The Great Zoo Debate

Meleah York, Staff Writer

I have mixed feelings about zoos. On one hand, I love going to them. I don’t go very often so it’s always nice to take a day where my inner child is free to roam and watch all of the animals. It’s a nostalgic feeling when I can trace back my zoo experiences to small meaningful things that I witness; the orangutan nursing her young, an elephant reaching its trunk over a wall to pat a rhino’s back, otters spinning together underwater; these are all things I associate with the zoo.

A couple of weeks ago, I went to the Fort Worth Zoo, and while at first I was excited to relive my childhood, I found myself brought down by the fact that these animals weren’t free. They were behind glass, fences, or walls with information cards nearby where you read about their natural habitats and diet. It didn’t feel real, not like animals running wild in Africa, letting natural selection take its course.

This isn’t to say that zoos are hells run by animal abusers. When you look at the bigger picture, zoos are actually a good thing. They help to protect animals when they are endangered from poachers or famine. They get all the food that they need and don’t have to go through famine. And, if they were born and bred in captivity, it’s what they’re used to, so they aren’t living a tortured life because it’s the only one they’ve ever known.

I think it’s mostly about connection. We’re animals, too, and we’ve built this whole world to where we can control most any other animals. It’s important that we connect with animals because it’s their world as well as ours, but that’s sometimes hard to do because of the barriers separating us from them. We see them as inferior to us since they’re held in captivity, no matter how comfortable it may be.

So how do we solve this problem of wanting to connect with things behind a barrier? Animal reserves such as Fossil Rim have animals roaming wild on large area of land, and you can drive your car through it and see them all. Sometimes they come up to your car, and if you’ve purchased a bag or food, you can feed giraffes through the moon roof and let their huge rough tongues tickle your hand, or pet smooth beige heads of deer.

While zoos will always be a hot topic of debate, you can find ways to have connecting experiences with animals in other places. However, make sure you continue to support zoos so they can continue to take care of the animals.