But animal rights groups question whether zoos should exist at all
Having been given the green light by Taoiseach Micháel Martin at the end of last month, Dublin Zoo looks set to reopen its doors on April 26th, following months of closure due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Pet farms and other zoos, along with Fota Wildlife Park in Cork, are also set to open their doors to the public on the same day, an announcement which surely came as a relief to the Zoological Society of Ireland, the non-profit which runs both Dublin Zoo and Fota Park, and had resorted to fundraising in recent months in order to continue caring for their animals.
Not everyone will be happy with the decision, however. Animal rights activist groups such as Peta or Born Free have long denounced the controversial practice of keeping animals in captivity for exhibition and entertainment purposes, despite some suggestions that well-managed zoos can in fact improve an animal’s welfare.
“We at NARA are fundamentally opposed to zoos, and believe they should be phased out, and the money they receive be channeled into funding protected land in the animals’ natural habitat”Laura Broxon, National Animal Rights Association
It is a debate which has raged for decades. On the one hand, advocates for animal rights resolutely deny there can be any benefit to taking animals from their natural habitats and keeping them in so-called “animal prisons”. On the other hand, there is a growing body of research which points to zoos as drivers of conservation research and education.
There are compelling arguments for both sides. According to the National Animal Rights Association, for example, zoos “should be phased out, and they money they receive be channeled into funding protected land in the animals natural habitat”. According to the Annual Report from 2019, Dublin Zoo had an operating surplus of €786,000 and almost twice that in 2019, so it’s not hard to wonder whether that money could be put towards such projects.
That being said, according to the same report, 85% of the conservation budget for Dublin Zoo went towards supporting “field conservation projects”, while zoos and similar organisations which dedicate time and resources to conservation projects, such as breeding programmes, have been instrumental in reintroducing animals once extinct back into the wild.
After all, human activity is the main driver of habitat degradation and species extinction, and with climate change threatening already vulnerable species, any efforts to protect the natural world and its inhabitants should not be shunned without further consideration.
Revered nature documentarian Sir David Attenborough has expressed similar views. Speaking with Tyla Magazine, Attenborough acknowledges that, in certain circumstances at least, the keeping of animals in captivity can be warranted.
“If you’re talking about animals that have been reduced to less than 100, and the reason is because something has happened in their environment which has made it impossible to survive, you can either sit back and say ‘well, they can look after themselves,’ or you’ve got to do something active,” he explains.
“I justify zoos providing they are scientific, providing they are selective with what they keep and providing they keep them to the best possible standard”Sir David Attenborough
The problem is, of course, that while some zoos may be genuinely dedicated to conservation, others clearly are not and determining which is which is no easy feat. Unfortunately, as long as there is a profit to made from exploiting animals for human entertainment, there will be unscrupulous opportunists willing to do so.
For the moment, then, I think I will sit this day in the zoo out.