CHRONICLE – Two weeks ago, the former owner of Saint-Édouard Zoo, Normand Trahan, pleaded guilty to charges brought against him under law on animal welfare and safety. This story is one of many in which animals in captivity are neglected and endure several ailments.
In the context of growing animal rights concerns, zoo owners are trying to restore the image of this lucrative industry. In order to preserve the legitimacy of the population, they have an interest in presenting zoos as beneficial to animals.
I discussed it with Valéry Giroux, an ethics researcher at the University of Montreal.
Among the most common arguments put forward in the defense of zoos is the conservation of endangered species.
“You should know that a very small proportion of the animals in zoos are representatives of endangered species. So, in order for zoos to participate in the conservation of biodiversity, the animals must one day be released into the wild, otherwise the purpose of conservation loses all its meaning, the researcher explains. It is better to focus on restoration and reconstruction of their habitats. It is often their destruction that puts the animals in danger. ”
She also notes an inconsistency, as zoos (and safaris) themselves have contributed to the scarcity of certain species. “This is the case with the Tasmanian tiger, which disappeared in the early 20th century,” the researcher in particular states. We also know that only a minimal proportion of the animals will actually be returned to their natural habitat – a reintegration with enormous risks.
The pedagogical aspect
The pedagogical aspect of zoos is another commonly mentioned argument. Argument to say the least surprising, as zoos present an abridged reality of animal behavior.
“Animals in zoos are alienated and misrepresent their cousins who live in their natural environment. Visiting the zoo is not like visiting a piece of nature … it’s more like visiting a prison! Instead of learning compassion! it downplays the confinement of wild animals.
The researcher adds: “In the same way that one can obtain a doctorate in paleontology without having seen dinosaurs with one’s own eyes, one can certainly acquire a lot of knowledge about wild animal behavior and physiognomy without going to zoos.”
In addition, the ethical dimension weighs in the balance. Some argue that the animals in most zoos in the 21st century are well looked after and do not suffer. Valéry Giroux, whose doctoral dissertation focused in particular on “the interest in being free”, recalls that the question of suffering does not go beyond the moral question. In fact, the issue of captivity also has something to worry about (the periods of incarceration imposed on us by the pandemic should have finished convincing us!).
Animals, like sentient beings and sensinghave an interest in being free and exercising their autonomy.
“In zoos, space is almost always inadequate. It is usually 60 to 100 times smaller than the smallest territories that animals would normally occupy. Even where some larger space is made available, captive animals feel deprived of freedom and stimulation. and responds to it by developing behavioral disorders such as stereotype, apathy or self-loathing … This is an “infinite grief”, Valéry Giroux responds.
Is there another solution to protect animals while avoiding these physical and psychological consequences?
“Animals should be protected in their natural environment, for example through the creation of reserves and reserves. These are the only places that seem ethically acceptable as they are created for the benefit of the rescued animals. No catch, no breeding, no profit, no entertainment at their expense. Just care while we are lavishly in shelters. “
She points out that the opportunity for the public to visit these places is still present. “There are important debates about this. What is clear is that the interests and needs of the individual animals must come first. ”