Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Zoos and Captivation

It is common knowledge that zoos are a very popular form of attraction throughout the world, and countless visitors flock to see the captured animals lounging about in their unnatural habitats. Many people have spoken out over the years about the inhuman and possibly even cruel treatment of animals placed in zoo's; but as Nigel Rothfels points out, as the perceived comfort of zoo's has increased (i.e. giving the animals larger areas in which to live, and providing them with habitat's that we assume to be much more like their own) we are programmed to believe that animals are likely to be much happier and healthier, when this isn't necessarily the case. As humans, we are inclined to see the animals suffering or happiness in terms of human perspectives, which can lead to mistreatment of animals due to the inability to anticipate what they truly want and need. Rothfels argues near the end of his essay Zoos, the Academy, and Captivity, that although increasing the general size and quality of an animals enclosure at a zoo may have some effect on the animals well being, one of the things that matters most to their happiness and quality of life is their interactions with the Zoo Keepers, and how the Zoo Keepers treat them.

Franz Kafka touches on this idea of captivity as well in his writing A Report to an Academy, where he discusses the life he supposedly lived as an ape when he was first captured and brought to the human world. He talks about how he had a strong desire to escape from his cage as it was small and cramped; however, he explicitly states that he does not necessarily wish to be free. This is an interesting point because it suggests that freedom is a human construct, and that perhaps by suggesting animals shouldn't be captured we are buying into this idea that animals wish to be free as humans do. It is of course difficult for us to know as humans if this is something non-human animals would wish for; however, there is something quite important to be said about living your life as if was intended, without being harshly taken from your natural home to be placed before the ever-watchful and penetrating gaze of man.

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