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Born Free USA Blog

Born Free USA Blog

A New Book for Youthful Visitors to Zoos

What kids and others should know about zoos

Published 08/27/08
By Barry Kent MacKay, Senior Program Associate

There is a new book about zoos and zoo animals that I highly recommend for all younger readers. The reason I do so is simple: it gives the best answer I have seen to the simple question I’m frequently asked. People want to know what I, as both a naturalist and animal protectionist, think of zoos. Rob Laidlaw has provided an easily understood reply in his brand new book, Wild Animals in Captivity, just published by Fitzhenry & Whiteside (ISBN 978-1-55455-925-8), and available for $19.95.

First a disclaimer: Rob is a good friend and colleague, and founder of Zoocheck-Canada, where I am a director. But he is a good friend precisely because of his dedication to the protection of animals, and because of his balanced and pragmatic approach to the complex issues society presents. We both want to establish the rights of animals to live their lives in the absence of the abuses we impose upon them, often with specious rationales given as justification.

Yes, zoos are a fact of life, and if one simply says they should, or should not, exist, there is no benefit to the animal victims of zoos, nor the possibility of benefits to either individual animals, or species, in captivity.

What Rob has done, is very simply and factually describe the needs of animals, and what they experience in captivity, comparing their lives to those in the wild. He helps the young reader to see beyond the illusions zoos so often try to create, and how to judge zoo conditions from the perspective of the animals, and their needs and interests. And he does so by describing actual animal, actual situations, many heartbreakingly sad, such as the story of Keiko, the orca of Free Willy fame, who touched the hearts of thousands of youngsters around the world, or Wanda and Winky, so long and so sadly imprisoned in the Detroit Zoo.

He does not talk down to his readers, but rather takes them by the hand and lets them share some of his experiences from literally thousands of zoo visits around the world over decades of investigative work and associations with top authorities. He gives credit to those all too few situations where, if animals are held captive, they are kept for reasons that are in their own interests, or at least in the genuine interests of the species’ survival. The sad fact is that most zoos claim to be necessary for conservation, or education, or promoting interest in animals, but in fact exist to entertain humans unaware or uncaring about the animals’ interests, or simply to earn profits.

Not only does the book provide a checklist of commonplace abuses kids can discover in zoos for themselves, but he empowers them with a realistic list of ten ways children can help wild animals in captivity.

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