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

Mengele Twin; Serious Prose

This is a serious prose speech that I copied the words from a YouTube video, which is linked below.


“We got down from the cattle car.  People were selected to live or to die.  People crying, pushing, shoving, dogs barking, and I actually turned around in trying to figure out what is the place?  And as I turned around, I realized that my father and my two older sisters were gone. Never saw them again. We were holding onto Mother for dear life.

A Nazi was running in the middle of that selection platform yelling in German, ‘Twins, twins.’  He noticed us and demanded to know if we were twins. And my mother asked, ‘Is that good?’ And the Nazi said, ‘Yes.’  My mother said yes. At that moment, another Nazi came, pulled my mother to the right, we were pulled to the left, we were crying, she was crying.  And all I ever remember is seeing my mother’s arms stretched out in despair as she was pulled away. I never even said goodbye to her, but I did not understand that this would be the last time that we would see her, and all that took 30 minutes from the time we got down from the cattle car and my whole family was gone.  Only Miriam and I were left, holding hands and crying.

We were Mengele twins, which we found out later on what that meant.”

Eva Mozes Kor and her twin sister Miriam were born in Transylvania, Romania in 1934.  In May 1944, she and her family arrived at Auschwitz. Towards the end of her video, which is available to see on YouTube, Eva says that she discovers the power of forgiveness.  Many Holocaust survivors felt guilty after the war was over, feeling like they didn’t deserve to live while so many others died. Some were consumed by hate, hating survivors that forgave Nazis, hating the Nazis, hating their god for bringing all this hardship upon them.  But as Helen Waterford said, “I had learned only too well that hate is a boomerang that only destroys the sender.” Forgiveness is truly an incredible power.

“Mengele would count us every morning.  I was used in two types of experiments. Monday, Wednesday, Friday they would put me naked in a room with my twin sister and many other twins, up to eight hours a day.  They would measure every part of my body, compare it to my twin sister, and then compare it to charts. On alternate days, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, they would take us to a blood lab.  They would tie both my arms to restrict the blood flow, take a lot of blood from my left arm, and give me a minimum of five injections in the right arm. The content of those injections, we didn’t know then, nor do we know today.  After one of those injections, I became very ill with a very high fever. My legs and arms were swollen and very painful. I was trembling as the August sun was burning my skin. And I had huge red spots covering my body. The next visit to the blood lab, they didn’t tie my arms.  Instead of that, measure my fever. And I was immediately taken to the hospital. The hospital was another barrack, but it was filled with people who looked to me more dead than alive. Next morning, Mengele came in with four other doctors. Never, ever examined me, looked at my fever chart, and then he declared, ‘Too bad.  She’s so young. She has only two weeks to live.’

For the following two weeks, I have only one clear memory.  Crawling on the barracks floor, because I no longer could walk.  And crawling to reach a faucet with water at the other end of the barrack, and as I was crawling, I would fade out, in and out of consciousness, telling myself I must survive, I must survive.  After two weeks, my fever broke. It took me another three weeks before my fever charts showed normal. Miriam . . . When I got back she was sitting on the bed, staring into space. When I ask her, ‘What happened to you?’ she said ‘I cannot talk about it.  I will not talk about it.’ And we didn’t talk about Auschwitz until 1985.”

“When I ask her in 1985, ‘Miriam, what happened to you while I was in the hospital?’  She said, ‘I was under Nazi doctor supervision 24 hours a day.’ It was the same two weeks that Mengele said I would die.

So I said to her, ‘What happened to you after the two weeks were up?’  She said she was taken back to the labs, injected with many injections that made her feel very sick.  As we found out years later, when she grew up, got married in Israel, expected her first child, she developed severe kidney infections that did not respond to any antibiotic.  Second pregnancy in ‘63, the infection got so bad that the Israeli doctor studied her, and they found out that Miriam’s kidneys never grew larger than the size of a 10-year-old child’s.  So I begged Miriam not to have any more children, because every pregnancy was a life crisis. But she had a third child, and after the third child was born, her kidneys started to deteriorate, and by 1987, they failed.  At which time I donated my left kidney. I had two kidneys and one sister, so it was an easy choice. But a year later, she developed cancerous polyps in the bladder.

