What Value Do Zoos Serve?


What Value Do Zoos Serve?


Animal rights is the ideology that implies entitlement to some, or all animals to have possession of their own lives and get consideration to afford their basic interests such as to avoid suffering.  In the case of wild animals, we therefore do not have any reason to control, breed or confine animals even for educational purposes. Animals in confinement undergo many unnatural extremities that result in stress, boredom, and even early death.  Furthermore, Zoos provide minimal standards for the living of the animals. The cages are small; there is no shelter from adverse weather condition, reduced lighting and ventilation, and even food, water and healthcare provided is inadequate. The poor state of life cannot compare to the life in the wild.  Surplus animals get traded to other zoos, killed for meat, and even euthanasia and contraception are used to control the population. The inhumane behavior conflicts with the animal rights ethics.  In cases where animals escape from the zoos, the life of humans gets endangered, and the animals are also taken down in inhumane methods. Eventually the zoos fail at the responsibility they were created for and bring out a picture of an exploitative act against wild animals.




A zoo is an enclosed facility housing and breeding animal display facility that is open to the public for viewing purposes. Wildlife has been collected for showcasing for a few millennium dating back to 2500b.c.e. in Egypt when the rulers had menageries for campaigns and private display of animals was taken as a symbol of wealth and power. In the current world, approximately 400 professionally managed zoos exist.  In the United States, the population that visits the professional zoos is also more than a million people per year.  They are popular among the people. However, there has been an ongoing criticism of the ethical concerns that are raised by capturing and caging the animals. The proponents of the zoos argue that zoos are beneficial for education purposes, protecting and procreating almost extinct species, conservation of wildlife and care for the injured and sick animals. However, there are many detrimental effects that the zoos have towards the animal rights and the environment. The paper will discuss how confinement in the zoos strips them off of their right to exist and breed naturally, arguably, to satisfy the human educational curiosity, research, profit and entertainment needs. Zoos are notorious for their poor living conditions, ill-treatment, false conservation and poor animal disposal methods; these problems would not have existed if the animal still lived in their wild habitat.


Argument against zoos

  1. Violation of the animal rights for our benefits

A discussion by philosophers Basu, Zandi and CetzalIx states that “ Animals with rights should get treated as ends in themselves; others should not treat them as mean to achieve their ends” (145).Therefore, following the doctrine of animal rights will mean putting an end to experiments on animals, breeding animals for the sake of food, medicine, and clothes, using them for hard labor, bringing an end to selective breeding, hunting and creation of zoo for entertainment purposes(Kymlicka 295).

Taking animals and placing them in a zoo, deprives them of their right to exist naturally. The zoo owners have taken to enhancing the zoo environment to imitate the natural habitat. However, it still does not provide all the requisite ingredients of the exact habitat. The natural habitats for animals consist of families, social groups and an environment where they could perform natural behaviors including food gathering by predation and grazing. Removing an animal from one habitat to another has proven hazardous in some cases due to change in climatical conditions resulting in poor adaptation to the new environment.South Lakes Safari Zoo in Cumbria witnessed the death of 500 animals in less than four years (Fasel 2).  Humans moreover have no right to induce breeding in animals. Artificial insemination and other forms of breeding aimed at propagating the species affect the natural law of survival. The scientific research claimed to benefit animals, is inconclusive, since the zoos have neither the means nor the resources to carry out the research.

The proponents of zoos are ardent in the debate that zoos are beneficial for education and conservation purposes.  There is a thin line between exploitation and education.  The 20th century witnessed captivity of dolphins and Orca to enlighten the people of the threat they were facing in the wild (Palmer 16). It was however demonstrated that the rescued dolphins were exploited for antics and entertainment for humans. Animals in zoos are stripped off their natural habitat and behaviors for the benefit of humankind education. Based on the animal rights law, they are using animals as means to make their ends and therefore it is outlawed (Garner 361).  The scientific research that is acclaimed by the proponents of zoos is not justifiable as it is aimed at benefiting humans, rather than advancing the needs and rights of animals

  1. Poor conditions in zoos

The zoo facilities include small confinements in the form of cages where the animals are bound.  Despite trying to exhibit a natural habitat design, the living conditions are poor. There is inadequate lighting; inadequate aeration and the outdoor facilities expose the animals to harsh weather conditions such as too much exposure to scorching sunlight. The cages are also dirty  isolated and have barren concrete which is uncomfortable for the animals. Food and clean water are essential for the animals. Some zoos are unable to provide these regularly due to the inadequate resources.

Roadside zoos commonly separate the mothers from their babies, to prevent distraction when the zoo goers engage in public photo shooting, as these activities are a boon to the facilities’ income generation. Pollution by human visitors is also another cause for the poor conditions. Zoos allow for vending within their premises giving leeway for pollution with waste plastics. In the case of aggression from dangerous animals, the zookeepers respond with hostility and harsh restraints.

The results of the poor conditions for the animals are detrimental to their survival. The animals, due to confinement, become stressed, self-abusive and develop stereotypical behaviors. The fear of the humans makes the animals weary evidenced by the pacing of big cats within their cages (Braverman 23).

  1. Disposition of surplus animals

The result of continued breeding is overpopulation within the zoo. The surplus includes the adults who have already bred and no longer needed to derive offspring, the beast that is not suitable for breeding, and the old ones that are no longer profitable (Allen et al. 230).

