WWF UK Blog  

Don’t fence me in


I’m conflicted. Confused. Uncertain. Really not sure what to think.

Zoos. I really like going to them. The animals in them are the reason I got interested in all this conservation lark in the first place, so I love going to see them, up close and personal. But are zoos a good thing, or not? There’s an official WWF view on captive breeding and the role of zoos, but here’s where I’m at personally…

I recently stayed overnight in the new safari-style lodges at Whipsnade Zoo in Bedfordshire. We got to hear and see the animals when all the other visitors had gone home, feed them breakfast, and get a better idea for how life is for them.

Some look pretty happy, especially the wolverines when they got fed some dead baby chicks (zoos in the UK aren’t allowed to feed animals live food). But others, like the stunning Amur tiger circling her cage over and over, looked pretty darn miserable.

I know inferring that animals can have human emotions (called anthropomorphism) is a mistake for almost all but the most intelligent animals, but I can’t help thinking they’d be much better off out there in the wild. As long as that wild was not under serious threat.

I’m not an animal welfare campaigner really, I eat meat and wear leather (shoes mainly!). But it worries me when I see what look to me like unhappy animals in zoos. Just look at the baby giraffe here.

giraffe photoBaby giraffe at Whipsnade Zoo © Neil Gunn

A truly beautiful animal, behind bars. Is keeping him in the zoo for people to come and see inspiring new conservationists and animal lovers, and helping preserve endangered species, or is it just entertainment for its own sake, and damaging to the animals?

For me the answer is in the Red List – a list of animals under threat across the world, which the IUCN publishes with input from lots of conservation researchers and organisations (including WWF).

The rate at which animal species are being lost is truly scary. It means we have to do all we can to protect and preserve the ones that are still around, and I think that zoos play an important part in that.

It’s hard to relate to an animal, and see the value in having it alive, until you can see one for yourself. David Attenborough and all the other great natural history documentary makers do a good job of showing us the wonders of nature in their TV shows, but for me nothing beats the real thing.

So my trip to the zoo has left me more inspired than ever to help these wonderful animals in the wild places they originally live – so that people in the future get to see them for real, and not just in films and documentaries.

For me, the trade-off is worth it. Get kids interested in real wild animals, by letting them really see them, really smell them and nearly touch them.

I just wish the animals in the cages in the zoos knew what a wonderful thing they were doing.

This post has been tagged:

Related posts