Are Zoos Good or Bad for Animals?
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Are Zoos Good or Bad for Animals?

October 7, 2019

– What more wholesome than
taking a trip to the zoo? You get to be up close and
personal with some amazing animals that you pretty much
never get to see in the wild. Sure you could fire up the
newest Deep Look episode. They just celebrated
their hundredth episode. Congratulations to them. I see you Deep Look fans. Thank you for checking us out. But now imagine seeing cool
critters and other exotic animals in person! Clearly, zoos are a win for people. But when it comes to the animals. I’ll never forget when I asked my grandpa to take me to the zoo, and he said, “Why would I want to see
animals locked up in cages?” And, I thought to myself, “Dang.” “He might have just ruined my childhood.” (laugh) Na, but seriously in the
long run, zoos might cause more harm than good. So today we’re asking, “Should zoos exist?” Humans have been capturing
and displaying exotic animals for thousands of years. The earliest known collections
date back to 3500 BCE in Egypt where rulers kept
hippos, elephants, baboons and different species of large cats. Now, back then that didn’t
mean that your average Egyptian could just go check out that awesomeness. These early zoos were just
a way for kings to flex on other kings. Like, “Hey I see you got
those two lions over there, but check out this big hippo.” Like that’s probably
how it exactly happened. Modern zoos, where the public
can come and watch animals exhibiting their natural
behavior didn’t really become a thing until the 1800’s. The longest continuously
operating zoo in the world is the Vienna Zoo which
has been going strong for more than 260 years. Now that is impressive. Today in the United States
alone, over 180 million people visit zoos and aquariums every year. I mean it makes sense to me. Where else can you see
polar bears and giraffes in the same place where
your eating cotton candy or a churro? Literally no where. There aren’t churro stands in nature. They just don’t exist. Cause it’s like I’m always
eating churros in public spaces. So..(laughs), like zoos, theme
parks, it doesn’t matter. Find me fried dough and I’m in there. Zoos may be great entertainment
but their big goal is to educate the public
about wild life and what we can do to protect them. Zoo animals are sorta
like the ambassadors for the counterparts in the wild. As the president of the
animal welfare organization American Humane said, “People won’t protect
what they don’t love, and they can’t love what they don’t know.” Which is a boss quote. That’s a, that’s a really good quote. And there’s some research to back that up. According to a study of 26 zoos published in Conservation Biology,
zoo visitors increased their knowledge of different kinds
of animals found throughout the world and learned specific
actions to help protect those animals. Zoos also contribute
to scientific research. Zoo is short for zoological park. And, zoology is the scientific
study of animal biology and behavior. And, that’s what zoos do. Over the last 20 years, zoos
and aquariums have produced over 5000 papers covering
everything from disease transmission between animals
and humans, to the best ways to protect endangered species. In fact, zoos work really
hard to save animals that are threatened in the wild. It’s probably no surprise
to you that modern lives are putting a lot of pressure on habitats all over the world. Poaching, climate change, pollution. As all that stuff continues
to ramp up, more and more species run the risk
of becoming endangered or even extinct. Zoos can take at-risk animals,
breed them in captivity, and then introduce them into the wild. This will save them from
extinction by helping to restore their population. Take the California condor. In 1982 there were only 22
of them living in the wild. Because of breeding programs
at zoos in San Diego and in Los Angeles,
there are now around 300 California condors flying free. We also have zoos to thank
for still having bison, the black footed ferret,
the golden lion tamarin, and the red wolf. Still, zoos have their problems. To begin with, not all
zoos are created equal. Some are clean and well staffed. Others aren’t. There are some in the
richest cities in the world, and there are some in conflict zones. What this means is that not
all zoos have the resources to properly care for their animals. And for many critics, no
amount of education or research justifies keeping animals captive. That captivity can be
really bad for both physical and psychological health. If you have ever visited a zoo, you may have noticed the way some animals, especially large cats,
tend to pace back and forth inside their cages. According to scientists,
this behavior represents an attempt to cope with
boredom, and small enclosures. One study found that
chimpanzees in captivity were significantly more
likely to show signs of compromised mental health. Things like hair plucking,
self-biting, and self-hitting. And researchers have known for
years that elephants suffer serious health problems
and die much younger than they would in the wild. Mostly due to a lack of
exercise and high stress levels. And while zoos were crucial in
saving the California condor, success with other animal
species is a big question mark. For example, most large
carnivores like lions and tigers that are bred in captivity die
when released into the wild. Turns out that they haven’t
developed the natural behaviors they need when out on
their own and have to fend for themselves. So at the end of the day,
when it comes to zoos, I’m kinda like, “eehhh!”. But it’s not about my opinion. It’s about y’alls opinions. So get down in those
comments and let us know what you think. And if you stuck around this
long, I’m going to assume that you like animals. So you should check out our other episode on whether endangered
species are worth saving from extinction. And for all you teachers
out there, get your students talking about this video
on our website, KQED Learn. So next time guys, I’m Myles Bess. Peace out.

