Zoos, aquariums, wildlife parks, sea world, nature centers, personal pets, we encounter animals around us all the time. Many of the wild animals we encounter today (especially in zoos and aquariums) are bred in captivity, rather than collected from the wild.
Animals have a host of needs that must be met in captivity. If the needs aren’t met, animals often start exhibiting stereotypies and other abnormal behaviors. I’ve blogged before about what animals need for a good mental life. I think animals can be happy and healthy in captivity, especially when the owner, trainer or facility is willing to consider the animal’s needs before focusing on their profit, ego or reputation.
I recently ran across a great passage in Karen Pryor’s book, Lads Before the Wind.
Perhaps as important, though, the keeping and display of porpoises in oceanariums has helped to awakened the public to the value of these animals. Conservation begins with understanding, and understanding can begin with personal contact: a child in the audience catching a ball that a porpoise threw, a governor or senator stroking Makua’s ample belly. I feel sure that no “sportsman” who saw one of our shows ever went out again and put a rifle bullet through a porpoise at sea just for fun. National conservation efforts by an informed public have recently brought all cetaceans in U.S. waters under federal protection, so that today you need a permit and a good reason to go out and catch a porpoise. U.S. whaling has stopped, and the importation of whale products is now illegal, a first step to halting the slaughter on a worldwide basis.
This passage was written in the mid-70s, when oceanariums and marine animal parks were a relatively new phenomenon; however, the words still ring true today.
When we come into contact with wild animals, we observe their beauty, strength and intelligence. We are more likely to value the animals and support conservation efforts if we can begin to understand the species.