Feeling conflicted about zoos....please share your experience - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 9 Old 08-16-2011, 01:11 PM - Thread Starter
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I'm vegetarian primarily because I love animals. I have always hated circuses that use animals and zoos...don't think I need to explain why.


Well, now I have a 14 month old son, and we live in a big European city with a very popular zoo. Before his 1st birthday we'd already gotten like 4 invitations to the zoo. Every-freakin-body goes to the zoo ~even all my AP mama friends~ everyone!


So I decided I wanted to see for myself. I have heard that not all zoos are so awful, some are involved in lots of conservation efforts (this one is too) and many of the people working in zoos are animal lovers like myself and pour their hearts into the relationship with the animals.


So, today we went to the zoo for the first time. I have very mixed feelings about it.


On the one hand, it is a GREAT place for kids ~ they have good playgrounds and let's be real here, kids love seeing all those animals in person! It's fun! I mostly had a good time. I found many if not most of the animals had decent habitats and seemed fairly well-off and content.


However, there were some (the rhino, the cheetah, the owls....I only saw like 50% of the zoo so I'm sure there are others) animals who were clearly depressed and not doing well. Who had WAY too small enclosures and had worn paths where they just sort of pace around in a circle all day. It was awful and depressing to witness.


I feel like I don't want my son to learn about animals this way, to grow up thinking this is the model for how animals really are and how we as humans relate to them.


OTOH, I have this voice in my head saying "good lord just relax and quit being so moralistic!" I think maybe I can explain to DS (when he's a bit older) why some of the exhibits there make me sad and why I think some of the animals don't belong there. Just like I plan on explaining to him why I don't eat meat. And just let him enjoy the rest, like all the other kids do.


Should we really just skip the the zoo? I don't want it to turn into one of those things where DS feels left out and rolls his eyes at his stupid mom who won't let him go to the zoo when all his friends are going, ya know? Again, besides the incredibly depressing displays of captive animals who should be running or flying wild and knew it, it was a really fun, great, kid's place. We even met another AP mama (we got to talking b/c of babywearing) and ended up spending the day together. It was overall a really fun day!


I feel so conflicted. Gah!


Please share with me your take on zoos, as a vegetarian / animal lover. Do you take your kids there? If not, how do you explain to them why they're not getting to go to the zoo, and does that bother them?


Sorry this is so long, I'll be surprised if anyone reads this far, haha!

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#2 of 9 Old 08-16-2011, 04:40 PM
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I literally JUST had this conversation with a fellow vegan mama the other day.  I'm the same as you, totally conflicted.  Torn between wanting to teach my son to be a compassionate, evolved human being, and allowing him to be a normal child without an overthinking, crazy, "extreme" mother.  I think as a vegan, I'll fight this battle his whole life.  Anyway, my friend feels fine about taking her child to the zoo and suggested I come as her guest one day to see how we feel.  So, I don't have anything to add other than I'm with ya, sister!  I'll let you know how our first experience goes.  Thanks for making me feel less crazy!

vegan yogini, home-birthing, CDing, part-time ECing, BFing, sleepless but still relatively sane Mama to Oliver Blue 4/25/10
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#3 of 9 Old 08-16-2011, 05:11 PM
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another one who is conflicted. we do go, but always feel for the animals.

mama to one '07 and one '09
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#4 of 9 Old 08-16-2011, 07:04 PM
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I seriously thought I was reading a post of my own!  I feel the same way.  DS is 2.5 and I have yet to take him, however, I know he will LOVE AND ADORE it!  i thought about sharing my thoughts with him as well and teaching him compassion along with educating him on the need for conservation education at places like a zoo.  But while it can teach how beautiful animals are to people that normally would not be exposed to such ideas, it can also bring across the idea that we should control animals for self-satisfaction.  i remember my first school zoo trip and i stood in front of the polar bear exhibit watching the agitated, anxious, extremely unhappy bear pace.  Even in 3rd grade i remember thinking, "what the heck is a polar bear doing in the middle of Kansas...that's just not right!".  i almost felt shame for the zoo keepers and just felt so out of place.  but i didn't have anyone there or in my life to talk me through my mixed emotions.  i know my ds will be exposed to just the idea of a zoo so i think i'd rather take him myself and explain my views and see how he develops his own thoughts.  if later he thinks it's too sad too then we will stop going. i also think if i resist and resist him wanting to go (which i'm sure he will later once "all of his friends" are going), it could backfire. 


of course, now i just have to get up the nerve to take him.

