with their habitat. Yet few zoos support in situ conservation projects. If it comes to the worst and animals are down to the last few members of their species, then they might be taken into captivity only as a last resort and housed at specialist conservation centers without resorting to zoos (Animal Ethics Clarifier)."
Educating the public
It is believed by some that wildlife attractions are necessary for the education of the public concerning wildlife and their habitats (Animal Ethics Clarifier). The advocates assert that a wildlife attraction is one of the few places that the general public can learn about certain animals…