On Saturday, Harambe the Gorilla was shot dead at Cincinnati Zoo, Ohio, after a child fell into his enclosure, as the director believed the young boy was in a “life-threatening situation”. See the full story here. Similar situations to this seem to be occurring more and more frequently, which poses the question…how safe actually are zoos?
Just last week at a zoo in Chile, two lions were shot dead after a man stripped naked and jumped into their enclosure, in an apparent suicide attempt. He was then mauled to death by the lions, but the critical point here being that they are just that…lions! What else would we expect from one of the most dangerous predators on earth? After having been taken away from their natural habitat, or having lived all their lives in captivity, they are following their natural instincts, should this be a reason to kill them? And if everyone knows how dangerous they are, why are they even kept in captivity in the first place?
A documentary that really targeted a zoo’s role in modern day society was recently on the BBC as part of the Horizon series called ‘Should we close our zoos?’ This looked at the tragedy of Marius the giraffe, who was killed at Copenhagen Zoo and fed to the other animals while members of the public watched. Culling animals in zoos is standard practice to keep numbers down, but it was only when this was in the public eye that it sparked such an outrage.
The documentary goes on to question if we can ever provide animals in captivity with everything they would have in the wild. It’s clear to see that some zoos do not have the best interests of the animals at heart from the conditions they are kept in. But there are also some zoos that have programmes where they are actively improving numbers of animals that are endangered. In a world where there is a very real threat to so many different species, can zoos that are implementing such programmes be seen to have more of a purpose? If so, why is there any need to keep animals in zoos who are not endangered?
Going back to the tragic loss of Harambe the gorilla, the ‘extreme danger’ that the child was supposed to be in was only due to the sheer size and weight of the animal, not his temperament or personality – so through no fault of his own, he was seen as a threat to the child. The child came out of the incident with no life-threatening injuries and is currently making a full recovery in hospital.
Unfortunately, it is only a matter of time before we hear of the next incident where an animal has been killed in a zoo in an attempt to ‘control’ a situation. Also considering the marine life at parks such as SeaWorld (if you haven’t already, you need to watch Blackfish) and other animals in countless zoos around the world, I think we need to step back and ask… how many more tragedies before we understand that animals are not designed to be kept in captivity?