Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Why I Don't Support Zoos



The last time that I went to the zoo must have been about 6 years ago when my husband and I were feeling bored one weekend and decided to make a trip to Paradise Wildlife Park in Hertfordshire. I don't really remember much else from that day apart from how sad I felt watching a wild cat pacing backwards and forwards in the same spot within its small enclosure. As I looked at the cat in its eyes I could clearly see the despair and lifelessness within it. I could see that it was depressed and it made me feel really uncomfortable that we were there to play the role of spectator to its sad existence. After that day I never felt the need to visit the zoo again. 

That incident was long before I decided to become vegan but I think it came at a time in my life where I was starting to become more awakened to certain issues with regards to animal welfare and animals used for entertainment.


It was around this time that I took a trip to Cuba and one of the top attractions on my itinerary was to swim with dolphins. At the time I felt like it was a once in a lifetime opportunity and something to tick off my bucket list. At the forefront of my mind was getting that photo of myself with a dolphin. But in reality what I had expected to be an enjoyable experience ended up leaving me feeling desperately sad and guilty.

From the moment we arrived on site I questioned the living standards of the animals and as I sat and watched boat loads of tourists arriving one after another I knew inside that this wasn't right. We were led to watch a show where dolphins were performing but they didn't want to do the tricks requested of them and it was clear to see the anger on the faces of the trainers.


Swimming with the dolphins wasn't even enjoyable and I couldn't wait to get out of the water. Being so up close to them I could see certain wounds and marks on their skin which again had me questioning the treatment of the animals. We were encouraged to hold onto the dolphins fins and stand on them to be carried around the water which I immediately declined. I would never stand on any animal and wasn't going to change that now just for a photo opportunity.


For the remainder of that week on holiday all I could think about was what a sad excuse of a life those animals led completely trapped and at the mercy of humans who purely saw them as a commodity. I was only there for a brief time but that was their reality, day in day out.


Ever since that day I have refrained from funding and taking part in any activity where animals are used for entertainment. Since becoming vegan this is something that I am even more adamant about and I try where possible to encourage others away from these kind of activities.

Watching the documentaries Blackfish & Earthlings were life changing experiences for me which motivated me even further to lead a lifestyle which in no way contributes towards animal cruelty. Thankfully Blackfish succeeded in raising awareness about the controversy of captive orca's and as a result SeaWorld saw drops in their income and attendance, as well as announcing that they would end their breeding programme and begin to phase out the use of orcas in live shows.

It does seem that within the last few years views and opinions on animals in captivity are slowly changing and for many what was once an acceptable day out is now much more likely to be frowned upon. Although it's also probably fair to say that the majority of people don't see anything wrong with animals used for entertainment.

Being vegan isn't just about what I eat, it's about doing my utmost to ensure that I am in no way contributing towards the exploitation of animals whether it be through diet, fashion, cosmetics and any other lifestyle choices.


There's no denying that animal exploitation within the tourism industry is a real problem and something that is much harder to control as laws relating to animal welfare vary across the world. But what you can do is make a stand not to fund this industry. Hopefully the less money these people receive from tourists the more this form of entertainment will soon become extinct.


I remember when we were on our honeymoon travelling in South East Asia and I really wanted to pay a visit to an elephant sanctuary. After some research online I found one in Bali but once we had arrived and paid our entrance fee it soon become apparent that it wasn't so much of a sanctuary and instead more of a tourist attraction where the elephants were chained, made to perform tricks and offer rides to tourists. I felt so annoyed whilst we were there and it was like we had been tricked. I questioned the keepers about many different aspects of the elephants lives but no one could really give me any answers. Yes it was amazing to be up so close to elephants but it really wasn't the experience I was hoping for and it wasn't the kind of place I wanted to spend my money. You certainly live and learn and in may ways I like looking back on old photos like this as it's a reminder of how far I have come in my own understanding. 


This was also a lesson learned and ensures that in future I really do my research properly to make sure where I am visiting is somewhere for the good of the animals. Nowadays when abroad I tend to avoid any excursions or 'sanctuaries', but that's not to say that there aren't some legitimate ones out there.  

