Ethics of Animal Captivity: Balancing Values and Responsibilities Melina Martinez

Zoos are among the most popular and notorious animal facilities. Historically, Zoos have also served as entertainment and recently for educational purposes. The ethics of these animal facilities face dilemma as new generations start questioning the use of the vulnerable(such as animals in this case) for a benefit. Zoo ethics are put to question as we attempt to balance responsibilities and balance values to find the best solution to ethical animal conservation. Keywords: Animal welfare- state of being of the animals, the treatment the animal receives physically and mentally Conservation- alludes to the protection, restoration, or preservation of wildlife in its natural state Animals in captivity- the keeping of wild animals Endangered species- animals dangerously at risk of extinction Zoo facilities- permanent site where wild animals are exhibited for the public Background Historical effect on society Zoos have been around to serve the purpose of entertainment and science education.

Rewinding back in history to the era of empires and monarchies, zoos were established around the world by rulers as a sign of wealth and class status.

Wild animals were used as entertainment for the higher class. Some of these spectacles included forcing wild animals of same or different species to battle to death (Encyclopedia of Bioethics, 3rd Edition). Fast- forwarding to more recent times when nearly one fourth of men in the U.S. hunted in the 1950s illegal and legal practices of sport have been an enormous factor contributor to the extinction of many wild species (Woods et al.

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, 2009). Historically, the principal function of zoos has been entertainment and education. Data of zoo visitors demonstrate that most people continue to see these educational facilities as settings for family socializing and general public amusement (Kellert, 1989). This is one of the main reasons as to why some people oppose zoos. The idea of holding animals in confinement for the sole purpose of public amusement places the ethics of zoos at stake (Jamieson, 1985). Recent animal welfare activist groups such as The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) are known to not be in full agreement with certain animal practices that infringe on the wellbeing of these animals. Some examples of these includes exhibits that resemble circus shows such as sea lion and dolphin shows.

They believe that training these animals to perform is unnatural, and an unethical method to draw large crowds. However, the majority of zoos that import animals for the sole purpose of training them for more revenue have been condemned. These events are seen as unprofessional and not widely accepted by the modern world, it is disregarding the animals’ welfare. Despite past zoo traditional amusement stations such as baby elephant rides, modern zoos continue to strive for positive change. Many have evolved in order to create a more serious and overall better environment for their animals and public. Zoo directors attempt to de-emphasize entertainment as the maine goal to give a more serious look (Luoma, 1987). Meanwhile, zoo educators are stepping in expressing the importance of bringing education and entertainment together. It is essential that the public is entertained to increase interest in learning. Not only this, but also, zoo administrators affirm that some of these animal shows are necessary to raise the funds that are used to pay for research and other zoo missions (Cohn, 1992).

According to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, approximately $216 million of revenue is dedicated every year for conservation related missions including 115 reintroduction programs, of which over 40 strive specifically to counterattack the extinction of current endangered species (2017). Scientific evidence and data Zoos contribute to animal conservation and have been used as research facilities. Although, animal captivity may not be the ideal situation, it has helped endangered animals from extinction. Due to environmental issues such as climate change and threats to wild animals such as poaching, the effort in animal conservation has increased. Zoo advocates organizers hope that as such (conservation programs through captive breeding) programs spread, zoos may be able to increase the number of protected endangered species (Luoma, 1987). There are two ways how zoos help in animal conservation through “ in- situ” and “ex-situ” strategies. In-situ is the conservation of species in their natural habitats. This is also considered the most proper way of conserving biodiversity.

