Last semester, the university website and The Temple News profiled a Temple student’s environmental education and animal behavior internship at the Philadelphia Zoo. In both pieces, including the Nov. 12 Temple News article titled, “Madeja embraces love of zoo as career inspiration,” Michael Madeja praised the zoo as a source of research and conservation, an assessment that is misleading and problematic.
Comparing the behavior of nonhuman animals confined in an unnatural environment with their peers in the wild is a flawed comparison that yields flawed research findings; and, while the environmental education program at the Philadelphia Zoo may effectively promote energy conservation, confining animals in zoos does not protect wild populations and their habitats. According to multiple studies, captive breeding has been unsuccessful in such protection attempts, and conservation strategies that target the causes of species decline in the wild do not require the confinement of declining species in zoos.
Madeja and Philadelphia Zoo CEO Vik Dewan employ discourses of research and conservation to justify the exploitation of more than 1,300 animals, who are imprisoned to entertain humans and to produce profit. Dewan’s annual salary eclipses $300,000.
Lost in Madeja’s comments is that nonhuman animals, as with human animals, have an interest in their own lives and an interest in making their own decisions in their own natural habitats – interests that humans are capable of respecting. Animals confined in the Philadelphia Zoo are deprived of basic natural behaviors, including climbing, digging, roaming, running, swimming and selecting a partner. Distressed, these animals regularly engage in stereotypic behaviors, including incessant pacing and head-bobbing, behaviors commonly documented at zoos around the world.
Let’s account for the interests of nonhuman animals and not condone any form of exploitation on the university website, in The Temple News, or in any venue at the university.
Corey Waters can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.