Spending an afternoon staring at monkeys, bears, zebras and other animals can be fascinating, but critics of zoos argue that locking up wild animals in zoos is unethical. Proponents of zoos counter that zoos help educate people and provide a haven for endangered species.
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Pro: Saving Endangered Species
Supporters of zoos argue that they help save endangered species. Zoos provide a safe place for endangered or threatened species to live. Zoos also encourage the reproduction of endangered and threatened animals, helping ensure that these species don't die out. For example, according to GoodZoos.com, zoos have saved some species of bison and oryx, as well as the Jamaican boa, Hawaiian goose and Mauritius pink pigeon.
Pro: Educational Opportunities
Zoos educate children and adults about animals and biology, inspiring people to study science and promoting an awareness of ecological and conservation efforts. Observing animals is more inspiring and memorable than reading a textbook or watching videos. Zoos also provide educational material, offer demonstrations and provide internship opportunities, and they make it possible for scientists to perform research on animals.
Con: Animals Suffer
Animals suffer in zoos. Many are kept in small enclosures to ensure that they are close enough to the visitors. They don't get to hunt for their food and may have to live in a different climate than they are accustomed to. Birds may have their wings clipped, while aquatic species may not have enough water to swim freely, according to Dr. Thomas Dixon. Making animals suffer for our enjoyment and entertainment is unethical, according to zoo critics.
Con: Zoos Don't Counter Habitat Loss
Even if zoos provide a safe place for endangered species, they do little to counter habitat loss, the leading cause of endangerment. In addition, zoos may distract from other conservation efforts that have more of an impact, such as land conservation programs. Finally, according to Dr. Thomas Dixon, breeding animals in zoos often involves interbreeding, because of the small animal population, which causes birth defects.
Con: Research and Education are Limited
Although scientists may perform research at zoos, they can also perform research in the wild. Research performed in the wild may be more accurate than research performed on animals in captivity, because zoos change how animals act. In addition, according to critics, some zoos focus more on entertainment than education; many zoos do not perform much research and may design programs in order to captivate and entertain visitors, not educate them.
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