Last week’s incident at London Zoo, in which a male silverback gorilla escaped his enclosure, serves as a reminder of how perilous it can be keeping wild animals in captivity.
The functions of the modern zoos are conservation, education, research and leisure – all underpinned by good animal welfare.
The arguments for and against zoos are not just restricted to safety – the ethics of zoo-keeping have long been debated, with the living conditions of wild animals being balanced against the human desire to both see such animals in the flesh and also to save some species from extinction.
For many of us, a day out to the zoo is a part of our childhood – watching the penguins through glass walls or waiting for feeding time in the lion enclosure.
Chris Draper, associate director for animal welfare and care at the Born Free Foundation, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme there is little educational benefit from keeping animals like gorillas in zoos, and that conservation benefits of keeping gorillas in captivity is “negligible at best”.
There are many styles of zoos, including safari and wildlife parks where animals roam more freely than in city zoos where there is less space to exist. However ‘good’ a zoo is, it cannot be denied that the animals within it are not in their natural environment.
So what are your views? When did you last visit a zoo? Is it right to keep animals in smallish enclosures in city zoos? Are city zoos vital for saving endangered species? Where should we draw the line between what is wrong and right in mankind’s relationship with other living creatures?