Is it ethical to go to a zoo?

Pros and cons of keeping animals in the zoo

Status: 02.05.2015 11:38 a.m. | archive
Ever larger and more elaborately designed enclosures, but is that enough to make animals happy?

Around 850 zoos are spread across the 16 federal states and these include not only classic zoological gardens, but also aquariums, bird parks, game reserves and reptile houses. From an early age, most of Germany's residents are used to visiting the zoo with their families or school. We only know wild animals like lions, elephants and monkeys in their enclosures. Most zoos are now trying to accommodate animals in a "species-appropriate" way, as they say. But does it work? Aren't the animals locked up anyway and would be better off in the wild?

The cage remains a cage even without a grid

The expression "species-appropriate animal husbandry" shows that a lot has already happened on the subject of animal welfare. Zoo operators try to accommodate animals in as natural an environment as possible with as much space as possible. Visitors to the zoo don't want to feel guilty about apathetic animals, they want to see happy animals. The bigger an animal is, the more it suffers from the tightness. Enclosures cannot be big enough, especially for bears and wild cats who need a lot of exercise. There are now areas in many enclosures that the visitor cannot see. So animals can withdraw, a step forward. Opponents criticize, however, that locked up still means locked up - the fact that the fences have now given way to moats does not change that much.

"Zoos can never replace the wild"

The zoologist Rainer Willmannn from the University of Göttingen considers the keeping of wild animals in zoos to be basically justifiable despite some deficits. "The European zoos try to meet the demands of the wild animals very well," said Willmann in an interview with For example, fewer species would be given more space. However, zoos could never replace the wild. With themed worlds like in Hanover, it is important that they also offer the animals something from their natural habitat. For some species, the zoo is even the last refuge. As an example, Willmann cited the South American Spix's Macaw, which became extinct in the wild.

We learn a lot about animals through zoos

In front of each zoo enclosure, maps are drawn on small boards that show where the animals originally came from. Very few come from Germany or Europe. Many animals that live in the zoo have to find their way in a climate that does not suit them. How much animals suffer from this, even though some of them were born in European zoos, is difficult to assess.

Does breeding help species conservation in the zoo?

Live animals should be better off than dead, and zoos ensure species conservation with breeding success, argue the proponents. Endangered species are bred under the protection of zoos and animals do not have to deal with natural opponents. Unnatural, say the opponents. Zoos give visitors the wrong idea of ​​reality. And anyway, the argument that zoos contribute to education: Most people would remember very few facts about animals, so the contra side.

Proximity to animals can help animal welfare

On the other hand, zoos serve to experience animals and thereby get a different relationship to them than from films. Polar bears are seen as ambassadors for climate protection, using penguins and dolphins as examples, animal keepers can explain the importance of clean seawater to visitors. Animal welfare can therefore become an issue for more and more people in Germany.

Qui bono?

Nonetheless, zoos are businesses and need to be profitable. Paragraph 42 of the Federal Nature Conservation Act states: "Zoos are permanent facilities in which live animals of wild species are kept for display for a period of at least seven days a year." The purpose of a zoo is not primarily to protect animals, but to entertain people. On the other hand, there is another factor here, too: more and more zoos support nature conservation projects with their income and are drawing more and more attention to animals and their lives.

What do you mean? Animal welfare vs. recreational fun



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NDR 1 Lower Saxony | Regional Hanover | 03/09/2017 | 2:30 p.m.