Only registered users can comment.

  1. That background music was so good. I started jamming along with the bass and forgot to listen to what miles was saying there for a second.

  2. I don't consider "zoos also do good things" as a strong argument. You could map that over to slavery easily and realize how weak it is.

    The real question here is: do these positive aspects (making the public care, having breeding and conservation plans, etc.) that zoos bring to the table necessitate the profit-focused captivity (what I define as "zoo") of the animal. It's very clear that zoos are a human-centered entity with the care for the animals being of secondary concern, thus making it bad for the animals (since it's not FOR the animals) in my view.

    There's a whole other discussion on whether or not a sanctuary is just a glorified zoo or not but, in essence at least, the point is to take care of the animals first with ideas like opening it up for public view being of secondary concern. Sanctuaries also tend to specialize and focus on animals in need while I often wondered how many of the animals I saw in zoos were actually rescued or there for the sake of the animal itself vs. being marketable.

    Overall, I have yet to see any actual strong arguments (when asking from the animal's perspective) in favor of zoo's specifically. Most arguments that I have seen that have any strength usually regard captivity in general and ignore the necessity question.

    I hear high welfare (marketing) slavery is very popular these days.

  3. not a American, but why do they keep more tigers and other animals as private collections rather than putting them back in the wild?

  4. Keep up the good work guys. I don't really swing one way or the other with zoos. Although I might put foward an argument that the digital age has made Zoo's educational value redundant. You can now get closer to animals online and watch them in their natural habitat pursuing more natural behaviors. Outside experiences that allow to you feed and touch the animals, Zoos only really offer the experience of being able to see animals "in real life." This definitely matters to some people, but for me the ability to observe these animals in my own home through programs like Deep Look has taken away any desire to spend an entire day at a Zoo looking at bored animals.

  5. I think the answer is simply they are bad for animals, not simply, humans editing the natural environments are much worst….

  6. imo
    Good vid on a subject that has me conflicted.
    I used to love zoos but over the past however many years, that has been changing. 
    Add industrial farming, mining, and other purely profit-oriented categories to poaching, climate change, and pollution.

  7. The only zoos that are ethical are the ones that take sufficient care of all their animal's needs. That includes the need for space and natural interactions. I think the zoos that manage to satisfy those needs are ethical, and important.

    It's important to be nuanced in this and not say "all captivity is bad" or "zoos are always good". Humans learning to love animals and wildlife is a good thing, and captivity is bad insofar as it harms the animals. So ideally, you'd have massive zoos where the animals are genuinely happy and well-kept.

  8. I think that Zoos are good for educating people but when it comes to save indangered animals in order to send them back to the wilderness zoos are not the best solution

  9. 0:11 Zoos are archaic, outdated, and obsolete. In this high-tech digital age, they are no longer necessary. Why go to a zoo to see an animal locked up in a cage from a distance when you can get up close and personal with all kinds of animals, including ones that could never work in a zoo in large widescreen HD 3D 360° HDRI VR?
    0:19 – The "in person" thing is meaningless and extremely overrated. How is seeing animals sleeping more interesting than watching a documentary?
    0:30 – Not only do they often end up sick, dead, or infertile, but it's offensive to treat them like criminals because they're 'neat'. 🤦
    2:19 – Documentaries showing animals being themselves increase people's knowledge, awareness, and interest in animals much more than seeing an animal lying around bored and lifeless.
    2:39 – There are plenty of ethnobiologists and researchers who manage to do their work without locking up all the animals. ¬_¬
    3:00 – That's pretty much the only argument for zoos: we're making them extinct, so we need to keep a few boxed up in case we need to make more some day. 🤦 Maybe we should stop making them extinct instead. ¬_¬
    5:05 – I bet you'd feel differently if it were you in a cage. ¬_¬

    It's time to retire zoos permanently.

