It’s disputable whether zoos are intrinsically barbaric (I could be convinced either way, although I am leaning towards “Yes”), but I do think they promote barbaric behaviour implicitly. Their very existence only serves to exacerbate barbaric practices against wildlife and habitat elsewhere.
Massimo Bergamini, the Executive Director of Canada’s Accredited Zoos and Aquariums, once argued that zoos are needed because they are “portals to nature; unique bridges between a rapidly urbanizing society and natural habitats degraded by unsustainable human activities.” This may be true on a superficial level, but I can’t help ignore the fact that the very existence of zoos helps to reinforce the type of thinking that got us into this mess in the first place.
Most of us live in a culture that identifies nature as something that needs to be dominated, conquered, and controlled. Most believe that nature is something that exists “out there”, as a kind of stage which exists solely for the unfolding of the human drama. Most see nature as separate from us, ready to be labelled, compartmentalized and put on display. Rarely do we acknowledge the truth: that we are an intrinsic part of, and entirely dependent upon, a complex and diverse global ecology.
The result of this type of worldview is nothing less than an indifference towards, and deliberate assault on, the living world. So it’s really no surprise when the World Wildlife Fund announces that over half the world’s wildlife has been lost in the past 40 years alone.
Sadly, until this perspective changes, these delusion will continue to be reinforced by things like zoos, which will further contribute to the degradation of the living world due to unsustainable human activities.