From The Sunday Times
August 24, 2008
If animals have feelings, can we justify ogling them in zoos?
As Gana’s loss of Claudio went round the world, the director of Münster zoo hailed the episode as “one of the greatest gifts that a zoo can bestow – to show ‘animals’ are very much like ourselves, and feel elation and pain.
Gana lost a child, but I think in that loss she taught people here so much”.
Others think that the story has opened a fresh line of attack on the existence of zoos and their breeding programmes in particular. “What in the world was the zoo doing allowing a female to breed?” asked Marc Bekoff, the ethologist.
“A baby in the wild is born into a large social group. What kind of life is the baby animal going to have in the zoo – sentenced to a lifetime in captivity? Zoos say it’s about repopulating wild populations but that’s a lot of bull. They’re going to make a lot of money, selling cute toys and candy.”
Berlin zoo intervened 18 months ago to save the life of the now internationally renowned polar bear cub Knut after he was rejected by his mother at birth.
Several polar bear experts objected, saying that it was unnatural for the zoo to step in and rescue the bear: human intervention would result in Knut being unable find a mate and would leave him dependent on humans.
Similar arguments were raised earlier this year after the birth and rescue of another polar bear cub rejected by its mother at Nuremberg zoo.
The death of Claudio adds to the belief that breeding in captivity may be a mistake. Eleven-year-old Gana has a history of neglecting her young. Claudio’s death may have been a result of Gana’s poor parenting, which itself may well have been the result of Gana’s detachment from the wild.
Last year Gana rejected a six-week-old daughter, Mary Zwo.
The baby was moved to a zoo in Stuttgart, where she is now one of the star attractions.
Ian Redmond, of the United Nations’ great apes survival project, points out that keeping animals in zoos does not hurt only animals. “Forests are important for the planet and great apes are a keystone species in the forest ecology,” he says. Without the apes, does the forest suffer?