Are Zoos Educational?

Are Zoos Educational?

December 14, 2019 100 By Ronny Jaskolski


What’s not to love about the zoo
when you’re a kid? You get to see all kinds of animals
from polar bears to giraffes. You can stand eye-to-eye
with a chimpanzee, watch exotic birds
preen and perform. You can watch penguins waddle
on land and fly underwater, and see lions, tigers
and bears! As a parent, there’s a lot to love too.
Plenty of fun for the kids, and, more importantly, education. They can
learn about the natural habitat and behaviors of animals from all over the
world and the value of conservation. But are these really the
lessons that zoos are conveying? Or is there a stronger message
being imparted? Hi it’s Emily from Bite Size Vegan and
welcome to another vegan nugget. The ethics of zoos is a polarizing and
complicated topic, even amongst vegans. The arguments usually brought forth by
those in favor of zoos are fourfold: that they provide amusement, valuable education, vital research, and laudable conservation
and rehabilitation. I’m going to approach this issue
from several angles in separate videos. Today we’re going to focus on the
education zoos provide for our children. Many people have memories
of visiting the zoo as a child. Personally, my first conscious memory
of a zoo was in Jacksonville, Florida on an oppressively hot and
humid Summer’s day. At that time the Jacksonville Zoo
consisted of not much more than concrete slabs encased in bars
with lethargic, panting animals languishing in
the Florida heat. I remember thinking that this was
supposed to be fun– that the zoo was supposed to be a
good place for the animals. I struggled to reconcile the story I’d
been told with the reality before me. Of course many zoos, including
the one in Jacksonville have vastly improved
their enclosures. But how much have these
surface beautifications impacted the animals’
quality of life? Or the message conveyed
to the visiting children? When polled by the Association of Zoos and
Aquariums, the National zoo accreditation organization in the United States, 94% of
people believe that zoos teach their children about how to protect
animals and the habitats they depend on. Dale Jamieson, Professor of
Environmental Studies and Philosophy at New York University raises an
important nuanced point: Of course, it is undeniable that some education occurs in some zoos. But this very fact raises other issues. What is it that we want people to learn from visiting zoos? Facts about the physiology and behaviour of various animals? Attitudes towards the survival of endangered species? Compassion for the fate of all animals? To what degree does education require keeping wild animals in captivity? And there in lies the issue
of zoo based education. All of these educational goals can easily
be met, and far more successfully, without caging living
beings for profit. Let’s look at some of the mains
educational draws touted by zoos: learning about animals’ natural habitat, their natural behaviors, and the value of conservation
and animal stewardship. Lesson Number One: Natural Habitats. No matter how accurately zoos
attempt to recreate habitats, they will never
be natural. While some zoos attempt to grant
their animals as much space as possible, they can never recreate the natural
expanse of territory found in the wild. Zoo animals spend day after day, year
after year in the same enclosure. Birds can only fly so far, giraffes can only walk so many paces, elephants can only travel
from one wall to the other, and monkeys can only
climb so high. Many species are used to traveling
miles every day in nature. So what are these clearly
unnatural, human-imposed limitations really teaching
kids about nature? That it can be recreated at will? That an
enclosure that’s a fraction of the size of an animal’s natural territory can suffice
as long as it looks real enough to humans? How does that exactly convey the
importance of habitat preservation? Lesson Number Two: Animal Behavior. This is perhaps the greatest
failing of zoo education. There is nothing more unnatural than
the behavior of wild animals in human-made enclosures. However, as
many people have only seen wild animals in zoo environments, they may
mistake stress behaviors for natural. Zoo animals can develop any number of neurotic
behaviors from the stress of captivity. These are scientifically referred to as
“Abnormal Repetitive Behavior,” or ARB. In 1992, Bill Travers, co-founder of the
Born Free Foundation, coined the term “Zoochosis” to describe these obsessive,
repetitive behaviors, and described zoo animals behaving
abnormally as ‘zoochotic’. The following year the Zoo Check Charitable
Trust produced “The Zoochotic Report,” taken over three years at over
100 zoos in Europe, though the neurotic behaviors
captured in these videos are not confined to animals
in European zoos. They include pacing
and circling, tongue playing
and bar-biting, neck twisting, head bobbing, weaving,
and swaying, rocking, over-grooming and
self-mutilation, vomiting and
regurgitating, coprophilia and
coprophagia, meaning the playing with and
eating of excrement in species that do not naturally
exhibit this behavior, apathy or non-reaction
to stimuli, abnormal mother-infant relationships, which
can result in the injury and death of babies, prolonged infantile behavior, wherein
animals do not mature properly, and abnormal
