Why Animals Shouldn’t be in Zoos

This is a persuasive speech written by myself for speech competitions. I got 2nd place in Districts and went to State with this piece.

You, like everyone else this year, are probably tired of COVID-19.  You’re probably tired of masks, restrictions, and social distancing.  But most of all, you’re probably exhausted by quarantine.  Two weeks isolated with no one but your family to keep you company?  It sounds like the absolute worst nightmare, right?  Now imagine swimming in circles, in a glass box, for your whole life.  Imagine treading in circles in a fenced-in enclosure until you die.  And that is a real nightmare.  Sadly, that’s the reality for marine animals and land animals, in both aquariums and regular zoos.  Animals are an essential part of our world, and it’s our responsibility to protect them, not to capture them and flag it as “conservation”.  We’ll look specifically at three of these animals: orcas, mountain gorillas, and African elephants.  Animals such as these should not be confined to zoos to be gawked at or made to perform tricks for human pleasure.

Orcas, perhaps out of all three of the animals, suffer the most.  According to the charity Whale and Dolphin Conservation, at least 150 orcas have been taken into captivity since 1961.  Though SeaWorld has not captured a wild orca for 35 years, they have been breeding them in captivity.  Even when they are born in captivity, orcas all carry a natural instinct to swim far and dive deep, up to 1,000 feet, which is not possible in the current 35-foot deep pools they presently inhabit.  Although SeaWorld has proposed to build larger pools, about 50 feet deep, this is still not big enough for these wild animals.  If that doesn’t convince you, the web article “Why SeaWorld’s Tanks Will NEVER Be Enough” states, “In the last 10 years, seven orcas owned by SeaWorld have died at an average age of less than 13, whereas orcas in the wild have an average life expectancy of 30 to 50 years—and some can even live to be more than 100.”

Maybe it was because of the cramped pool size, or maybe it was just in his natural instincts as a predator.  Whatever the reason, on February 24th of 2010, Dawn Brancheau, a trainer at SeaWorld, was killed by an orca, Tilikum, during the show.  When Brancheau turned her back, Tilikum grabbed her by her arm and pulled her into the water, swinging her around in his mouth.  Guests watching the show were quickly ushered out of the area and workers tried to corral Tilikum, but by the time they were able to retrieve Brancheau, she was dead.  An autopsy conducted by Doctor Joshua Stephany on February 25th determined her cause of death was due to drowning and traumatic injuries.  Tilikum had also been involved in the deaths of two other individuals before Brancheau, one a trainer, the other a trespasser.  This is yet another reason that animals such as orcas should not be kept and made to display themselves unwillingly.

It is not only sea life that suffers from being in captivity.  On March 19, 2012, at the Buffalo Zoo a 400-pound male silverback gorilla named Koga escaped.  He took advantage of an unlocked door and slipped into a small area behind his living space, used only by zoo personnel.  A keeper who had cared for the gorilla since he arrived at the zoo in 2007 was bitten on her hand and on her calf, in what officials said was an act of excitement rather than aggression.  Police sent in the SWAT team to secure the area while a veterinarian used a handheld blow gun to sedate Koga.  There have been many escapes in zoos by gorillas, which shows just how risky it is to coop up these potentially dangerous animals.  Even though gorilla enclosures are guarded with layers of safety glass, on April 17th of 2015 a gorilla at the Henry Doorly Zoo managed to break the first of the three layers of protective glass enclosing their exhibit.  Officials say that this is not unusual.  Gorillas pound on the glass to assert their dominance and because of the sound it makes.

Although the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums claims that zoos are great places to show people about the natural world and the need for conservation, many species in captivity are not thriving.  Many captive gorillas are obese because they consume more food and do less exercise than they would in the wild.  According to SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment website, in their natural habitat, a single troop, or group of gorillas, can have a home range of around 10 square miles.  In the Henry Doorly Zoo, the Hubbard Gorilla Valley is an enclosure of about three acres, equivalent to approximately four-thousandths square miles.  That is about four-hundredths percent of their home range in the wild.  This would be comparable to going from living in your house to only living in your bathroom.