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#5 of 9 Old 08-16-2011, 07:28 PM
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You don't need to be vegan or vegetarian to feel this way. We are very much meat eaters & dh & I have this conversation all the time. He is a hunter & we have a farm where we intend to raise animals in the coming years for food but he is VERY much against zoos. We treat our animals with a lot of care & respect & give them the best life possible - not necessarily the case in zoos.


I feel conflicted on it all the time. We have never gone as a family.

Doula mama to dd (Oct '11) & ds (Oct '08) and expecting (Apr '17)
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#6 of 9 Old 08-16-2011, 07:34 PM
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I find zoos to be repugnant. They sadden me deeply. We don't have the right to cage animals in unnatural environments (to them) for our amusement.


I am not a parent though, so I can't speak to that aspect of their appeal. 

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#7 of 9 Old 08-16-2011, 07:46 PM
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I feel the same way as Dia.  We never went to a zoo until this summer. 


My inlaws wanted to take us to an animal sanctuary in Big Bear, California.  All the animals there could not live in the wild any longer.  They were injured or imprinted on humans or something.  I felt okay about it ethically before we got there, because I knew they would all probably be dead if it weren't for the zoo.  But once we were there, it was absolutely awful.  The cages weren't tiny or anything, but a great majority of the animals were obviously miserable - pacing, hiding from all the onlookers, dead looking eyes.  Stink of urine and poo was everywhere.  I tried to imagine making my dog live out his life in one of these habitats, and I realized how unhappy he would be.  I think the wolves and the mountain lions were the saddest.  They wanted to be roaming over miles of land, not pacing back and forth in back of the wire. 


Yes, I am very much against zoos.  My children (baby, 5 and 7) don't seem to have the same level of compassion as a grown up might for the zoo animals, but they understand on an intellectual level that zoos are cruel, so they don't have any problem with a no zoo policy. 

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#8 of 9 Old 08-17-2011, 05:54 PM
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My daughter is only 8 months so we haven't had to think about zoos yet, but I am also conflicted about them.  Yes, it is fun and nice to see exotic animals that you would not otherwise get a chance to see, but a lot of the time it is at the animals' expense.  Even zoos that have great habitats for some animals have some that aren't so great.  I know it will be a struggle as my dd grows up, within myself and probably coming from her/other parents/school/etc.  I guess if you do go and encounter some animals that are obviously unhappy/have small cages/etc, you can take the opportunity to teach your child compassion and explain about the treatment of animals, and how certain conditions may not be ideal.  On the same note, I know I even see dogs chained in yards or tiny pens in our neighborhood.  I know that is something that hurts me and makes me angry, and I will use that to teach dd how to care for animals.  That could be segue into a conversation about un-ideal habitats for zoo animals too?  I don't know... I have a while to think about it.  Good luck mamas!

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#9 of 9 Old 08-17-2011, 06:33 PM
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i'm conflicted about the zoo in my hometown. i had pretty much determined not to go again, but then my sister was visiting and we went. it's a world renowned and well respected zoo and i still felt conflicted. on the one hand, this zoo does a lot of scientific work, breeding endangered species, conservation work etc. but it just feels wrong to be staring at these animals like they are some kind of entertainment. i still don't know... i don't think i'll actively stop my kid from going when she's a bit older, but i don't think i'll ever suggest it again. it just felt icky to be there, and this zoo doesn't even have any bad enclosures (their animal environments are actually considered to be groundbreaking)... no way in heck will i ever go to a second rate zoo or allow my kids to go there though (or circus or petting zoo or exotic animal show). at least a really top-quality zoo has some other mission besides making a buck. 


if you live in new york or california, farm sanctuary is a really great option to let your kids see some awesome animals up close and support an amazing cause. i think that we will make a trip out the the new york one pretty soon as i think my daughter will really love the chance to see some big animals up close. 

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