National Geographic Makes a Case to Ban Zoos

The iconic publication argues that zoos are not conservation organizations, and questions whether the archaic form of exploiting animals for entertainment should be banned.


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A recent feature published by National Geographic explored the viability of zoos in the current era. Writer James Draven argued that zoos are often not conservation facilities. “Zoos are prisons for animals, camouflaging their cruelty with conservation claims,” People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ Director of International Programs Mimi Bekhechi told Draven. “Animals in zoos suffer tremendously, both physically and mentally. They often display neurotic behavior, like repetitive pacing, swaying, and bar biting.” President of animal-rights organization Born Free, Will Travers, supported Bekhechi’s statement, and added that only 15 percent of the animals held captive at zoos are considered threatened—with even a smaller percentage that are involved in captive breeding programs with the goal of releasing them into the wild—which negates the claim that zoos are actively involved in restoring wildlife. Draven credited social media visibility of zoo activities—such as the shooting of gorilla Harambe at the Cincinnati Zoo last year—for a decline in public opinion about the facilities. “When it comes to lethal force and animal welfare, at least,” Draven wrote, “public opinion swiftly sides against zoos.” The plight of animals in the entertainment industry is starting to gain public awareness, as evidenced by rock bottom attendance at SeaWorld in recent years and the lack of demand for exotic animal circuses—which forced 146-year-old circus Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus to shutter earlier this month.