“Instead of respecting their wildness, humans want to hold, cuddle, feed and photograph orang-utans; they want to treat orang-utans as if they were human … [which has] caused them to become endangered by a rampant pet and zoo trade” Sowards 2011.

What I want to focus on in this post is way in which animals are represented and treated in zoos. If we take what Sowards said above and apply it to the entire population of species within zoos – can you honestly say that it doesn’t occur? Through anthropomorphism (the attribution of human characteristics or behaviours to an animal), society causes them to disappear, to become endangered, to lose their own instincts that they rely on to survive in the wild. As Una Chaudhuri explains, “as pets, as performers, and as literary symbols, animals are forced to perform us– our fantasies and fears, our questions and quarrels, our hopes and horrors.”

The organisation PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), confirms that “Animals aren’t actors, spectacles to imprison and gawk at, or circus clowns.” And if you ask the average individual, they will agree however they still attend zoos, circuses, horse and grey hound racing, rodeos and bullfighting and take part it acts such as hunting. Why is this the case?

“Thousands of these animals are forced to perform silly, confusing tricks under the threat of physical punishment; are carted across the country in cramped and stuffy boxcars or semi-truck trailers; are kept chained or caged in barren, boring, and filthy enclosures; and are separated from their families and friends–all for the sake of human “entertainment.”

The public likes to profess their care for such incredible species however what they do not understand or choose to ignore is the fact that ever time they attend circuses and attractions that forces these animals into captivity, they are both financially and through their presence, supporting the treatment that occurs. It should not be a matter of picking and choosing when and under which circumstances to support or to forget.

Possibly the most confusing aspect of this would be the intentions of zoos and whether or not to attend them. For example, the Taronga zoo claims to be “working tirelessly to achieve a shared future, helping threatened species to breed, protecting their genetic diversity and even re-introducing them to the wild”, with breeding programs for endangered species like the Tasmanian devil, little penguin, long nose bandicoot and brush tailed rock wallaby.”

They compare their enclosures to that of the wild, claiming that “life in a zoo, like life in the wild, places some restrictions on animals, regardless of how good the facilities and care.” They state that “many animals in the wild have their movements restricted by territorial boundaries, and their ‘freedom’ is radically restricted by the daily battle to survive” and that the “animals in Taronga’s populations are cared for to a standard at least comparable to but in most cases far exceeding the conditions their wild counterparts would experience.” The zoo continues, saying that “the wild nature of the animals in our care compels us to provide an environment and experiences that the animal’s biology has evolved to expect and to cope with” however they have not evolved to expect to be hand-fed, posing for images with humans.

PETA explains that “with nothing to do, animals in zoos sleep too much, eat too much and exhibit “stereotypic” (ie, neurotic) actions that are rarely, if ever, seen in the wild.” Also stating that breeding programs often operating under the misleading cover of species preservation inevitably result in a surplus of adult animals who are “less crowd-pleasing” than babies who attract larger audiences, “so zoos routinely trade, lend, sell, barter and warehouse adult animals they no longer want.”

The organisation also states that “in 2009, it was discovered that Dubbo’s Taronga Western Plains Zoo had sold 24 endangered blackbuck antelopes to a member of the Shooters Party for as little as $160 per animal so that he could breed them and use the species for trophy hunting on a private game reserve. The zoo stated that the animals were “not required” in its collection.”

Taronga Zoo writes on it’s website that “the greatest repository of understanding of wild animals lies within the province of good zoos such as Taronga.” How can zoos who profess to be “inspiring and creating behaviour change to support species conservation and habitat preservation” be trusted when knowledge like this surfaces.

Change is needed – PETA states that: “Zoos will only stop breeding and capturing more animals from the wild if their financial support disappears, so the most important way to save animals from imprisonment is to simply stay away from zoos – and urge everyone you know to do the same.”