aggressive behavior. These are not natural animal behaviors
because these animals are not in nature. These are psychologically stressed beings
exhibiting neurotic and even psychotic behavior. At their best, zoos misinform
children about animal’s natural behaviors by conflating
them with neuroses. At their worst, they teach children that
keeping animals in conditions which result in such destructive behaviors
is an acceptable form of entertainment, and even in the
animals’ best interest. Lesson Number Three: Conservation
and Animal Stewardship. One of the strongest defenses of zoos is
their contributions to conservation, which I’ll be doing an
in-depth video on. In brief, conservation efforts, just like
habitat and behavior education, do not have to involve captive
animals on display. Conservation efforts are far more effectively
handled by specialized wildlife breeding and rehabilitation programs far away
from the prying eyes of the public. A 2013 study found that zoos lack
the infrastructure and resources to carry out successful conservation efforts and
that their approaches are too randomized. As far as what children learn from
zoo conservation programs? Most likely as much as they do,
and any adults do, from all of the neglected informational plaques
displayed around zoos. Neglected by most, that is. I read every one. (comical stamping sound) If we want to teach our children the value
of caring for and preserving the lives of animals, zoos are not the ideal
classrooms they purport to be. Especially considering they pull animals
from their natural habitat and overbreed them, then deal with the resulting “surplus”
in any number of disturbing ways including selling them for game hunting or killing
them to feed to their other animals. Perhaps the most neglected flaw of
portraying zoos as conveyers of the value of animal life, is the fact that
they serve dead animals at every café and
refreshment stand. Telling a child the value of
protecting and preserving animals in one breath and serving them
a carcass on a bun in the next is a bit of a mixed message,
wouldn’t you say? As educational destinations, zoos
fail miserably on all three counts. In her book Raising Kids Who
Love Animals, Child Psychiatrist Dr. Sujatha Ramakrishna states that, Though I hoped to find evidence to the contrary, I must conclude that zoos continue to be detrimental to animal welfare, and that they do not teach children positive lessons about animals. Kids who watch leopards pacing in mindless patterns get a completely inaccurate picture of what large predators are all about. They also learn that making sentient beings suffer for human amusement is acceptable. We want to teach kids to show kindness towards animals, not stare at their misery while eating popcorn.” This doesn’t mean kids have to miss out
on engaging animal education. Children learn far more about an animal’s
natural habitat, behavior, and value by watching documentaries of their actual
behaviors filmed in their actual habitat. Planet Earth, for example, is a stunning
documentary series from the BBC comprised of eleven episodes, each
of which features a global overview of a different
biome or habitat on Earth. A great way for kids to get to connect to
animals in real life is by visiting animal sanctuaries, where rescued
and rehabilitated animals are allowed to live in
peaceful settings. I’ve included a links to lists
of international sanctuaries on the blog post for this video, where you
can also find citations and further resources. Other zoo alternative activities
include visiting local parks, hiking trials, and basically,
just going outside. We tend to undervalue the beauty
and life in our own backyards. Kids can volunteer at local
animal shelters, or even babysit neighbor’s pets to learn the importance
of caring for and protecting animals. All of the lessons zoos are meant to teach
our children are far more effectively taught elsewhere, and without the
cost to the animals themselves. I hope this video has been helpful. This is
just the first peak into this complex topic, so stay tuned for more
zoo-based videos to come. I’d love to hear your thoughts on
this aspect of the zoo issue. What do you think zoos are
teaching our children? Did you go to the zoo as a kid? Have you taken
your own children? Let me know in the comments! If you liked this video, give it a
big thumbs up and share it around to show what zoos
are really teaching kids. If you’re new here, do hit that big
red subscribe button down there for more awesome vegan content every
Monday, Wednesday, and some Fridays and not to miss out on
the rest of the zoo videos. If you want to help support
Bite Size Vegan, check out either of the support links in the video
description below or click on the Nugget Army icon there or
the link in the sidebar. Now go live vegan, get educated elsewhere, and I’ll see you soon. Narrator: But what of the children?
What do they need to know? Well, as always, they need
to know the truth. They need to know that these
animals are suffering, are sick, and that they’re not
the objects of fun, which is so often how
they’re presented in zoos. The laughter that they’re directing at
these animals could as well be directed at disturbed people living in a
psychiatric ward or prisoners who’ve been exposed to very many
days and weeks and years of solitary confinement
or torture. Subtitles by the Amara.org community