Zoos can be a bit more of a moral grey area than facilities that keep marine mammals in captivity.
Most zoos are non-profit organizations, unlike aquariums like SeaWorld, which are money making machines.
You would never see a person riding on the back of a lion or making it jump through hoops at a zoo.
Although zoo enclosures are small and not comparable to the natural habitats of animals, zoos make at least some effort to create authentic environments for their animals.
That being said, there are still many moral questions raised when it comes to keeping God’s creatures in captivity. Is supporting zoos ethical as Christians?
It is important to consider when and why zoos were started in the first place.
Zoological collections existed in most ancient cultures, including Ancient Egypt and Ancient Rome.
The format for the modern zoo began in the early 19th century in large cities like London, Paris, and New York City. During this time period travel was costly, grueling, and time consuming. Television was none existent and even photography was in its infancy.
Zoos served the purpose of bringing animals to people who would otherwise never see them.
Modern technology provides us with an abundance of resources when it comes to animals. From incredible photographs on the pages of National Geographic, to the stunning documentaries on The Discovery Channel, we currently have a multitude of ways to observe wildlife without ever even leaving the house.
Although travel is not a financial option for everyone, it has become much more convenient and affordable. Regardless of where you live, most people live just a short drive from some kind of wildlife.
Isn’t showing a child an animal in its natural habitat or a documentary of one much more meaningful and educational than seeing that animal at a zoo sitting motionless in a cage?
When I was around three years old, it cost just a quarter each for my sister and I to get into the Tucson Zoo. We went multiple times a week.
Around this same time, I would always demand that my Father flip through a giant hard-cover book of wildlife photographs before bed. To this day I remember that book, and I can recall many of the images. What I can’t recall from this period in my life is one single specific memory from all of those visits to the zoo.
There is something much more awe inspiring about seeing animals in the place where God intended.
As I got older, my visits to the zoo began to raise questions for me.
Why was the elephant swinging his trunk back and forth in the same spot every time I saw him?
Why was the polar bear endlessly pacing the same tight circle?
Why was there even a polar bear in the Sonoran Desert?
When I was in my 20’s, I was fortunate to score a trip to Kruger National Park in South Africa to photograph wildlife.
I will never forget standing on a bluff overlooking a beautiful river just as a herd of hot and thirsty elephants found the opposite bank. The elephants were full of joy as they drank and swam, the babies filling their trunks with water and playfully spraying their mothers.
Shortly after my trip to Africa, I visited the Los Angeles Zoo.
The elephant enclosure was shockingly small, and I got an uneasy feeling as I remembered my guide in Africa telling me that elephants travel over 50 miles each day in the wild.
There was no water in the enclosure either; just dirt. I felt sad that these elephants would never experience the joy of water play that I witnessed in Africa.
After viewing the elephants, I moved to the silverback gorilla exhibit.
I started to try and convince myself that it was great that these animals were safe from poaching and deforestation. Just then, a large male sitting at the edge of his small enclosure caught my eye.
He was ignoring all of the people waving and yelling at him, looking off into the distance with a destroyed look on his face. He almost looked homesick; most likely for a place he has never even seen. For me, this depressing visit was the last time I would ever visit a zoo.