Closer to home and on UK soil you may have read in the news recently about South Lakes Safari Park in Cumbria where 486 animals died over the period of three years. It has been reported that these deaths were the result and combination of poor management, emaciation, hypothermia, trauma and infighting due to overcrowded enclosures. The photos from this news story are truly heartbreaking and this is a prime example of an attraction where the animals wellbeing and welfare was not prioritised over the revenue being made. Thankfully these cases do seem few and far between in the UK but sadly they are much more heard of in other countries.


You may remember a big news story from last year which involved the shooting of a 17 year old gorilla, Harambe, at Cincinnati Zoo after a child fell into his enclosure. This story sparked outrage among many who asked the question why there couldn't have been an alternative method of ensuring the safety of the child. This gorilla, who lived his life in captivity, ultimately died at the hands of his captors and all because of human error. He lost his life because the parents of the child were not paying attention and because of inadequate standards at the zoo. To me, at the time, this just didn't seem fair at all.

In Paris last week poachers broke into Thoiry Zoo and shot a rhino in the head three times before chainsawing off its horn. This is believed to have been the first case of its kind in Europe but it raises the question of what measurements zoos have in place to actually protect their animals from attacks. Despite the zoo having surveillance cameras and keepers living on site this was still able to happen. The zoo is more often than not viewed as a safe place for animals to live away from threats but it seems that this is changing and this could be the beginning of a new trend where zoo animals are seen as a much easier target than those in the wild.

I often hear people trying to defend Zoos by saying that the animals are happy there because they're safe, fed and looked after. To me this always just sounds like a way of someone trying to justify something to themselves because it's easier to think of Zoos in that way, especially if you are an animal lover. And I guess that's the ironic part of all of this, the vast majority of people who visit Zoos do so because they love animals and want to see them up close and in person.     

A trip to the zoo is enjoyable for children and adults and it's so often the chosen day out for school trips or Summer holiday activities. But I personally wouldn't want to teach my children that animals are there to be locked away for humans enjoyment. I think there are far more alternative educational activities available that don't require looking at animals behind bars. I also question how educational Zoos actually are when what's being presented to the public is by no way a true reflection of these animals usual behaviour or habitat. I think watching a wildlife documentary for instance would be far more informative and ethical in terms of learning more about the animals you're interested in.


Another argument I often hear in favour of Zoos is about the conservation work they do but in reality, and when we really look at the animals kept at Zoos, the vast majority are not those facing extinction. It's also worth noting that these animals are very rarely, if ever, released back into the wild.

Whatever the argument, there can be no denying that wild animals are best off in their natural environment. It doesn't matter how big and well equipped their enclosures are, it will never compare to a life in the wild.  An artificial environment will never replace the real thing for any animal and being kept against their will will never replace freedom.

These days if I want to see animals up close I will only ever spend my money at an animal sanctuary, my most local one being Hopefield in Brentwood, Essex. A visit there is one of my favourite days out and it's great to see the work that they do in providing a home to unwanted or mistreated animals. They're a non profit organisation so all of the money they receive goes towards looking after the animals and the upkeep of the sanctuary. It's clear to see when you visit a sanctuary like this that it's the animals who are really at the forefront of priorities.


I carried out a small poll on Twitter last week and asked if people would rather spend their money visiting a zoo or a sanctuary and quite astoundingly 96% of you said a sanctuary. This was far higher than I was expecting but then when I consider the following I have on Twitter, and my blog, it's more than likely to be a majority of compassionate animal lovers. Still, all probabilities aside, it filled me with some happiness and hope that people are more wiser nowadays about animal exploitation and what they choose to fund.  

There are a number of non profit animal sanctuaries in the UK and worldwide who welcome visitors and donations. Some also run volunteer events and family fun days which make great educational days out for children. I will always now view this as a more worthwhile and meaningful experience opposed to a day at the zoo. I would also much rather spend money at a charitable organisation opposed to somewhere that makes a profit from the captivity of animals.


What's your opinion on Zoos? 

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2 comments

  1. I agree with everything you've written. When I see friends posting photos on social media of family trips to zoos or safari parks it just makes me sad. The more I read on the subject the more heartbreaking it is. I will never visit a zoo or similar again.

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  2. I abhor zoos. I too remember seeing the lifeless look in a tigers eyes as it paced to & fro. What absolutely killed me were the elephants. These beautiful majestic creatures that walk for hundreds of miles in their natural habitat, confined to less than a mile of captive fences. Herded, restrained by the geographic layout. Absolutely, utterly, heartbreaking and wrong.

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