Last Wednesday I went up to the Bronx to meet my PhD advisor for the first time in person. I decided to begin implementing my low-cost NYC attraction tour. My two options were going to The New York Botanical Garden or The Bronx Zoo. I had just listened to one of my favorite podcasts, Stuff You Should Know, and the topic was “Are Zoos Good or Bad for Animals?”. That, combined with the fact that I volunteered at The New York Botanical Garden for 3 and a half months, helped make my decision to go to the zoo.
Upon entering the zoo I went up and told the ticket seller how much I wanted to donate for my admission. The suggested donation for an adult is $15. For $5 you get a Bronx Zoo pin, and for $10 you get a Bronx Zoo DVD. I paid $2, so I didn’t get anything!
I hadn’t been to the zoo since I was in Ornithology at Skidmore College. We took a Saturday field trip the day after Halloween to check out the incredible bird exhibits. I remember having a good time then, with a slight hangover, and that I really enjoyed getting to see what I had been studying in the ‘feather’.
This time, however, I was torn. I’ve become more and more skeptical as to whether or not zoos are cruel or educational. In the podcast they broke it down using the pros and cons of zoos. The major benefit of zoos is the funding they provide to conservation efforts and studies around the world. Some negative aspects are the caging of mega-fauna for entertainment, and keeping the animals in unnatural environments, causing major behavioral defects.
My experience at the zoo was pretty standard. I had about an hour and a half to walk around before I had to leave. The first thing I noticed upon entering was that the peacocks seemed to have the run of the joint. They were all over the place! I probably could have touched them, if I had wanted to (which I did), but I restrained myself!
My favorite things at the zoo are always giraffes and big cats. In South Carolina you can feed the giraffes at the zoo. This is not the case at The Bronx Zoo, and I think I like it better that way. Seeing the big cats was fun, even though they were sleeping through the heat of the day. There are tigers and lions and snow leopards, and I wanted to hug them all! Obviously the thick glass and/or moats deterred me.
All in all it was a fun enough day at the zoo. I guess the problem I was struggling with is, how do I feel about zoos? I think that after this experience I am actually anti-zoo. It was kind of depressing seeing the huge polar bear sleeping in the small bit of shade in its cage, panting in the heat. What gets to me the most is how small many of the enclosures are for animals that are used to traveling tens or hundreds of miles a day.
It reminded me of a group discussion in a philosophy class I took. We discussed if zoos were ‘okay’. From there we moved on to livestock. And after that it moved into domesticated animals used as pets, like dogs and cats. Everyone in the course was a graduate student, everyone was a rational person. The consensus was zoos are inherently bad because they are unnatural environments. The class was on the fence for domesticated animals, some arguing that we need them for a balanced omnivore diet (anti feedlot, pro free-range), and others that a vegetarian or vegan diet is entirely realistic on a country-wide scale, and therefore maintaining livestock animals is unnecessary. The interesting part was discussing pets. The group became irrational at times, with the pet owners extremely defensive about the relationship with their animals, and how it couldn’t possibly be cruel. As a pet owner myself I am totally devoted to my animals, and I admit to being a crazy cat lady. I still wonder at times if it is really in my pets’ best interest to be domesticated. Would they be happier chasing mice in a field, or are they OK fetching stuffed mice that I toss them. It’s an interesting debate…and its intriguing to see where people are willing to draw the line in their own beliefs.