The March 5, 2018 Atlantic article, “Something Mysterious Is Killing Captive Gorillas” states: “Although heart disease is nearly absent in wild populations, it’s the leading killer of captive male gorillas around the world.  Roughly 70% of adult male gorillas in North America have heart disease, and may die prematurely as a result.”  The article goes on to detail the story of Mokolo, an adult male gorilla who suffers from heart disease.  “Specifically fibrosing cardiomyopathy, a condition that turns red, healthy heart muscle into bands of white scar tissue too rigid to pump blood.”  The article states that the mysterious killer may not be the gorilla’s hearts, but their guts.  In the wild, gorillas can spend up to 70% of their time foraging for high-fiber plants, whereas gorillas in captivity on the “biscuit diet” can devour their food in just 30 minutes.  This might contribute to a behavior called regurgitation and reingestion, in which animals intentionally bring up their food and eat it a second time.  I know with complete certainty this information is true, because I have seen a gorilla do this before.  This behavior has never been recorded in wild gorillas, but has in nearly two-thirds of captive gorillas.

In addition to sea life and primates suffering in captivity, large migrating land mammals also are being restricted to confining cages that are allegedly “authentic” when compared to their natural habitat.  Elephants in Kenya move around the country year-round, following the rains, searching for grass and water sources.  African elephants are one of many species that migrate annually, and during one of the driest seasons they were estimated to travel a total of 100 kilometers, about 62 miles, says SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment.  Associating a line of travel to the square footage of a zoo enclosure is not really a fair comparison, but placing migrating animals in cages that are the tiniest of fractions opposed to their normal range is not exactly fair either.

According to the Henry Doorly Zoo website, the elephant zoo enclosure, including the indoor family quarters, is about the area of six football fields.  However, because elephants migrate, their territory is estimated to extend up to approximately 4,247 square miles, or about 2,055,548 football fields.  The Henry Doorly Zoo enclosure then is four-ten thousandths percent of their normal territory.  I had to find all these measurements myself, through a long process of calculations that tested my math skills.  Don’t be alarmed, I won’t bore you with all these numbers, but I was frustrated that the Henry Doorly Zoo didn’t tell me exactly how much room the elephants have.  Since the dimensions are hard to visualize, here’s a comparison.  According to their website, the Conestoga Mall in Grand Island is 545,000 square feet.  Four-ten thousandths percent of that is 218 square feet.  Imagine living in the Conestoga Mall, able to roam about with more space than you could dream of.  Now imagine going from that to only living in your bedroom. Honestly, that doesn’t really sound too bad, but here’s the catch: your mother, your father, your aunt, your cousin, your brother, and your sister are all living in your bedroom with you.  Unfortunately, that’s what it’s like for the seven elephants that are living in the Henry Doorly Zoo enclosure.  They are being confined to places so tiny it’s hardly comprehensible.  Keeping in mind all the numbers I told you, Henry Doorly Zoo provides the best indoor space for elephants in all of North America.  Now think of the zoo in Topeka, Kansas which was ranked number one on a list of the top ten worst zoos in America in 2017, according to In Defense of Animals, an international animal protection organization.  Over the span of two weeks, I called the Topeka Zoo to get their take on the situation.  After a series of emails and two phone calls, I was finally able to speak with the animal care supervisor, Shanna Simpson.  After a 30-minute conversation, I can say that the Topeka Zoo does have the best interest of their animals in mind; however, after a lengthy email conversation with Judy Carman, a worker of In Defense of Animals, I have come to the conclusion that their facilities do not support their good intentions, for their elephant enclosure is a mere three-quarters of an acre, or a little more than one-half of a football field.

While I agree that zoos are a wonderful way for normal people to be in the presence of extraordinary animals and learn more about them, it shouldn’t be at the expense of these animals’ lives and health.  There’s a difference between human entertainers, who can make the choice to perform, and animal entertainers, who can’t talk and agree willingly to be on display.  Zoos are nothing more than pretty and well-advertised cages.  Animals like orcas, mountain gorillas, and African elephants should not be confined to zoos, but we should instead find solutions that will improve the animal’s living conditions and help people experience the wonder they bring about.  We need to meet them halfway, since they can’t speak for themselves.

Thank you for reading!

Alex Parker

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Alex Parker

Hello! I'm a teenager who loves to read, write, and inspire. My dream is to write something that will inspire people all over the world. Thank you so much for reading and supporting me!!

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