Free Press column: Should the conservation methods used by zoos still be supported in 2020?

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Columnist Kirsty-Jo Muddiman explores the controversial topic of animal captivity and the morals of conservation.

How we feel about the use of animals is driven by our assessment of an animal’s sentience, or ability to “feel”, and it’s this which compels us to afford that animal moral consideration.

If an animal shows clear signs of experiencing joy and pain and has the ability to affect deliberate actions, then we are more likely to empathise with that animal and offer it moral consideration.

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We all have different acceptance criteria for animals in scientific procedures, as food and as pets. Some people disagree with animal flesh farming but do eat eggs and drink milk.

Lion photographed by @sam_m_photographyLion photographed by @sam_m_photography
Lion photographed by @sam_m_photography

So, with biodiversity gaining more traction as having global importance, how do we feel about keeping animals in captivity for conservation projects?

Chris Packham famously advocated allowing the Giant Panda to die out to extinction “with dignity” and more recently the owner of two animal parks has been reported to have urged parents to think twice before taking their kids to the zoo.

Damian Aspinall, who inherited the two animal parks, cited a “breed and cull” culture which exists in European zoos and hopes that zoos and animal parks will be phased out over the next 30 years, despite the impact on his bank balance.

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The Zoological Society of London disagrees, saying they play a vital role in the conservation of species at risk of extinction.

Controversially, Marius the 18-month-old giraffe was euthanised at Copenhagen zoo, dissected in public and then fed to the lions in 2014.

This event caused outrage and worldwide protests but only brought to global attention what is accepted and common practice in Europe’s zoos.

Apparently, the genes Marius had were “too common” to allow him to breed, the same reason cited for the culling of four lions, including two 10-month-old cubs at the same zoo later in the same year.

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The preservation and improvement of biodiversity is critical but in order for us to decide personally what we will and won’t support.

We shouldn’t blindly pay the entrance fee without considering whether it’s something we can ethically support.