The doctors kept asking me to find our Auschwitz files.  We never found our files. We never found out what was injected into our bodies, and Miriam died June 6, 1993.

Months after Miriam died, I received a telephone call from a professor at Boston, who said he had heard me speak and he would like me to go to Boston and speak.  And when I came there, it would be nice if I could bring a Nazi doctor. I was stunned at such a question, and then I thought about it, I remembered that the last project that Miriam and I worked together before she died was in 1992.  It was a documentary done by a German television about the Mengele twins, and in that documentary, there was a Nazi doctor from Auschwitz. And I figured if he was alive in ‘92, he might be alive in ‘93. So I got his telephone number, I called him and invited him to Boston.  He told me he was not willing to go to Boston, but he was willing to meet with me at his house in Germany.”

“ I didn’t plan to ask him any of these questions, but suddenly, I am asking him, ‘You were in Auschwitz.  Did you ever walk by a gas chamber? Did you ever go inside the gas chamber? Do you know how the gas chamber operated?’  He said, ‘Mm-hm, mm-hm.’

He said, ‘This is the nightmare that I live with every single day of my life.’  And went on describing the operation of the gas chamber. He was stationed outside, looking through a peephole while the gas was coming down and people were dying.  When everybody was dead, and nobody moved, he knew that they were dead, and he signed one death certificate. No names, just the number of people that were murdered.  

I asked him to go with me to Auschwitz in 1995, when we would observe 50 years since the liberation of the camp.  Because I wanted him to sign a document, just what he told me, but I wanted it signed at the ruins of the gas chamber in Auschwitz.  He agreed immediately. I will have an original document signed by a Nazi. And if I ever met a revisionist who said the Holocaust didn’t happen, I could take that document and shove it in their face.

I wanted to thank this Nazi doctor for his willingness to document the gas chamber operation.  I didn’t know how to thank a Nazi. I didn’t tell anybody about it, because even to me it sounded strange.  I didn’t want anybody to change my mind. After 10 months, one morning I woke up. And the following simple idea popped into my head.  How about a letter of forgiveness from me to Dr. Munch? I knew immediately that he would like it, and that was a meaningful gift. An Auschwitz survivor gives him a letter of forgiveness, to a Nazi doctor.  But what I discovered for myself was life-changing. I discovered that I had the power to forgive. No one could give me that power, no one could take it away. It was all mine to use in any way I wished. And that became an interesting thing, because as a victim of almost 50 years, I never thought that I had any power over my life.

Now, I began writing a letter, and I didn’t know how to write a letter of forgiveness.  And it took me four months to write it. And then I thought somebody might read it, for my diction in English is good, but my spelling is not.  I wanted my former English professor to correct my spelling, so I called her. We met three times. And the third time, she said to me, ‘Now, Eve, very nice.  You forgive this Dr. Munch. Your problem is not with Dr. Munch. Your problem is with Dr. Mengele.’ I was not quite ready to forgive Mengele. She said to me, ‘Okay.  I have been meeting with you, correcting your letters. Now I want you to do me a favor. When you go home tonight, pretend that Mengele is in the room, and you are telling him that you forgive him.  Cause I want to find out how would it make you feel if you could do that.’ Interesting idea, I thought.

And when I got home, actually, I did something else.  I picked up a dictionary and wrote down 20 nasty words, which I read clear and loud to that make-believe Mengele in the room.  And at the end I said, ‘In spite of all that, I forgive you.’ Made me feel very good. That I, the little guinea pig of 50 years, even had the power over the Angel of Death of Auschwitz.

So that was the way we arrived in Auschwitz.  Dr. Munch came with his son, daughter, and granddaughter.  I took my son and my daughter. I read my declaration of amnesty.  And I signed it. Dr. Munch signed his document. I felt, free, free from Auschwitz, free from Mengele.

So now that I have forgiven him, I knew that most of the survivors denounced me, and they denounce me today also.  But what is my forgiveness? I like it. It is an act of self-healing, self-liberation, self-empowerment. All victims all hurt, feel hopeless, feel helpless, feel powerless.  I want everybody to remember that we cannot change what happened. That is the tragic part. But we can change how we relate to it.