The argument as to whether or not a zoo is a beneficial environment for an animal is long-held, yet often avoided at all costs. I mean, it’s the frickin’ zoo for Noah’s sake— a labyrinth of cuteness that kids visit as a veritable rite-of-passage; a place synonymous with joy and wonder and inter-species appreciation.
In some cases, with certain international zoos, the question of whether to close them is easily answered—“yes, yes we should”. Tirana in Albania, Mumbai in India, and even The Gaza strip are home to nightmarish facilities, where the conditions are deplorable and the mistreatment of animals is rife.
The question grows unwieldy when turning to zoos in the ilk of Sydney’s Taronga, as such facilities strive to conserve and grow endangered species, educates and excites young minds, conducts significant research in order to expand biological knowledge bases, and offers up various programs that reintroduce rehabilitated animals into the wild.
Yet, as this question enters an ethical minefield that includes the very nature of the zoo itself, even the world’s most sensitive and well-maintained institutions are open to scrutiny.
Marius the Giraffe meets a grisly end
Perhaps the most heavily documented recent example of questionable behavior by zookeepers: Marius, a two-year-old giraffe, was euthanised despite the fact he was in perfect health, purely due to his inability to breed.
The powers that be from Copenhagen Zoo shunned requests to adopt the young giraffe and ignored petitions, going on to dissect the animal publicly then feed its remains to other animals.
The whole debacle was heavily criticised by not only animal rights activists, but academics and scientists—as the concept of ‘culling’ was put under the microscope.
Hellish zoos defy all sense and reason by continuing to operate
Often in developing nations zoos function with a single purpose in mind, to the neglect of all else: to make money from tourists. One such facility, Surabaya Zoo in Indonesia, continues to operate despite it’s nickname ‘the zoo of death’.
Animals are forced to endure cramped cages littered with rubbish and waste, are fed intermittently tarnished or rotten food, and the death toll continues to rise despite outrage from everyone from international watch-groups to tourists who have experienced the nightmare first hand.
The more one learns about Surabaya, the details only grow more and more grisly. Nothing more needs to be said, as these zoos shouldn’t exist.
Tragedy of Tbilisi Zoo, Georgia
In 2015, Tbilisi Zoo fell to flooding, just as it had in 1972. Thanks to overflow from the Vere River, water tore through the facility and wreaked nine kinds of havoc.
19 people perished in the disaster, and four days after the flood, another man was killed by an escaped Tiger.
Over 300 animals—over half of Tbilisi Zoo’s entire population, didn’t make it through the two-day tragedy. Some were unavoidable, but others were controversially shot with a bullet rather than a tranquiliser.
This was explained away as due to limited access to drugs at the time; an explanation that the Georgian people called afoul. Locals ran a petition to rename the park Shumba Zoo, after a White Lion cub that was shot and killed.
SeaWorld drives an Orca Whale insane
Or at least, that’s what the hit documentary Blackfish revealed to outraged audiences worldwide.
Tilikum spent each night confined in a tank that restricted his movement—to the point where he couldn’t even circle its perimeter. Experts asserted that this is one of the reasons why the majestic mammal was a nervous wreck, and why in 2013 he dragged his trainer —the late Dawn Brancheau—underwater, to her tragic death.
Exactly why SeaWorld continued to keep and show Tilikum, despite further revelations that he had caused additional deaths in the 90s, is anyone’s guess, but the various trainers’ genuine fondness for the animal was undeniable, and I use the past tense as Tilikum passed away three days ago, surrounded by grieving SeaWorld staff.
While at the time, SeaWorld made a vague intention to phase out its Orca shows and curb further breeding, it wasn’t until last week that they made the official announcement.
For a more rounded perspective; one that explores the pros as well as the cons, tune into Should We Close Our Zoos? tonight on SBS at 8:30pm.