In the News: Jews vs. Zoos
My grandpa, Leo Gellman, was a zookeeper at the Milwaukee zoo. My childhood was filled with happy days feeding giraffes and monkeys. I wanted to feed Sampson the gorilla and Tony and Cleo the hippopotamuses, but Grandpa Lepa never let me get close to them. He loved animals, but he also understood what it means to be wild. He would patiently explain to me that they did not want to be in their cages but that we put them there so that little boys like me could see up close what they look like, how they move and what sounds they make. Grandpa explained to me that this was a deal we humans made with the wild animals of the world. We capture and display some of them so that people would feel something for them and protect the wild animals that were not in cages. I asked grandpa if he thought the deal was fair. He thought and said, “It's a good deal for us, and not such a good deal for them.” I still think grandpa was right. . . .
The animals in zoos do not behave like their wild cousins. They mostly mope around, and some of them, like the bears I remember, have even learned to sit up and beg for treats. Look, I don't want to appear to be a zoo Scrooge here, but the enjoyment of kids at the zoo, an enjoyment that once included me every weekend, is not a reason to imprison animals. Do zoos increase environmental consciousness and thus help to protect the habitats of other wild animals? I don't think so. As far as I can tell, the people deforesting the Amazon or killing elephants in Africa for their ivory have not been deterred by outraged kids and their families who just visited the zoo. I love what domesticated animals like dogs and cats do for us: they teach us the joy and responsibility of truly caring for a living being who depends upon you and who loves you in return. However, it is simplistic and wrong to imagine that our love for Fido is the same as our love for lions and tigers and bears. Oh my!
For more information about what's wrong with zoos, click here.