Watching The Cove, a documentary on the dolphin slaughter in Taiji, Japan, reminded me of old questions I had once asked myself but left unanswered. I’ve always questioned whether keeping animals in captivity was humane – but it was the sort of question that I intentionally never put too much deep thought into. I’ve found that it’s hard to draw a solid yes and no.
On one hand, there are many species that might not be alive today if not for human intervention and conservation efforts, in which zoos and sanctuaries play a huge role. Sometimes, injured animals are taken into rehabilitated – only to be found that they would never be able to survive again in the wild. It’s issues like these that make me feel grateful that there are places to take these animals in – but at the same time, is that too unnatural? Should nature be able to simply run it’s course when it’s a matter of life and death? These types of intervention make up only a small percentage of captive animals. It’s those that are healthy, raised in captivity or taken from their natural homes that make me question if it’s right.
Many people claim that zoos are beneficial – Sure, a lot of the animals were purchased and their situations didn’t merit captivity, but they’re educating the public and forging a bond between humans and animals that we wouldn’t have if we didn’t get to experience them up close. But is that really true? Would we care any less about them if we didn’t see them caged up in zoos and glass tanks? Probably not.
Watching The Cove made me think more about what was most important – the animals well-being. The fact that wild dolphins were being captured and sold to places that were going to use them purely for entertainment appalled me. To see how miserable they would become and how harmful such enclosed, noisy environments could be on their health was shocking…and to see them there in comparison to when they are free and with their pods was unsettling.
I personally feel a bit guilty for growing up looking forward going to zoos. Although I know that we will never live in a world where animals are immune to human intervention, hopefully in the near future the animals taken into captivity are chosen much more selectively based on genuine needs, not as a way to draw in more customers. Meanwhile, I’ll be sure not to feed into the demand for animal-based entertainment – like the dolphin shows that are keeping the Taiji dolphin slaughter funded.
Photo credit to Eddie Welker and Wild Dolphin Project.