Friday night topic: The end of zoos?

I'm kind of a zoology buff in my spare time, by which I mean I really enjoy watching nature documentaries and learning about animals of various kinds. I am not, however, the sort of person who advocates stringently for things like animal rights or refuses to eat meat—far from it.

That said, I've had a bit of a change of heart recently when it comes to one subject: the zoos where we keep animals in captivity for viewing. Zoos just don't seem like a good idea to me anymore in an age where we have ready access to hundreds of amazing, high-definition nature documentaries showing wild animals in their native habitats. Since I have kids, I've visited a couple of highly regarded zoos in recent years, including the ones in San Diego and Saint Louis, and honestly, I found them to be a sad, depressing experience. The types of animals at these places are exotic and interesting in theory, but the captive individuals seem to be lethargic, haggard, and either utterly defeated or bizarrely angry. They're a far cry from the amazing examples of healthy wild animals we've caught on film doing incredible things.

I'm not saying we should ban zoos, but I don't really care to visit them anymore. I also think the support they get from public funding and private philanthropy should be carefully scrutinized. I know zoos have done some good work breeding endangered species and the like. Perhaps zoos ought to be encouraged to operate differently, to de-emphasize having broad collections of exotic animals crammed into small faux-habitats? I dunno. Seems to me like we really could do better. What do you think?


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