Are zoos really necessary?

Guess post by Syed Rizvi, Founder/President of Engineers and Scientists for Animal Rights

A recent editorial on the topic of zoos and conservation in Dawn of November 17 is an admirable step toward bringing the animal issue to the lime light, since without such publications the issue can never reach public eyes and be a subject of debate. However, a comment in the editorial that zoos play an important role in the conservation of endangered species is a misleading one. The truth is that the primary motives of zoos are cheap entertainment at the cost of animal exploitation.

Zoos often operate under the guise of conservation, and they notoriously participate in the breeding of exotic animals. Zoos know that nothing brings paying customers through their gates faster than newborn animals. But such breeding programs inevitably result in a surplus of less-crowd-pleasing adult animals. So zoos routinely trade, lend, sell, barter and warehouse adult animals they no longer want. Moreover, many of the species being bred aren’t even endangered or threatened. And the captive-bred species that do face extinction in the wild — including elephants, polar bears, gorillas, tigers, chimpanzees and pandas — will never be released back into their natural environments to bolster dwindling populations because they are denied learned survival skill and in some cases they pickup diseases in captivity that could threaten wild populations. Neither the practice of keeping animals in cages has a positive effect on species preservation.

Zoos do nothing to foster respect for animals in the wild. They are still hunted, poached, encroached upon, culled and captured for display.

Instead of providing lifetime care, zoos shuffle their surplus animals around like checkers on a board — even though many species, including elephants and primates, form deep and lasting bonds that are critical to the animals’ long-term health and happiness. Removing them from established social groups and forcing them to adjust repeatedly to new routines, different caretakers and unfamiliar cage-mates is disruptive and traumatic.

Breeding animals and keeping them in cramped cages causes untold suffering. Last year at the Lahore Zoo, Romeo, a male chimpanzee at the Lahore Zoo attacked his mate, Juliet, and their baby, Pinky. Pinky was born at the zoo while her parents were wild-caught. The zoo’s director admitted that Romeo may have been frightened by the crowd and that the chimp’s cage was “very small.”

A 2006 investigation into the Lahore Zoo found that 13 animals—including some endangered species–had died in one year. The zoo has no emergency treatment or X-ray facilities available. Director Yousaf Pal stated,

life and death are in the hands of the Almighty.

After a devastating earthquake hit Pakistan in December 2005, residents were allowed to free animals from their cages at the Jalalabad Zoo and move into the empty cages. The fate of those animals remains unknown.

Syed Rizvi can be contacted at

Resources to the zoo debate:

Zoos: Why a Revolution is Necessary to Justify Them
What’s wrong with zoos?
The reality of zoos
Are zoos a necessary evil?
The debate over zoos

6 thoughts on “Are zoos really necessary?

  1. In 1978-79 I presented a paper on ‘Eliminating Mass Misery’ to the then president, General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq. The emphasis of the program was on providing … what the learned President of Engineers and Scientists for Animal Rights Mr. Syed Rizvi would call … “cheap entertainment”. A lot of parks … Zoological and Botanical Gardens … Aquariums … Playgrounds … and so on, and so forth.

    Things which are “cheap” if not FREE to access and “entertain” the common man.

    The rationale being their proven and undeniable contribution in uplifting human spirit. In counter balancing the rigors of a mundane, daily struggle. In evoking awe and amazement. In broadening the horizon of the human mind. In raising awareness of the world and life around us … perhaps teachings us to respect it.

    A zoological garden or a zoo certainly does all that … and more.

    Talk is cheap. Nothing ever came out of the proposition.

    Men of science, such as Mr. Rizvi, substantiate their statements with facts.

    Facts such as;

    · The famous researcher, scientist, conservationist and animal rights advocate Dr. Jane Goodall was not very interested in animals until she was given a lifelike stuffed chimpanzee toy named ‘Jubilee’ by her father. (See: Bio- Valerie Jane Morris Goodall).

    · The other ‘Leakey’s Angel’, the late Dr. Dian Fossey was an obscure, unknown American occupational therapist from Kosair Children’s Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky working in Ruhengeri-Rwanda, until her photograph, taken by Bob Campbell, appeared on the cover of National Geographic Magazine in January 1970, Fossey became an international celebrity, bringing massive publicity to her cause of saving the mountain gorilla from extinction. (See: Bio- Dian Fossey).

