Last month BBC Wildlife Magazine ran a feature on zoos and conservation, a topic that I have quite a few opinions about. It was a good article, raising many of the main points in a pretty even handed way. Of course it was never going to come down with a strong anti-zoo conclusion, that would be a bit radical for a mainstream publication. But, crucially, it did present it as a serious debate, not just a bunch of loonies lambasting a perfectly reasonable activity. That was as much as I expected from it, and I think it does move the anti-captivity agenda forward to be treated with that degree of respect in this kind of forum.
But, of course, I couldn’t leave it at that. So, I wrote a letter to the editor (by email, of course), and was very pleasantly surprised to be told, a few weeks later, that it was being featured as the Letter Of The Month! This honour comes with a free pair of very nice walking boots, and a satisfying feeling that I wasn’t just ranting aimlessly after all.
So, I am going to kick off my blog by reproducing my original email to BBCWM. I made a couple of points that I can expand on slightly here, in case the (relative) brevity of my email left any doubt about what I was saying. For a start, I wasn’t really satisfied with the conclusion to the article. This essentially wheeled out one of the most used and least plausible defences for keeping live animals in zoos – which I felt undermined the balance and credibility of the whole piece. You can see what I had to say about that below.
Beyond that, I wanted to make an overarching point which the piece had not considered. Obviously portraying a clash of beliefs and interests is a mainstay of journalism – questioning the assumptions behind such debates is less common. What I think can really shed light on the issue is to take a step back and de-couple the conservation and education work that zoos do from the business of keeping animals in captivity. After all, natural history museums around the world attract visitors, educate them about wildlife and raise funds for various projects without any live animals on display. If the positive contributions that zoos make do not actually rely on the activities being called into question, can they really be used to defend or excuse them?
I won’t try to unpack this whole issue now, but I expect it will be one of the themes of this blog. In the meantime, I include below the original email that I sent to BBCWM, which they obviously edited – very elegantly and sympathetically – for the publication.
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