Since I’ve moved to Colorado Springs, more often than not people have expressed with great enthusiasm how I should visit the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. They go into detail about the giraffes and wild animals that they’ve seen and how much fun it is. There have been a couple of occasions where I’ve expressed my beliefs on the issue of animals in captivity but for the most part – and I’m ashamed to admit this as an animal rights advocate – I typically bite my tongue and try to gracefully transition into talking about a different attraction that doesn’t involve animal exploitation.
See, I was a zoo-attendee not too long ago. A short two years ago, around this time of year, my husband and I went to the Atlanta Zoo for a friend’s birthday. I was vegetarian at the time but was only aware of the cruelty involved with animals that are raised on factory farms to be sent to slaughter. When I was on that visit, I knew something wasn’t right. Although there were many things that seemed wrong, the giraffe exhibit prominently sticks out in my memory. It looked like a barren wasteland. In my heart, I was pretty depressed when I left the zoo, but it wasn’t until I read “The Bond” by Wayne Pacelle that I understood more about all types of animal exploitation. I also had the honor to hear Dr. Mel Richardson speak about zoos at a Georgia Animal Rights & Protection (GARP) meeting before he tragically passed away. Dr. Mel boiled it down to the fact that zoos are in the business of making money and anytime money is involved with animals, it’s never a good situation.
People have disagreed with me because they feel that zoos are educational and their kids should have the right to see these animals. I found this quote on PETA’s website that explains quite the contrary:
“Zoos claim to provide educational opportunities, but most visitors spend only a few minutes at each display, seeking entertainment rather than enlightenment. Over the course of five summers, a curator at the National Zoo followed more than 700 zoo visitors and found that ‘it didn’t matter what was on display … people [were] treating the exhibits like wallpaper.’ He determined that ‘officials should stop kidding themselves about the tremendous educational value of showing an animal behind a glass wall.'(9)
Most zoo enclosures are very small, and rather than promoting respect for or understanding of animals, signs often provide little more information than an animal’s species, diet, and natural range. Animals’ normal behavior is seldom discussed, much less observed, because their natural needs are rarely met. Birds’ wings may be clipped so that they cannot fly, aquatic animals often go without adequate water, and many animals who naturally live in large herds or family groups are kept alone or, at most, in pairs. Natural hunting and mating behaviors are virtually eliminated by regulated feeding and breeding regimens. Animals are closely confined, lack privacy, and have little opportunity for mental stimulation or physical exercise. These conditions often result in abnormal and self-destructive behavior, known as ‘zoochosis.’”
Recently, my grandmother sent me an article in the mail that talked about the psychological suffering of animals being held captive in zoos. Her note attached to the article said, “It was fascinating but sad. I am so proud of you doing all these wonderful things.” We even talked about it on the phone and she told me that she’ll never look at zoos in the same light again. I was moved that my grandmother had a change of heart about zoos.
After receiving my grandmother’s letter in the mail, I was reminded that advocacy isn’t necessarily shoving information down people’s throats with why I now believe it’s ethically and morally wrong to do certain things like visiting zoos. If anything, that’ll push people away. Although I feel bad when I don’t mention the cruelty of zoos to others, I have to be patient and “plant the seeds,” as Dr. Melanie Joy has said.
Take my grandmother for example. This article is not the first that she’s sent me since I’ve become vegan. Most every time we talk on the phone or write via email, she mentions something she read or saw on TV or witnessed with animal cruelty. She encourages my advocacy and even brags about me and my husband to her friends. She has become one of the most supportive people in my life and I’m forever grateful for that. If my grandmother’s eyes can be opened to animal exploitation, and in two short years I can now understand that my dollars toward establishments like zoos lend a hand in animal cruelty, I believe anyone can change.
Here are some things that you can do:
1. Find alternatives in the means of entertainment. Visit an animal sanctuary like Farm Sanctuary that takes care of the animals and provides a great home for them. Or go to places like the botanical gardens where the animals’ health and sanity aren’t in question.
2. Watch nature documentaries where you can observe animals in their natural habitats.
3. Do your research and read up on why zoos are prisons for animals.