    We are fascinated by animals. This fascination can drive us to fight and protect those animals. The animals, even their images can move us. This is neither a ‘new’ nor a ‘local’ phenomenon. Consider the following from Wikipedia, the open Encyclopedia;

    · Collections of wild animals existed already in the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt, and China. The most abundant evidence of the earliest zoos from Egypt derives from burial sites of about 2500 BC to 1400 BC. Throughout the entire period, written records — on tablets, papyri, and tomb walls — describe how pharaohs and other powerful citizens created zoos for their pleasure, prestige, and to satisfy scientific curiosity.

    · There are over 1,000 zoos in the world. Over 250 in the UK and 158 in tiny Japan. These zoos serve not only as ‘Entertainment’ but also as institutions of Education, Research and Conservation.

    · Classical zoological gardens played a role in research in comparative anatomy and physiology in the nineteenth century. Important scientists, such as Cuvier, Alfred Brehm and Paul Matschie, used zoos for their studies. As early as 1859 the Frankfurt Zoo published the journal Der Zoologische Garten (The Zoological Garden) as a public forum for scientific research and experience at zoos. Oskar Heinroth, the director of the aquarium at the Berlin Zoological Gardens during the early decades of the twentieth century, coined the word ethology and was the first to articulate its general mission: a scientific study of animal behavior that would operate through comparative methods, like the already well-established of comparative anatomy.

    Enough already ! I know, I know !

    Our basic Pakistani brain does not appreciate logic over-load.

    Just allow me to dispel one last myth about our cuddly companions and their happy, free life.

    Published in the Friday April 4th, 2008 issue of the Sacramento “BEE” an answer to a question posed to Dr. Jane Goodall during her visit to the Sacramento zoo.

    Q: In your years of studying chimpanzees, what surprised you the most?

    A: The fact that they were capable of violence and a kind of primitive war was an unpleasant surprise. They were more like us than I thought. I was very sad, and shocked, because in some cases there were chimpanzees killing others who they had previously been quite close associates with. It was brutal and shocking.

    Thousands die in car crashes each year. Damn the automobile. Right?

    So many things are wrong in that beloved, beautiful land of ours … deplorable is our treatment of the animals … despicable is our treatment of each other !

    Please don’t close the zoos my dear Doctor Rizvi, open the minds.

    Syed F. Akbar
    The Society of People Who Prefer Pyjamas Over Pants (In Bed).
    Sacramento, CA

  2. While some zoos are as this article describes, not all Zoos are that way. Zoos in the USA have gotten much better over the years.

    I use to think and still do that all animals should roam free. Unless we actually stop the killing, poaching, slaughter, capture, and other man-made problems for animals in the wild, zoos might be the only place you can see an animal in the future.

    These man-made problems still exist for animals in the wild because man is still greedy for money and power. Making any animal harm in the wild illegal doesn’t do any good unless you can prevent the corruption of officials and all those who are there to make sure the law is carried out. You also need to support the effort instead of passing the law and then expecting the public to donate all the money.

  3. AOA
    I think we should take care of animals as we do for ourselves. These are wild animals kept under lock and key just to make the people happy and enjoy. We can also observe their nature and learn a lot about His creations but its our duty to take care of them. The animals be provided enough food and water, adequate space to live and most important is the envoirnment alike nature’s. Zoos may be made exteremly comfortable and easy for them. Their medication and health be guaranteed. They may be provided room to expand population.

  4. Zoos are nasty any amount of trees and pretty paintings doesn’t make it home. I think a zoo is like a prison and animals get the same treatment every day(food, walk about, sleep) nothing exiting happens. But in the wild its not the same one day you might have a lucky escape from a lion or tiger and the next sleep all day. I think zoos are cruel and they should be banned in the UK. I was a kid ones too and loved the zoo but now I see what a silly place it is. People pay to see the sad faces of animals getting locked up for the pleasure of us but when you think about it they have been taken from their home and put some where they don’t know whre they are to be honest its so sad.

    1. and it is because they are captured and put into small cages when they are used to wide open spaces! so please leave the animals alone!

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