Our relationships with nonhuman animals (animals) are rather complex as we all know and as research in the field of anthrozoology (the study of human-animal relationships) is amply demonstrating. Zoos (and aquariums) often find themselves in the middle of discussions dealing with the keeping of animals in captivity and to date, there are no empirical data that show that visiting zoos has any meaningful connection to an individual's later contributions to the protection or conservation of a species (see also and). We all know and have heard stories about how seeing animals in zoos has made people think more about animals or, in some cases, resulted in someone going on to make a career studying and trying to save them. However, these stories do not make for a convincing argument for keeping animals in cages.
"Is it time for America to close its zoos?"
The time has come to put out the question, "Is it time for America to close its zoos?", following up on Costa Rica's minister for energy and environment recent announcement that "they would get rid of caged animals at the country's public zoos by next year." According to the Associated Press, "Costa Rican officials say they plan to close both of the country's public zoos next year so that animals can be freed from their cages." Costa Rica also banned circuses with animals in 2002 and sport hunting.
Of course, closing two zoos is less daunting than trying to close the 222 zoos that are currently accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the more than 2000 non-accredited roadside zoos that exist in the United States (see also), but over time this is also doable. And, it's about time we learn about what people think about this situation.
What I like about asking people to vote on issues such as this is that these data -- the numbers and the comments -- can be used to analyze the nature of our relationships with other animals and why people think and feel the way they do. These are extremely important data and this is a perfect opportunity for readers of Psychology Today and others to voice their opinions, a message about which I wrote in an essay titled, "What In the World Do My Essays Have To Do With Psychology?" Psychologists, including conservation psychologists, sociologists, and others, researchers and non-researchers alike, can really use this information.