  10. The question shouldn't be whether or not they can or have created valuable research, it is whether the zoos actually made it possoble. How many of those thousands of research papers could not have been done using techniques of observation in the wild?

  11. Stick the mentally insane in cages so we can raise awareness about them… it's unnecessary and tragic that businesses think they need to torment animals to get other people to care about them. I hope in the future we can abolish this nonsense.

  12. Was actually just thinking about this a few days ago, loved the balance perspective you provided in the video but in my opinion humans shouldn't keep animals in captivity unless it's for the protection of the animals themselves.

  13. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being against poor treatment of animals or thinking animals don’t have enough space to be happy, as I’ve had similar feelings, and I still do about certain types of animals in captivity (mainly large, or predatory animals), but I think many people only view Zoo’s from one standpoint, as “poorly ran animal prisons in cities where people pointlessly go to peer at abused animals they could otherwise view in the wild or digitally.”

    There are many other reason Zoo’s exist, and most Zoo’s (at least in the US) are rather highly regulated to ensure protection and care for the animals.

    There are animals who are going extinct due to invasive species in their area (local or otherwise) or that are being over-hunted by an predators in the area; Zoo’s and refugees protect and research these animals to better reintegrate them into safer, less predatory, but similar biomes. My local zoo recently returned to health some wild wolves and reintegrated them into the wild.

    Zoo’s take in animals that would otherwise be killed, held in far worse conditions, or cannot be reintroduced into the wild – even from foreign countries around the world where captivity conditions are horrid in comparison.

    Zoo’s sometimes care for animals that have been rescued from the wild or private captivity after being injured or nearly killed – animal refugees do this too. Zoos and university “private/public collections” also operate as small batch mammalian/animal research studies for biological anthropologists, who have learned a lot more about mammals and animals than they would ever have viewing from the wild or not at all. I’ve visited and researched these as well, and they are usually highly regulated for safety and care of animals. We even learn about our own mammalian tendencies/plausibilities through this type of research.

    Many discount physical viewing as “outdated” or “needless”, but many studies show that children and adolescents can derive more emotional connection and educational interest in their natural world by viewing and engaging with animals in person, animals they would never otherwise have a chance to view in person, and gain perspective to how humans impact the world around us. As well as conceptualizing that there are more species outside our own cities, states, and, countries (Example: we can watch hundreds of videos about whales, but most people still can’t conceptualize the size/scale/habits of whales without seeing in person, if ever. Or if you’ve ever swam with fish or dolphins, it’s a much different connection and appreciation for them than one could ever gain by watching them on a screen.

    Many speak as if all Zoo’s are horrid places that abuse animals, and it’s quite the contrary, especially in the digital age where regulation is much easier to enforce (at least in the US). I thought negatively about Zoos for a long time when I was a young person, until my Father took me to meet a Zoologist, who took me behind the scenes, showed how they care for the animals, why they have some of more exotic animals, what kind of research they derive from the animals, and why they cant just be released or “left alone”. You can also contact your local Zoos and ask for contact information of zoologists, and ask them the questions you have, or if you simply want to hear viewpoints that are opposed to yours. You’ll find that many zoologists have a rather deep love for animals.

    The profits made from Zoo tourism and sales are usually put back into the zoo, whether it be area expansion for their animals (my local zoo just recently finished doing this for some of the land mammals/ and had to send the animals to another Zoo one by one to ensure they weren’t overly traumatized by the move); they spend it on hiring more staff, and higher quality staff to care for the animals. Idk about you, but all the zoologists I know aren’t living lavish lifestyles off the backs of the animals, it’s often the other way around in my experience.

