The recent tragic shooting of an enclosed gorilla precipitates musings on the value of zoos.

As a child I was very fond of the writings of Gerald Durrell. In standard six, we all enjoyed his most famous book, My Family and other Animals, as setwork. Most of his books were of the comedy-adventure type describing his many excursions aimed at collecting animals. He also made a number of documentaries for TV. Durrell held that zoos have an important role to play in conservation, and given my reverence for the man, I accepted this viewpoint for a very long time.

Now, not so sure. Why, for instance, are we keeping animals that are not endangered, and at what point are we just keeping the critters to gawk at for entertainment? Is there really a net value in zoos the way they are operated?


Sadly us humans only care about things we can physically observe. I see zoo’s as more of an educational thing than anything else.

That and it’s a great way to sell ice-cream.

Some points to ponder.


I havent visited a zoo in a very, very long time, I never enjoyed it even though my kids did (as most kids likely do). I cant even keep a budgie in a cage as it seems cruel. I agree with Boogie about the educational aspect of it, and I’m sure it was extremely educational for the visitors in the California zoo to see a gorilla shot dead because some idiot human mother didnt keep her young on a leash. But I’ll leave that there.

As I recall, both Jhb and Pta zoos are quite advanced in their layout and keeping of the animals, and there was space for them to move (recalling specifically the Joburg zoo’s wild dog camp, they had space to run).

As for your question Rigil, imo Zoos are just places where we keep critters to gawk at for entertainment.

Zoos are among the most popular places to visit in any cities that have them. You will find yourself up against furious opposition if you try to close them.

Perhaps they are simply there as entertainment, but so what? The animals for the most part don’t mind. Gerald Durrell himself told this story: they were in South America on a collecting expedition and had cages filled with wildlife, when civil war broke out (or something like that) and they had to set all the animals free again. So they simply opened all the cages, assuming the critters would fly/run/slither off. It didn’t happen. Even after just a few days of captivity, the animals all knew a good thing when they saw it. Why leave a place where you are safe and get fed?

Bottom line: animals simply do not have any concept of liberty as we understand it, and most of them do perfectly well in modern zoos, where they are no longer kept in small cages. If we close down all the zoos, what will we do with all those animals anyway? They can’t be released into the wild. But I suppose the anti-folks want the zoos to be slowly phased out.

As for the gorilla case, I have not read any of the details. There was a similar case some years ago, where the gorilla did not harm the child at all. I suspect the shooting was unnecessary. Might have been a good idea to tranquilize not just the gorilla, but the child as well - if he just lay there, it is unlikely that a vegetarian animal would do him any harm. Or toss the irresponsible mother in after him. I’m sure the crowds would love it, and YouTube would light up like a rocket… :slight_smile:

Apparently they contemplated that option but rejected it on the grounds that the tranquilliser wouldn’t act fast enough.

The cynic in me is strongly inclined to suppose that zoo officials were put in an impossible situation by the negligence of a dopey bimbo, and they chose the alternative that would cause them, overall, the least harm. Given the plenitude of interest groups in the US and their litigious natures, replacing a gorilla was the cheapest and most speedily repaired hole.


Watch footage (Mind your ears… volume down). of the event. IMHO the gorilla was handling the child pretty roughly, and would seem to have been posing a danger.

I think bleeding hearts claiming he was gently trying to save the child are overblown.

Yes, it’s easy to talk now that the child lives and the gorilla is dead. If the opposite were true the outrage would blot out the sun.

Probably - they were in an impossible position, really. And America is controlled in its entirety by lobby groups, interest groups, hysterical bandwagons etc. Next thing, zoos all over the world will review the design of their enclosures and make sure nobody can get in anymore. This will probably mean putting thick glass between the animals and the visitors, which will greatly spoil everyone’s experience of the zoo.

The whole thing is really just a storm in a teacup. Kids get lost in zoos and malls all the time, and in this case the outcome was tragic, but hardly the end of the world.