Zoos are establishments where wild animals and, in some cases, domesticated animals are exhibited in captivity. In these places animals can be given more intensive care than is possible in nature reserves or sanctuaries. Most zoos exhibit general collections of animals, but some formed more recently specialize in particular groups such as primates, big cats, tropical birds, or waterfowl. Marine invertebrates, fishes, and marine mammals often are kept in aquariums. There are many positvie as well as negative aspects to zoos. In many cases zoos are positive due to the preservation and care they show for animals who have been injured or left for dead in the wild. Zoo keepers look to nurse animals back to health while giving the animals adequate space, food, and community (their own species) where they are able to live when recooperating. Although zoos are created to sustain life non-human life all around the world, it has been argued that zoos are unethical due to their encaging of animals and committing certain animals to lives of captivity, whereas, they should be in the wild, in their natural environment. When discussing and comparing zoos it is important to look at the positive and negative effects of zoos on animals, but also the view of the animal that is incorporated into these establishments, their views are the most important to recognize.


It is critical to understand the difference between caring for an animal then releasing it, and caring for an animal then keeping it when discussing the success of zoos. These animals are not pets; they are not placed on this earth for show and tell. Although at one time this is what they were meant for, in regards to teaching humanity about species that they would have never seen. Unless there were zoos to bring these exotic animals closer to home, individuals at one time had no means of witnessing the exotic animals from all over the globe. There has come a time where this is not necessary. Technological advancements have now made it possible for a variety of media features to educate individuals on nearly every animal on the planet, "The menagerie-style zoo, like Toronto and Calgary, emerged in the 19th century in Paris and London and Berlin. This concept emerged at a time when there was no international travel, there was no internet, there was limited access to books for most people, there was no television, there was no Discovery Channel," says Rob Laidlaw, executive director of Zoocheck Canada, a national wild animal protection charity (The Debate over Zoos). With these options available it is unnecessary to offer displays of these animals to individuals in order for them to gain more knowledge of other creatures that inhabit our planet. When an animal dies a premature death in a zoo it causes individuals to question the zoos usefulness due to the fact that these animals are in captivity in order to escape death. There are many instances with which the animal has fully healed but remained in the zoo. Are the individuals in charge of these zoos not fully responsible in ensuring that these creatures be reintegrated into there natural habitats? Similar questions have lead individuals to believe that zoos are now continued through merely for human gain (anthropocentric). Besides human gain, it is necessary to focus on the impact that zoos have on the animals inhabiting these areas, negative and positvie.


Deontology ethics are generally regarded as duty ethics, in the sense that human beings have a duty or a "moral" obligation to animals. Deontology is sometimes mixed up with Utilitarianism is generally regarded, an ethic directed towards human beings, however, it can also be directed towards animals. According to Fellenz, “we are more important than animals, but over cruelty toward them is wrong” (60). In this sense it is okay to do what we wish with animals as long as we do unecessary harm to these animals. Although these animals may not be equivanlent to human beings, we are morally obligated to ensure that they be treated with respect and not be harmed in any way.

Many individuals have gone to zoos with the notion of two things:
1. The areas in which the animals are confined are not the animal’s natural habitat, although they may attempt to produce a similar habitat, but it is not the wild.
2. They either attempt to be entertained by the animals or learn from these animals.

What many people, (including children who make up the majority of zoo visitors) do not take into account is that these animals are being held against there will, but in a life of captivity? They may not be held in small cramped cages, but these areas are cages none the less. Although a human being may have an extremely luxurious home, they would never want to be confined to that space and that space alone. Is there any distinction between an animal and a wild animal? And if so, should there be? Even certain mammals such as dogs or cats are argued to be taken out of there naturally environment and forced into lives of captivity. The point being, many of these animals are taken out of their natural habitats and placed into confinement with other unfortunate creatures that have succumbed to the same fate, “…the intuition that we should not be cruel to animals implies they are not mere things that may be used in any way we wish, and the intuition of human priority implies that animals are not equivalent to persons” (Fellenz 128). Fellenz is describing human intuition in acknowledging two things, one, animals are not to be viewed as ends in themselves, they are not simply on this planet for human beings to do with as we please. The other point being presented is that it is human intuition to view these creatures as inferior or non-equivalent to human beings, and in some areas this is completely correct. We would not save a baby dolphin over a baby child ever. However, we need to realize that these animals do not deserve to be in captivity because they are not equal to human beings. Instead, they need to be respected and treated reasonably because they are sentient beings that are able to fear and suffer; therefore, in any case that this is a possibility, man-kind should stray away from these occurrences as much as possible. It is understandable that these animals may have been injured or been displaced from their family, but it does not mean that they will be unable to fend for themselves in the wild. Animals have been on the planet even before humans have. So why when human beings inhabit the planet, is it necessary to cage these once “wild” creatures?

Positive Impacts of Zoos

Zoos have saved countless animals from death, saved many species from extinction, and provided care for these animals when they were wounded or handicapped. Zoos have helped give animals many animals that would have without a doubt died in the wild without the help of conservationists. These individuals are in the business of taking care of animals and ensuring that they receive ideal medical treatment and intensive care in order to be saved from death because of wounds of illness. As many animal populations decrease in size due to a number of different circumstances, (hunting, global warming, ect.) many conservatists look to displace these animals from their natural habitats in order to not only save their lives, but ensure the continuance of their species. If given the chance would individuals not displace the certain animals such as the Tasmanian wolf, Turanian Tiger, or the Dodo bird to be bred in captivity in order to ensure their survival if given knowledge of their future extinction? I would think so. Although it may not be the “natural habitat” of the encaged animal, they are given a similar environment, diet, and over community with other animals that they would have lived in if in their natural state. Furthermore, it can be guaranteed that these animals do not fear for their lives, due to their guaranteed survival in these areas. Animal’s feelings can never be understood, but in many cases it would seem to be a luxury for these animals to be sheltered, fed, and looked after without the fear of death. Individuals may see zoos as anthropocentric but in many cases individuals are only ensuring the safety of the animals that are placed in these zoos so that they do not succumb to past animals in the wild that have died without zoos to bring them back to health. Although these establishments are not animals natural habitat, they are a habitat that ensures safety, survival, and comfort. Three essential aspects of survival.

Personal Conclusion:
Although zoos may help save the lives of countless animals, they only do the job half way. In many cases the animals that are saved never see the habitat with which they left ever again. It is unnecessary and unethical to keep animals that are not created to be placed in captivity caged for long periods of time. Research has shown that animals are able to lose the will to live and have done so in the past when living in zoos. Unless a population is near extinction it is generally unethical to enslave a sentient creature. It is our moral obligation to look through an animals point of view and understand that they were created to be placed in the wild. The process of nature has ensured the survival of animals throughout time, even before the existence of human beings. It has been proven that they are able to survive in the wild on their own, and so we should let this process continue. We have the technological resource to monitor an animals success in the wild after its re-admission, and supplied the technology to learn of animals all around the globe through computers and books. It is unnecessary to see an animal through a glass windrow that is enslaved, when you could see that same exact animal free in Africa through a similar glass window, in a tv, or computer. Animals we created to be free.

Works Cited:
"CBC News - World - The Debate over Zoos." CBC.ca - Canadian News Sports Entertainment Kids Docs Radio TV. Web. 08 May 2010. <http://www.cbc.ca/world/story/2008/05/20/f-zoo-debate.html#ixzz0nBtQqmHQ>.
Marc Fellenz. The Moral Menagerie: Philosophy and Animal Rights. (University of Illinois Press, 2007).

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