One way of disposing of the animals is by selling them. The animals are bought by other zoos through online databases. It gives animals a monetary value and they get sold off like general commodities. Other clients who buy the animals are research laboratories, collectors, hunters, and roadside show menageries (Maynard 12). The conditions therefore expose the animals to the ill treatment they had sought o prevent. Other animals are old and slaughtered for game meat. Culling is a form of mercy killing used for surplus animals in many zoos.  A BBC statistic shows that between 3000 and 5000 healthy animals in Europe get killed each year. The methods used in executing the animals are cruel and unnatural (Armstrong and Richard 12). While some animals are shot down, others are killed and displayed for anatomical research. USA zoos prefer the use of euthanasia to help with the birth control for these animals which affects the animal’s natural birth processes.  There has not been a better way that has been defined to control the surplus population in zoos so far. It would have been better if they were released into the wild thereby restoring  their natural lives. In selling, transfer, and killing, the integration bonds that got created within the animal population especially for pack animals get destroyed.

  1. Escaping animals from zoo

A record from last year shows there has been a number of escapes by animals.The Virginia zoo let loose a red panda, an orangutan left the Chester Zoo, A gorilla escaped the London Zoo, and a lion freed himself from the Leipzig zoo. Animals that escape from zoos are a danger to the people around. Big cats and big animals like elephants, buffaloes, rhinos, and wolves will cause a catastrophe in the towns in the vicinity of the zoo.  Muskingum zoo in Ohio USA faced a release of animals by the owner who wentinsane in 2011 (Ou 231). 56 animals got released including big cats, wolves, and bears.  These animals caused mayhem within the town. Eventually, 48 animals were shot dead while the rest were tranquilized and sent to other zoos.

  1. False idea of conservation

Conservation is one among the main reasons for creation of zoos.  However, many of the zoos do not have a clear cut plan of their conservation procedures. With the proponents of zoos claiming that the zoos will prevent the animals from extinction, after the creation of offspring’s from the almost extinct animals, they do not re-introduce them into the wild.  Although the idea of re-introduction has been proven to work for various cases, most zoos still don’t practice it (Cheung et al. 1134).  Moreover, stocking of animals in zoos will reduce the wild population and impact negatively on the native population in the habitat. The ecosystem is made to be out of balance. Breeding using animals within the zoo and incorporating some from the wild is damaging to nature conservation. The central ideology of environmentalism is usually to preserve something in its natural habitat (Ruckert 439).  Taking them out of the habitat for conservation purposes will, therefore, be an action against conservation efforts.

  1. Public entertainment over public education

Zoos are created to educate the public on animal’s conservation, welfare, and rights. Information plaques, recorded talks or guides are used to relay this information to the visitors. However, most of the visitors disregard it or absorb very little information (Basu et al. 156).  Animals in a confined cage and surrounded by humans are likely to act unnatural. They are also stressed and display psychotic behavior.  They are therefore not a behavioral representative of their species. Other methods could be used to learn about the animal behavior. There are numerous shows on TV such as wildlife programs that show animals in their natural habitat. They are the proper display of the native behaviors of animals. Therefore, the case on zoos is more of entertainment rather than education.

  1. Proponent’s arguments

They claim that there is so much knowledge that passes to people through the zoos that help people to understand the wildlife.  Research on behaviors of animal is possible only within a confined environment.  Restoration of endangered species can be carried out by induced breeding which takes place within a zoo (Reiser 54). Further, they claim to create a positive and almost natural environment for the animals while feeding them on a proper diet. Animals in zoos are kept safe from the harsh climatic and environmental conditions that lead to their depletion. Since the environment has been polluted and destroyed by the human population, the only fit place for the animals in the zoos.



The opposition against zoos outweighs the proposition out-rightly but we are the superior beings, and we want an excuse to have control over the animals. Zoos are created with the intention of educating people of the nature of animals and their conservation but they eventually pass the message that animals exist for humans purposes. Capturing an animal and using it for personal gain is insensitive and a violation of animal rights. Protecting of habits and animals within their own habitats is the best way to go about the conservation. Education could be done through means that feature animals in their wild homes.  Each animal has its own life, just as much as every human has. It is consequently fit to allow them to have a right to live their own way.




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Armstrong, Susan J., and Richard G. Botzler, eds. The animal ethics reader. Taylor & Francis, 2016.

Basu, S. K., P. Zandi, and W. CetzalIx. “Poor management of mini avian zoos, illegal avian parks and unregistered aviaries impacting bird life in developing and under developed nations.” (2015).

Braverman, Irus. Wild life: The institution of nature. Stanford University Press, 2015.

Cheung, Shuk-ting, Hau-ying Chan, and Hon-wai Wong. “Caring for others: an analysis of animal welfare and animal rights organizations in Hong Kong.” HKU Theses Online (HKUTO) (2017).

Fasel, Raffael, et al. “Fundamental Rights for Primates: Policy Paper by Sentience Politics.” (2016).

Garner, Robert, ed. Animal rights: The changing debate. Springer, 2016.

Kymlicka, Will. “Afterword: Realigning Multiculturalism and Animal Rights.” Animals, Race, and Multiculturalism. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham, 2017. 295-304.

Maynard, Lily. “Media Framing of Zoos and Aquaria: From Conservation to Animal Rights.” Environmental Communication (2017): 1-14.

Ou, Kaiyun. “The phylogeography of environmental ethics: regional landscape planning for China’s decommissioning zoos.” HKU Theses Online (HKUTO) (2017).

Palmer, Clare, ed. Animal rights. Routledge, 2017.

Reiser, Dirk. “Will the Ark Sink? Captive Wildlife, Tourism and the Human Relationship to Nature: Demystifying Zoos.” Wildlife Tourism, Environmental Learning and Ethical Encounters. Springer, Cham, 2017. 263-272.

Ruckert, Jolina H. “Justice For All? Children’s Moral Reasoning about the Welfare and Rights of Endangered Species.” Anthrozoös 29.2 (2016): 205-217.


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