Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved to go to the zoo. The animals are cute and funny, and I learn new things with every visit. I’m also struck by nostalgia every time I go there. I remember the gorilla Samson and how I thought he was the best. And my complete love affair with Chandar, the zoo’s white tiger that died while I was a kid. I think I still have a little Chandar figurine and button! I had dreams about playing with that tiger in his enclosure! Ahh, the memories!
Jerry took the day off today and we went to the Milwaukee County Zoo with my sister. We had a great time, despite the absolutely insane heat. We went prepared and with a game plan to beat the heat, including frequent stops in air conditioned buildings and lots of water. Because of this visit, I’ve had some time recently to ponder some of the politics of zoos and animal-keeping in general.
I’ve read plenty of opinions positing that animals are living beings that deserve respect and autonomy and that caging and exhibiting these creatures we are degrading them or somehow denying them the glory of living their lives in their natural environment. And while I understand that view, there’s another side to it that needs to be considered. Keeping animals in captivity is something that’s been very important to our society in general. Perhaps the most important human-animal relationship is the one we have with dogs. Some scientist have noted the importance of dogs in human society in many ways. We may not have been able to realize the dream of farming if it weren’t for the use of a dog to help herd animals.
There are so many other ways in which captive animals are important. To use the example of a zoo, think of the great amount of public education that zoos accomplish. If we humans (especially us city-dwellers) weren’t exposed to these animals through school and family trips to the zoo as children, the vast majority of those animals would remain complete enigmas – and be absolutely terrifying if we ever managed to encounter one in a natural setting. But thanks to the education that is provided through zoos, we have a bit of an understanding of animals and an encounter in a natural setting, while still possibly shocking and frightening, would be much more easily handled.
Zoos and other places that keep animals captive can study animals for the advancement of science. And while I do my best to buy personal care products that aren’t tested on animals, I understand that there are plenty of medicines and treatments that save lives daily that wouldn’t be possible without the sacrifice of some very precious animal lives. There is so much conflict in my mind about this type of animal research and testing, but I guess the best we can do, practically, is to treat these animals with as much respect as possible and try to minimize their suffering as much as possible. Much along the same lines, at zoos we must ensure the humane and ethical treatment of animals, as much for their own good as to teach our youth about compassion for the helpless and powerless.
During our trip I took a few pictures. Not very many, mind you, but when I found a good photo opportunity, I took it. So here they are.