‘The Secret Life of the Zoo’ is somewhat of a staple in my university household, and I’m sure the same goes for any student residence where the minority who want to fork out for a TV license have succeeded in their goal. What isn’t there to love? The last episode that I saw featured tiny meerkat babies, cute sun bear cubs, and a pair of hornbill birds laying their first eggs in almost twelve years – and all just in one hour of television. Whilst it’s an entertaining programme to watch, I always feel at least a small amount of guilt for enjoying the show. Particularly in our increasingly aware society, where vegetarianism and veganism are on the rise, I know that zoos will be more carefully scrutinised in the coming years.
My first instinct when I hear the word ‘zoo’ is to cringe and pull away. It isn’t a word with particularly redeeming connotations, bringing thoughts of captivity and abuse to mind with just one syllable. It’s difficult to say whether this reaction is one that I have developed for myself, or one that has been instilled in me by the ideologies that surround me. The main horror comes from thinking about the space, or lack thereof, that animals are given to thrive in in these establishments. The same can be said for aquariums, where it is widely known that there simply isn’t enough room for the creatures who reside there. Additionally, there is the concern that animals aren’t being given the opportunity to live their natural life, depending on people and artificially manufactured situations when they would likely be entirely capable of survival in the wild. Animal behaviour can be altered, and it can be hard to know when zoos just want to profit and encourage animals to produce performative behaviour to gain extra attention, and perhaps, funding.
On the other hand, shows such as ‘The Secret Life of the Zoo’ instil a feeling of warmth and hope in their viewers. You get to see the powerful connections keepers build with the animals they care for and ensure the preservation of species who are struggling in the wild or need more carefully controlled environments before they can safely breed. The educational benefits and opportunities for research are huge. It really is difficult to know where to stand on the matter.
I feel that in certain cases a zoo environment is acceptable, as long as human interference is kept to a minimum and the animals are provided with a space as close to their true home as possible. However, in an ideal world I wouldn’t want any creature to be held in captivity.