Conservation, animal behaviour, and human-animal relationship in zoos. Why is animal welfare so important?
Isabel Escobar-Ibarra, Daniel Mota-Rojas, Fernando Gual-Sill, Carlos R. Sánchez, Fidel Baschetto, María Alonso-Spilsbury
Although zoos are committed to wildlife conservation and have a long-term positive impact on visitors’ attitudes towards wildlife, the question of whether maintaining wild animals in human care is justified remains as animal welfare concerns grow and human understanding of animal intelligence and capacities broadens. Zoos have always been the subject of debate, with conflicts between those who argue they save endangered species and educate visitors, and animal rights activists who believe that conditions of wild animals are inadequate and that zoos should not exist. In this review, we do not discuss the moral side of the issue, but the scientific one. This manuscript aims to show the scope of literature available on the strengths and weaknesses of modern zoos regarding wild animal welfare. We provide information useful to argue why zoos are important in modern society and factors that influence welfare are examined. Some potentially stressful stimuli may diminish animal welfare in zoo animals, while some of the benefits zoos offer to conservation and science include the opportunity to study and learn about different aspects necessary to improve management practices; the possibility of breeding wild animals in zoos has been a key factor in the recovery of species that have improved their conservation status. Animal welfare is an essential part of wildlife conservation, so efforts should be directed to ensure the best possible quality of life and optimum conditions of all zoo animals in our care.
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