If you are a person who thinks “let nature take its course” then you might feel that there is no purpose behind today’s modern zoos, however if you feel that people need to aid in the survival of animal species then you might agree with me that good zoos are necessary.
Over the ages humans have had an interest in other animals. We hunted them, tamed them, and domesticated them. Those that we could not domesticate we hunted for their skins, or imprisoned them in cages for our own entertainment. Naturally many animals died in early “zoos”, but people studied them and perfected ways to meet the animal’s needs for survival.
The name “zoo” actually comes from “Zoology” or the study of animals, and indeed the first zoos were in part of entertainment as well as study. The actual word “zoo” was first used in the early 1800’s with London’s Zoological Gardens, which opened to the public in 1845. With that said, animals were collected and cages long before this time. One of the earliest collections of animals may date to 3500 BC, in Egypt.
Cruelty certainly did abound in ancient Rome as many wild animals were often pitted against each other for human entertainment. It is without a doubt that early zoos were cruel in that they lacked the space many animals required, and were often devoid of mental stimulation.
In my own lifetime I have seen many changes in how zoo animals are housed and cared for, with more and more zoos improving enclosure sizes and environments. When I was a young boy, one of my dreams was to design zoo enclosures for animals, this is on thing that has really improved in recent years (in most larger zoos anyhow).
Other cruelty concerns are in regards to the capture of wild animals for zoos. It is believed that for every animal caught, several die in capture attempts, or die from stress shortly after being captured. This is why some zoos only take captive bred animals.
Many zoos suffer from producing more animals than they can keep, they offer these other animals for sale, but certain animals produce faster than a demand would require. As such many offspring do not find homes – some are sold to game farms for trophy hunting (I have witnessed this myself at an auction), others are reportedly slaughtered (as in the case of deer) and fed to other zoo animals. Berlin’s zoo gained attention after hundreds of animals were noted as having gone missing, many were sent to China to be used in alternative medicine, or were slaughtered.
In some cases zoo animals are sold over and over and over. This is very stressful to an animal and could be considered cruel.