Zoos and American Freedom

I love horses. I always have, since I was a baby and I looked out at the neighbor’s cows and thought they were horses. My first word was “cow,” but I meant to say “horse.” There is something about the power with which they move, the respect you have to earn from them, and the possibilities when you do. I love to see them run freely, just for the joy of it, their muscles rippling and their manes and tails caught proudly in the wind, their eyes alight with freedom and life.

A few days ago one of my friends posted something about how zoos make them sad. His comment has stuck in my head. The problem is, I love animals, horses in particular, but they are so amazing and wondrous in general, so much more than many people appreciate. So why don’t zoos make me sad?

Maybe my sad bucket is filled with the tears of starving children. Maybe the abused animals living in the streets, the ones who snap and shy away from a human hand, take my sad card away from me.

So why do we have a problem with zoos? First, I think it’s our sense of freedom. Americans, especially, value freedom above everything else. The image of the free stallion running across an open prairie, the wind combing through its mane and tail. The wolf howling at the moon, peacefully living with nature. The deer and her fawn, free to move anywhere they need.

The cruel day to day living in nature does not come into our mind. The horses fighting with each other, maiming and being maimed, leaving the elderly and weak behind, being preyed upon by anything with teeth and claws. The fawn being ripped apart and the weeping doe, simply because there was nothing between the fawn and the wolf. Nature is cruel, and instinct and survival pushes animals to turn on each other.

Second, I think, for animal lovers, it’s our fear that the animals aren’t happy, that they are abused or mistreated. But honestly, animals in captivity, especially in zoos, almost HAVE to be treated decently, at least most of the time. Animals are extremely susceptible to stress. An animal that is upset is very susceptible to disease, will cause trouble, and generally die younger. But we don’t see that in zoos. Generally, animals in captivity live longer. I’m sure there are cases of abuse or neglect, but generally, if a zoo wants to thrive, they have to keep their animals comfortable and happy.

Here’s something else to consider. Even people trade their freedom for comfort and security, both in how we vote, down to consenting to get a job. Isn’t that what a zoo is? Even if it is not their choice, the animal trades little freedoms for security and comfort. Humans do the same.

What do you think? Were you raised with animals? Do you think zoos are sad?


4 thoughts on “Zoos and American Freedom

  1. Good questions… our Seattle Zoo has evolved over the years into an open spaces and as natural a habitat as can be created. It doesn’t feel sad walking around and seeing the animals roaming, playing and being cared for. It probably depends on the facility and level of care.


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