Zoos in Lockdown

Content Warning: Euthanasia; Animal Welfare

The COVID-19 outbreak has brought with it uncertainty and hardship for everyone. With families split, businesses closed, and many staff furloughed, life has been turned upside down indefinitely. However, for some businesses COVID-19 has placed excessive strain on the existence of their assets and zoos are at the forefront of these hardships. After being closed due to lockdown in March, zoos have been relying on charity from the public to maintain their animals for almost three months. Zoos require daily management in order to feed, clean, and care for the thousands of animals that they house, and the extended and unexpected closures had the potential to be devastating for many of these wild animals across the country. Despite zoos being allowed to reopen on the Monday 15 June, the lack of income over the last few months has meant that many zoos (including Living Coasts in Torquay) have been forced to announce their permanent closures.

At the time of the nationwide lockdown, the threat of euthanasia weighed heavily on the shoulders of zookeepers, owners, and the public alike. Back in April, Sky News reported that Ben Mee (owner of Dartmoor Zoo), was having to reluctantly consider the horrific possibility of euthanising animals if the zoo closed down and animals could not be re-homed. However, it seems that euthanasia was never an idea willingly entertained by the owners of these zoos, and the reopening of zoos across the country since Monday 15 June has prevented the premature deaths of potentially thousands of animals. It is in moments like this, where the existence of institutions so familiar to our country are threatened by closures, that we must begin to look more critically at the ethics of these institutions themselves. At the beginning of lockdown Netflix’s Tiger King became a hit across the globe and impressively failed to bring animal welfare into popular discussion. Rather, a cast of intriguing characters became the talking point, but perhaps now that these issues hit closer to home, we can reevaluate the relevance of zoos in the 21st century. With the promise of reform and restructuring in society at large, are zoos something that we need in a post-COVID-19 world?

It is clear that some zoos are particularly important in the research and protection of endangered species, with Sir David Attenborough himself supporting the survival of ZSL. However, we must ask is it morally correct to breed and raise wild animals in artificial environments to fund the conservation of their wild counterparts? Damian Aspinall, owner of Howletts and Port Lympne animal parks in Kent, stated in an interview with The Times in 2019 that zoos should be phased out of existence in the next 25-30 years, discouraging parents from bringing their children to his own animal parks. Aspinall, who runs the Aspinall Foundation for animal conservation, pointed out that only 5% of mammals in European zoos were endangered, bringing into question their contribution to conservation. Without the certainty of reintroducing animals or providing them with lives equally as comfortable and fulfilling as a life in the wild, zoos seem to be an outdated attraction surpassed by stunning, close up documentary films and television series of recent years.

So, what can we do to support wild animals within our country and across the world? Supporting organisations such as the WWF by donating or adopting an animal can aid conservation efforts. But if you want to help closer to home, by supporting grassroots organisations such as Surfers Against Sewage by donating or volunteering at beach cleans, you can help clean our seas and protect our native wildlife here in Devon and across the UK.

– Hollie Piff

Featured Image Source: PxHere

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