Animals Behind Bars

elephant locked up

Is it fair to capture wild animals and keep them in captivity for our entertainment?

 

We lock many animals into tiny cages or swimming pools despite their clear intelligence, emotions and self-awareness. Dolphins, chimpanzees, elephants and killer whales are just a handful of animals that can certainly find captivity as stressful and horrific as would you or I. Imagine being in the Truman Show but confined to a small house, with strange things staring into your windows, laughing and flashing bright lights at you. Even tapping the glass in the hopes that you’ll move or do something interesting.

OrcaKiller whales locked up at SeaWorld. Watch the documentary Blackfish on netflix and see how corporations like SeaWorld lie and cover up their mistreatment of orcas and their own trainers.

 

Maybe we should draw a line and only allow lower, less complex and intelligent animals to be kept in zoos and aquariums; animals which don’t have the cognitive capacity to feel the emotional trauma of being locked up. Ignoring for a moment the difficulties of making such a distinction, would it be fair to give different rights to different animals? Shouldn’t all animals have an equal right to live freely in their natural environment?

Well we already apply animal rights differently across species. For example in scientific and medical research there is a hierarchy of increasingly strict test regulations through from plants to insects to mammals to primates and finally to humans.

A complicated grey area comes when considering if we can or should be allowed to own an animal. Perhaps you could argue ownership is merely an asymmetric symbiosis, where both parties benefit (the owner by using the other, and the owned by being looked after and protected). But in each scenario with zoos and domestic livestock, the animals don’t have a say in the matter, they’re under lock and key.

I’m not a vegetarian, but I do care deeply about animal welfare. I think that for domesticated animals, agriculture is their natural environment, so I don’t have a problem as long as their welfare is ensured. Many animals have been changed so drastically through selective breeding that they are no longer adapted to a wild home. That being said, it’s very clear that we’re simply using and exploiting these animals, hence why I believe their wellbeing and fair treatment is absolutely crucial.

When it comes to animals at zoos and aquariums, there are some non-selfish justifications for keeping them. There is potential for preventing extinctions by having animals in captivity, but really most effort should be in protecting the species in its wild habitat. Another possible benefit of zoos is their outreach and inspiration for the general public. It may be that an encounter with captive animals increases people’s willingness to support their conservation in the wild.

I’ve been to zoos, as you probably have too, and it is quite extraordinary to be able to see amazing creatures up close and personal. The cultural value they provide us, when they’re managed and designed well, is priceless. Whether or not this is worth the psychological suffering of some of the animals we’re viewing is debatable. Unfortunately, I think zoos also propagate the false sense of entitlement and dominance that our species has over the rest of our planet, which has led to our destruction of the natural world. It’s hard to see animals as our equals when every animal except us is locked up. Perhaps adding a caged Homo sapiens exhibit would start to rectify the situation.

Homo sapiens zoo exhibitZagreb Zoo in Croatia allows people to enter a Homo sapiens exhibit. The idea is there but they fail to get the whole message across, as they let people leave at will.

 

Meat and the Environment

The meat industry is an enormous contributor to greenhouse gases and climate change. Plus it requires very large areas of land for production – tens of times more land (not to mention water and energy) than the equivalent weight of plant based food. In our rapidly developing world there is a growing demand for meat which is causing greater CO2 emissions and greater pressure to increase land available for agriculture, which typically comes at the expense of biodiverse forests, leading to further climate change. A simple way we can choose to combat this is by reducing the amount of meat and animal products in our diet. I love meat as much as the next person, but I love our planet even more!

 

Meat in Moderation.

 

Hometree fallingHometree burningPristine forests being destroyed to allow the exploitation of mineral resources in the poignantly environmental film Avatar. Director, James Cameron urges “You cannot claim to be an environmentalist if you’re still eating meat and dairy”.

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The Hopeless Hopeless

Last night I met someone who frustrated me a lot. He seemed to be an educated man but when I mentioned saving water his response was essentially “There’s no point as it won’t change anything, it won’t go to poor people who actually need it.” His stance likely represents a large chunk of society, a group of people who believe that trying to do anything about very large, global problems such as climate change and water and food shortages is useless, as what can one person possibly hope to achieve?

These hopeless people are not denying that the problems exist, they are fully aware of them. And this makes me very angry at their incredibly pessimistic outlooks. I’m all for being skeptical – there are no doubt many ways we can attempt to solve a problem that will not work. But taking a look at a big problem and then declaring it hopeless is simply pathetic.

Back to climate change. There is a consensus, an overwhelming tsunami of evidence that backs the fact that humans have caused and are causing dramatic climate change, most notably in the past few hundred years. It’s clear that this is mainly down to the burning of fossil fuels, destruction of forests and agriculture (especially meat production), to fuel and feed our 7.3 billion-strong population. Just as there were small steps and changes in lifestyle that got us to this point, we can now take small steps to reduce our impact through what we consume and what we waste.

It’s pretty simple: we produce and consume more water, meat, plastic and energy than ever before. And we waste huge amounts of these resources, which we simply cannot afford to do. Our planet will not allow it. Certainly not for 7 billion people.

But the situation is far from hopeless! Even the most basic adjustments that reduce the excess food, water and energy that are currently wasted can have a tremendous positive impact on our environment. The only problem is that there are too many hopeless individuals out there who are too pessimistic and selfish to take some responsibility and join the rest of us in doing something good.

Finally, back to the man who sparked my anger. He’s probably right that saving water in a rich country is not going to magically provide a poorer country with much-needed water. But the world doesn’t care for our country borders – we all share one planet! Reducing water consumption in one country takes a little strain off that precious resource and ensures there is enough to go round for everyone. And minimizing emissions of greenhouse gases is literally felt across the globe.

 

Our situation is not hopeless unless we think it is. Be positive and make little changes to reduce waste. It’s an easy first step.

Thanks,

The Environment