The forum was hosted by the Detroit Zoological Center for Zoo Animal Welfare in partnership with Michigan State University. The daylong discussion focused on issues like how to apply recent farm animal welfare research can be applied to zoo animals.
There were also discussions on how to get zoo visitors to think about animal welfare.
The DZS Director of Animal Welfare Cynthia Bennett told The Daily Tribune that zoos know how to feed and house animals but that they don’t know if animals are necessarily thriving just because they’re healthy and reproducing.
Forums and programs like this may seem like they’ve got the animals’ best interests in mind, but the truth is that because they are organized and funded by zoos and groups affiliated with zoos, their approach is always going to be what’s best for the zoo first and what’s best for the animals second or third at best.
Consider a hypothetical situation. What would happen if any the researchers involved with this forum were to find some kind of proof that zoos were inherently and irrevocably damaging to animals, some kind of proof that even they couldn’t ignore. What do you think they would do? Issue a recommendation that their respective zoos shut down? Or try to spin the information or obscure it?
Trying to make the lives of zoo animals better can only ever go so far because animals are not meant to be confined in cages for human amusement. Trying to make visitors aware of animal welfare is a fine line to walk for a zoo. At what point does a visitor become too aware of the animals’ welfare? At what point does a zoo visitor think about how much better off the animals would be if they weren’t locked in cages?
How many high profile news stories do we have to see about zoo animals dying en masse or animals killing their handlers before we realize that confining wild animals in cages for the sake of gawking at them might be bad for all parties involved?
An artificial environment will never meet all the needs of a wild animal. Being forced to stay in close proximity to a species that they’ve been genetically disposed to fear – humans – while residing in cages and enclosures that are fractions of the space they’re used to occupying.
Animals do not exist for our entertainment any more than they exist for our consumption. If you want to improve the lives of animals you should start by boycotting all industries that treat animals as property to be bred, relocated, tortured, confine, and killed when it is convenient for us.