    So before you go claiming all zoos are evil and should be torn down, maybe consider an opposing viewpoint, contact real zoologists to provide opposing views that challenge your ideologies, and realize that removing Zoo’s will actually do a lot of harm as well, even if that not the intention. My opinion, maybe call for all Zoo’s to be ran with the animals care and comfort as first priority, quality staff as second priority, public education and research as third, and entertainment and tourism as simply a method of funding the first 3 priorities. That’s a Zoo worth having imo.

  14. I will always love well run zoos because when you get behind the scenes of them, you can see how much effort they put on helping the animals inside and outside the zoo

  15. 2:28 Interesting. Tell me more about that study made by a certain group that supports the right of existence of that certain group 🤨

  16. Sanctuaries are the way to go. They’re the most humane form of captivity. Animals shouldn’t be put on display for us like they are in zoos.

  17. Pro-zoo if well equipt and staffed. Of course, there are abusive zoos (as I've seen in China and Southeast Asia) but these need to be reformed. If we go all virtual world by documentaries and virtual reality, the world will rid the wild as unproductive, the same thought people had of the wilderness prior to the introduction of public zoos. As for large animals, they need larger enclosures not merely cages as well as for carnivores, unfortunate as it may seem to the soft-hearted, live prey. Nature is not kumbaya. Despite what you may think humans are far more cooperative than 95% of the animals and as far as carnivores go even within prides or packs there are definite cruelty and hierarchy. We keep looking for a non-existant Garden of Eden. But just like Rousseau's "Noble Savage" or "Bon Sauvage," these ideas are pure mythology that led to the Romantic Era and need to be discarded.

  18. It depends on the conditions, of course, when they have wide-open areas it's better, at the Oakland Zoo I saw the chimps fighting & beating up the baby for some weird reason maybe because they were stressed of being in such a small area for that many chimps, everyone gathered & screamed in fear for them…

  19. My love for animals and the environment was not from going to the zoo. Instead, learning from PBS and amazing well put documentaries. I believe you can learn how to love things from afar and still champion their habitats without visiting them or disrupting their life.

  20. there's also the less public side of zoos- while a lot of animals are displayed to the public, another decent portion aren't, and are used in breeding programs. and whether to keep an animal in captivity or not isn't really a blanket thing- super intelligent animals like orcas and elephants, which have complex social structures and arguably their own culture- should probably never be kept in captivity, while birds, reptiles, and less complex mammals can probably survive and even thrive in captivity with no repercussions. it should come down to how able the zoo is to provide adequate enrichment and stimulation for the species in question. unfortunately there's not much in the way of standards for that, partially because there's still so much we don't know about how much enrichment, activity, and mental stimulation animals need, but zoos have made massive leaps and strides in filling the information gaps in that respect.
    there's also the not-so-captive efforts that zoos tend to fundraise for and host. zoos either fund or tend to be a base of operations and providers of resources and information for groups monitoring animals in the wild, and when groups find an animal of an endangered species that needs immediate care or rehabilitation, zoos are about the only facilities that have the equipment and trained personnel required to provide it. as much as seaworld's come under fire recently, where else are you going to take a poisoned pod of dolphins? and good luck taking an injured panther to the vet… animal rehabillitators absolutely do what they can, but when someone walnut managed to import a baby hippo and now the thing weighs over a ton, there's not much else you can do with it aside from either euthanization or giving it to a zoo to take care of.
    if we care about whether endangered species have intrinsic value and need to be conserved (which is a whole debate on its own!!) then zoos are absolutely a keystone piece of that. for many species, there simply is no hope of recovery in the wild, and captive breeding programs, problematic as they are, are their only hope. and while conservation efforts are by and large a relatively new idea for humans, we are constantly improving our methods. with each failure, as heartbreaking as it is, we do learn how to better help the species survive in captivity and in the wild.

  21. They are bad in ALL circumstances. The issue is that people are too pussy and think murder is wrong. Murder the people killing and endangering these animals, and let the animals back in to their native environments.

  22. Due to the human population, resource needs and infrastructure the wild is not so wild anymore.
    Nature conservationists and zoos are vital to help raise awareness and protect the last natural biomes.

  23. Hi, long time viewer from Hong Kong, I know this isn't really what you usually talk about but I would like to have your two cents on the situation here.

  24. In my opinion there are good and bad zoos the good ones will take good care of there animals and what he said and there are bad zoos me personally I want to open my on zoo

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