This tactic involves conserving the natural habitats where populations of species exist naturally. An example of this is exhibiting large animals such as pandas, tigers, or elephants as means to raise funds for other not so attractive (but extremely vital) species such as frogs back in the wild. This tactic is of significant importance due to the impact it will have on balancing a healthy biodiversity in natural wild habitats. A more relatable case is for example, the need to control population of deer in order for all the other predators and plant consumers to thrive and keep the ecosystem in healthful balance. Protecting areas is also a key element in this type of conservation. It is the best way to ensure that human activities do not intentionally affect the biodiversity of these areas (Ward, 2016). This is a vital procedure in the amazonian rainforests where illegal logging has severely disturbed the natural occurring ecosystem inhibited by many wild animals that are now endangered. Amazon rainforest deforestation rate 29% per year as of 2016 (INPE, 2016). By tackling these issues through legal action and active global law enforcement this can be slowly changed. On the other hand, Ex-situ conservation is the preservation of components of biological diversity outside their natural habitats.

It usually happens at zoos, or other research related facilities. This involves conservation of genetic resources and draws on a diverse body of techniques to ensure a sustainable captive population and genetic variation. This is done through techniques such as gene banks, captive breeding with possible reintroduction into the wild, and collecting living organisms for zoos for research and public awareness. Zoo advocates find that ex-situ conservation complements in-situ methods because it acts as a second insurance to prevent an species’ extinction. An example of ex-situ conservation is the AAZPA’s Species Survival Plans (SSP) (Wiese and Hutchins, 1993). SSPs manage rare animal populations at zoos throughout the country, asking zoos to cooperate in breeding plans that promote genetic variability and demographic stability. Identification of Dilemma The major dilemma is ensuring animal welfare in zoos with the purpose of animal conservation.

The dilemma is focused through various perspectives such as economic, environmental, and social to find the ultimate balance to achieve the greater good for the greater people. The possibility of balancing values and responsibilities on both sides for the better. There are quite of stakeholders in this situation such as the animal facilities (zoos), the public, captive animals, endangered animals, researchers (scientists), etc. This situation puts certain values at stake like the right to science education, respect, and justice. More specifically, autonomy and the beneficence of this doing (animal conservation through captivity) would be put to question. These values and principles come in conflict in this situation. Such as autonomy, respect, and beneficence for all versus the right to education and scientific value (research). Ethical Analysis Basic analysis A possible solution as a balancing point between opposing sides the Landscape Immersion Zoo Exhibit seemed to arise as top option. This naturalistic animal exhibit has been around for a very long time, it is a type of design intended to “immerse” the visitor in the same natural habitat as the animal. It was created by Grant Jones and Jon Coe at Woodland Park Zoo who also coined the term landscape immersion.

They lead the way through the philosophical shift from a homocentric view of zoos to a biocentric view. In the modern day, zoos spend massive amounts of resources re-creating “natural” places in an effort to connect people to the earth; to inspire respect of natural places this was Jon Coe’s philosophy. This style was innovative and revolutionary considering the jail like zoo designs that were around in the past. If one were to walk in zoo today, it would be easy to spot the natural habitat components to each animal exhibit but at the same time the inclusion of our culture within the exhibit. Habitats made specifically for the public, to accommodate society and its culture. Thus subtracting the magic of landscape immersion that once existed. Despite the current flawed zoo design, not all has been lost. There are still a variety things that zoos could improve on in order to balance the values and responsibilities between the opposing sides.

As Jon Coe once said “Only the emotional side, in the end, has the power to generate changes in behavior” referring to promoting interest in animal conservation. Coe firmly believed in building a connection between the animals and the public, that connection is key to not only the financial stability of zoos and its related missions but also into sparking the love for wildlife and its conservation. To achieve this there are various things to modify and upgrade within modern zoos. In order for the public the fully experience and enjoy viewing these animals, proximity to each other should be taken into account in order to ensure a connection. Another modification could be improving behavioral enrichment. So often we can spot large orange boomer balls and blue plastic barrels introduced in big feline cat exhibits as an attempt for behavioral enrichment, however is this really what an animal would find in its natural habitat? These sorts of things seem like cultural props to accommodate to modern society. Most importantly, zoo designs should improve on always creating novelty (in the most beneficial way possible).

