An ethical defense of modern zoos
AuthorGray, Jennifer Helen
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusOpen Access
© 2015 Dr. Jennifer Helen Gray
Zoos have been a largely uncontested part of the social fabric of cities for over 2,000 years. The nature and form of zoos have changed as sentiments and wealth of nations changed. While providing a place where animals and humans come into contact, zoos continue to hold and display animals in a relationship of vulnerability and dependence. Increasing threats to wild populations, public pressure to justify captivity and shifts in attitudes, have resulted in modern zoos adding research and conservation outcomes to their traditional benefits of recreation and entertainment. Yet a lingering question remains, can modern zoos be ethically justified? This thesis describes the workings of modern zoos and considers the core ethical challenges which face those who choose to hold and display animals in zoos, aquariums or sanctuaries. Using a number of normative ethical frameworks this thesis explores impacts of modern zoos. The impact of zoos include the costs to animals in terms of animal welfare, the loss of liberty and even impact on the value of animal life. On the positive side of the argument are the welfare and health outcomes for many of the animals held in zoos, increased attention and protection for their species in the wild and the enjoyment and education for the people who visit zoos. I conclude that zoos and aquariums are ethically defensible when they align conservation outcomes with the interests of individual animals and the interests of zoo operations. The impending extinction crisis requires large scale interventions which address human values and facilitate consideration of wildlife in decision making. Considering the long term relationship zoos have with animals, their extensive reach within communities and their reliance on animals to deliver positive experiences for people, it is appropriate that zoos pay back some of humanity’s debt to wildlife by making a meaningful contribution to wildlife conservation. Compassionate conservation demands that this contribution is not at the cost of individual suffering, rather that the interests of individual animals are aligned with the actions taken to save species.
Keywordszoo; ethics; animal welfare; compassionate conservation
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