The Problem with Zoos
When I was a kid, I loved going to the zoo. What kid doesn’t? The lions! The elephants! The naked mole rats! Children naturally love animals, and zoos are where you get to see those animals that you love. Its a wonderful place to take your animal-loving child, right?

Well, not exactly.

Unfortunately, zoos aren’t the happy places many people think they are. Think about it. At the zoo, animals live in enclosures. And no matter how big and beautiful those enclosures are, they aren’t the true habitat for that animal. The animals have to live in those enclosures day after day, for the rest of their lives. Many animals, like elephants, are used to traveling many miles a day in the wild. There’s just no way to recreate this in a zoo!

“Sure, it’s not ideal,” you tell yourself. “but the zoos are doing all this for conservation. They breed these animals with the intention of reintroducing them to the wild.” Well, I hate to break it to you, but this isn’t really true. Zoos do have conservation programs, but for the most part, animals raised in captivity just don’t survive in the wild. Zoos may use words like “conservation” and “education,” but let’s be honest. Zoos are for-profit businesses. They exist to make money. The animals may be cared for lovingly, but when money is involved, the animals become a commodity. Yes, there are zoos that take better care of their animals than others, but it doesn’t matter if a zoo has sad, pathetic enclosures or beautiful, realistic looking enclosures, both are in the business of profiting from animal exploitation. It’s kinda like how factory farmed meat and free range meat may seem different on the surface, but both are involve slaughtering animals for a profit, so neither one is exactly a good thing. Zoos are the same way, in my opinion. You can glam it up all you want, but that zebra is still behind bars. Just think about that before you take your family to the zoo.

Ok, so you’ve decided that you do to want to support zoos anymore. But your six year old still really loves animals! What can you do to help foster that love of animals in your child that doesn’t involve exploitation?

Well, for one, you can read about animals, watch documentaries on animals, and provide your child with plenty of resources to learn about the animals that he/she loves. I remember as a child, I became absolutely obsessed with koalas after doing a class project on them. My mom made sure to foster my interest in marsupials by saving me magazines, articles, and anything else she could get her hands on that had to do with koalas.

And of course, there are ways to observe and enjoy live animals, too. There are farm sanctuaries and wild animal sanctuaries all over the world. These are different from zoos because they are nonprofits, they aren’t trying to make money off their animals, so the animals aren’t commodities. Look and see if there are any sanctuaries near you, or plan your next vacation around visiting a sanctuary. Our family loves visiting sanctuaries!

Another great way to foster love for animals is to simply observe animals in the wild. Go birdwatching. Notice a caterpillar. Watch a mama deer and her baby from afar. Go to a national park or forest and scout out the native fauna. Watch fish swim in a pond. You don’t have to go to a zoo to see animals! Just get out in nature. This is truly the best way to see animals… In their most natural state. If you have a child that loves animals, taking the time to see animals in the wild with them will have a profound effect on them. I know that the experiences I had as a kid watching animals in the wild, whether it be a tortoise in my backyard or a dolphin in the ocean were far more profound than the trips I had to the zoo.

So next time you’re thinking about packing up the car and taking the family to the zoo, think about visiting a sanctuary or going out to see some animals in the wild! You don’t have to
miss out on seeing animals in action if you’re a cruelty free family!