What Happens To Surplus Zoo Animals?
Many zoos have captive breeding programs supposedly to preserve the genetic diversity of endangered and threatened species of exotic animals. Unfortunately, these programs also breed a surplus of exotic animals that may too often be sold at auction, animals which have ended up at “canned hunt” farms here in the U.S. where canned hunts are legal. The surplus zoo animals can be shot by weekend trophy hunters who may be too lazy to go on costly, real hunts in the wild where you generally, but not always, have to work to track and kill a trophy animal, otherwise you may not come home with a trophy at all. At canned hunt farms sometimes the hand-fed, zoo-raised, somewhat tame game animals are shot at point blank range by unskilled, weekend trophy hunters just so they can say they made the kill.
The zoo business is big business and the animal trade is highly profitable as baby zoo animals are some of the most popular displays, consequently, the older animals may become unwanted, so to speak, and thus eliminated at exotic animal auctions just to make room for younger animals. In just six years one of America’s most modern, most popular, best zoos sent over 2500 surplus animals to auction and this was the activity of just one zoo! Unfortunately, the cute and cuddly baby animals may be used as sales gimmicks to get paying customers into the zoo while the older, less interesting exotic animals may go to auction for circuses, research labs, and canned hunt farms or elsewhere. Critics charge zoos may not even be able to account for where their surplus animals end up after auction as well as years down the road.
Are zoos really contributing to legitimate projects of wildlife conservation? Do they ever contribute to the conservation of exotic wildlife in the wild or have zoos evolved into a self-serving big business for profit?
Critics contend that zoos originally were in the business to re-introduce endangered species back into the wild after successfully breeding them but it never occurs. Remember, zoo visitors pay one billion dollars a year in zoo entry fees.
It costs around $20,000 a year to house just one elephant in just one zoo while the whole operational budget for some government protected, game preserve parks in Africa may only be $20,000 a year which includes the care and operation of thousands of acres of wilderness. Which is a more conducive environment for a growing population of elephants or any other exotic, endangered species? Is it a few acre zoo in America or elsewhere or a government protected 4000 acre game preserve in Africa? It actually may be more cost effective to try and protect exotic wildlife in its natural habitat instead of penned up in a few acre city zoo, but just try and convince the highly profitable, commercial zoo industry of this and you will never hear the end of it.
Today, the public relations “spin” from zoos is that they are absolutely necessary to educate the public about the plight of endangered species. Zoo management passes itself off as giving zoo animals the most natural living conditions possible. However, is this just window dressing for paying customers and the unsuspecting public?
From the animals’ point of view there may be little discernible difference between the lack of freedom with the iron bars and tiny cages of the past and the lack of freedom with the newer, larger, exotic looking zoo enclosures of the present complete with moats filled with floating water lilies.
What matters most to the wild animal instinct is the space and freedom to roam which is in short supply at American zoos. Migratory animals instinctively want to travel as they have for thousands of years. Is it any wonder the animals get stressed out and develop nervous, neurotic behavior?
Zoo operations are expensive. Today, as zoos are forced to cut costs, critics claim that raising money has become the primary goal of zoos. This means that possibly too often then that animal welfare may become secondary to fundraising in some cases. To critics, commercial zoos have become gilded prisons using all sorts of promotional diversions and distractions to fool the selfish spectators and paying customers.
To some, zoo animals look lonely, pitiful and disconcerted compared to their cousins in the wild roaming free with the wind and sun in their faces as nothing connected to life in a zoo for an animal is a cure for this loss. If you had the choice which would you choose, freedom and possibly die at an early age or prison and maybe live longer? Your answer here may say a lot about your own mind set.
The same question can be posed about marine animal parks where huge, exotic marine species live in small, unnatural, chlorinated swimming pools where they are hustled out a few times a day to do tricks for food for human entertainment all in the name of educating the public about wildlife?
SUPPLEMENTAL SOURCES: ANIMAL PROTECTION INSTITUTE BULLETIN DECEMBER 2002 and ANIMAL WELFARE ACTION LINE MAGAZINE FALL 1996