I have very mixed feelings about zoos. I enjoy going to them, at least the really good ones, but at the same time I find them rather sad in many ways.
I had these feelings again while walking through the Phoenix zoo recently.
I know all of the arguments that are made about the values of zoos for species preservation (in some cases) and the importance of educating the public to wildlife issues around the world and it is fun to see the enjoyment that the young kids get in watching the various animals.
But there is a sadness in seeing some of these animals confined to small quarters, more akin to a prison cell than living space.
I feel this particularly when I see the great soaring birds such as vultures and the hawks and eagles, who even in the best of zoo habitats are limited to roosting.
I had the same feeling with the orangutans in the Phoenix zoo, who are housed in a pit with a tiered structure in the centre while the paying customers lean on the railing above them and point and talk. The one good thing in Phoenix is that they are in the process of building a new habitat for the orangutans which hopefully will be a major improvement. (Now the Seattle zoo has a great setup for their orangutan group as they do for most of the species on site).
On the other hand I have no problem with seeing grazing animals behind the fence – provided they have some space – as I figure they’re happy just to have food and not be chased by predators.