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Do You Boycott The Zoo?

lionWith so many fatal human attacks in the media pointing to angsty animals in captivity (Sea World and Cumbria Zoo tiger are just a few of many recent tragedies), I can’t help but shift my perspective when taking our daughter to visit the local zoo. Is it ethical to capture wild animals overseas for our American viewing pleasure? Is the education and experience we gain enough to justify their captivity?

To be fair, I hate the term “boycott.” It feels so aggressive, so transparently negative, like you’re making a statement simply for statement-making. Like I’m wearing a plaid shirt and ripped jeans so you can kind of assume I watch Portlandia, but then when I say, “Hey, you don’t know me – I watch The West Wing and it’s none of your business, man,” you can be quietly taken aback and surprised and somewhat impressed with me, all rolled into one emotion. (Clearly that scenario has been on the tip of my tongue for no less than three weeks.)

But still, the zoo. Listen, we’re season pass holders. We frequent the zoo multiple times a year, feeding lettuce strips to giraffes and laughing about that darling orangutan who is never seen without a blanket over her head. And I know the facts: some of these animals were endangered or sick or injured and were acquired with the best intentions of healing and restoring them for a more full, happy life.

But once healed, can they lead a full and happy life behind bars? Can they grow and thrive without their natural environment – no matter how spot-on our artificial replica may be?

I worry the answer is no, and I can’t help but get a sinking feeling when I survey our local zoo to see caged birds and captive sea lions. Tell me – am I over-thinking this? Do you support your local zoo? And how do you talk to your kids about fair and ethical treatment of animals?

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