Creating adaptable habitats that can be changed or rotated on the daily, monthly, or seasonal basis is one way. This would not only increase visitor repeat attendance but more essentially will greatly improve the animals’ enrichment. The animals will react differently in each habitat, this creating a healthier, more realistic environment for them. New exhibits will constantly continue to stay new. Support for one course of action I truly believe my solution is the optimum since it really takes into consideration both sides of the spectrum. It is an attempt to balance values and responsibilities to do the most benefit possible to both sides. However, there is not one perfect way of setting the perfect solution. If this were true, the problem would have been solved long ago. Despite this, we can take into consideration both voices and balance the needs and wants for both to benefit. Counter argument Animal welfare is defined as the state of an animal as regards its attempts to cope with its environment. Welfare is also a spectrum and may range from good to poor.

The main argument towards my topic is that “Zoos are the problem, not the solution to animal conservation (or welfare)”. Many wildlife conservationists or pure animal lovers have come forward voicing their opinions on zoos and aquariums. They believe these animals are not meant to be living in captivity and are sometimes not treated well in their artificial habitats. Bringing up examples of disrespect towards these wild animals, they have brought up cases such as the killing of the Gorilla Harambe and many more. In these statements, certain values are being sacrificed by my plan in the current world. These circumstances have been quite difficult to counter argue due to the seriousness and severity of some issues. One specific argument is that animals in zoos are either breeded purposely, or taken from the wild for the zoo’s benefit. Although this might not true for all zoos or aquariums, it does put into consideration how ethical this is.

The values of independent consent and autonomy in general are being sacrificed here. Since there cannot be a real established communication between human beings and these wild animals, asking for consent or informing them is not exactly an option. Another value being sacrificed here is respect, although it is not towards human beings, respect should be a universal right. A big argument used by animal welfare activists is the reintroduction of captive animals into their natural wild habitat. However, there are many risks and factors when considering this as a problem and coming up with a solution. Most captive animals in zoos have been living outside of their wild habitat for their whole lives, therefore reintroducing them to their original species’ wild home could be a matter of life or death to them as most will not have their natural instincts developed as their fellow wild family members might in the wild might. Images and videos of the state of being of these animal have circulated social media as evidence that physical and perhaps mental being is not “normal” (what is normal?).

Some of this evidence suggests and shows the amount of stress they endure living in captivity. Many claim this is even causing the animals to die, or become very ill. Of course this situation implies sacrificing the respect for these beings, especially when they are very vulnerable due to the lack of communication and understanding of each other. Perhaps this even puts into risk the beneficence of education through zoos due to the imbalance of maximizing benefits and minimizing risks. Scientific value could also be sacrificed partially, because if the animals are not acting nor looking “normal” it impairs the idea of what an actual wild animal acts or looks like. Therefore in this case, it conflicts with both sides. Last but not least, the argument that Zoos are only amusement sites that look only for its highest profit have challenged my stand on this topic. Historically, zoos began for entertaining purposes and getting the attention of the upper class for donations. While many zoos do have a strong opinion and care about conservation and animal welfare, they tend to not voice those opinions and act based on profit. Perhaps there are zoos that try their best for their animals’ overall well-being, but they should be more common and noticeable.

This circumstance in particular sacrifices the accountability and responsibility zoos are thought to have over caring for their animals. While money is needed to run zoos and aquariums, it should not be the drive to manage these zoos. Overall, these arguments that fall under the idea that Zoos are the problem to animal conservation and welfare have really challenged my views on this issue. Sacrificing these values in each argument has forced me to think harder and in more detail about what solutions could possibly counteract the problems that zoos currently face. Conclusion Although, zoos will likely remain existing, voicing concerns and offering new regulations is a great path to take. With their history as entertainment establishments, it is difficult to convince everyone that new regulations can be of great help and become part of the solution. Zoos can be great facilities for animal conservation of endangered species, and a great place for research and science education for the public. Most importantly, it can also be a good home and habitat for these animals we fervently defend if these regulations are implemented. (In progress)

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Ethics of Animal Captivity: Balancing Values and Responsibilities Melina Martinez. (2022, Apr 27). Retrieved from

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