The moral justification for keeping animals in captivity

Dissertation, University of Glasgow (1987)

I attempt a reasoned, qualified defence of zoos, but in full recognition of the moral challenge to them. This challenge is mainly examined in chapters 3 to 7. Animals are indeed free in the wild, and must lose that freedom in some degree in zoos *. However animal captivity need only share with human captivity its being brought about by an external agent, it can and should be captivity in a technical sense only, and at its best can clearly be morally acceptable. But there appear to be in all essential respects differences only of degree between animals and humans and no reason therefore why their moral claims upon us should be any different in principle from humans' claims. As, in addition, there appears to be a dominating tendency in human nature which, though no doubt useful or even essential in itself, also on occasion allows us to be oblivious to our own cruelty to other humans or animals or, worse, actively to enjoy such cruelty, bad captivity is a real possibility which needs to be vigorously guarded against. A comparison of the respective advantages for an animal of free and captive life shows that captivity can have the advantages of longer, more comfortable life with medical attention, but the likely drawback of an absence of the normal problems of living, especially food-seeking, in which animals, adapted to their natural ways of life by selection through millions of years, are likely to find satisfaction. However the state of domestication is not normally regarded as morally objectionable, and animals in zoos are in fact slightly domesticated. Interestingly, domesticated animals also retain far more of their natural behaviour than is normally appreciated. Certain criteria, such as health, breeding, and occurrence of natural behaviour, enable us both to assess the wellbeing or otherwise of captive animals kept in different ways, and to improve the quality of animal-keeping, as well as providing us with a means of articulating specifically and scientifically which ways of keeping certain animals are morally wrong, and which animals, if any, should not be kept at all. Study of an animal's natural behaviour and way of life is here of fundamental importance, as it also is in assessing the moral acceptability of ways of keeping domesticated animals. Certain animals in zoos and ways of keeping them are considered in the light of the criteria, and it is suggested that there are clear indications in some cases of animals' wellbeing in captivity. There are also undoubted failings in much zookeeping, and it is emphasised that keeping animals should be a continuing process of search for improvements. While traditional expertise is of great value, the importance also of being open to and endeavouring to make the fullest use of new ethological and other scientific knowledge cannot be over-emphasised. The major justification for keeping any animals captive must be a demonstration of their wellbeing on the lines above, but there are powerful supplementary justifications which I examine in chapters 11 to 16. I see wildlife conservation as part of a moral attitude of responsibility towards anything which may reasonably be regarded as of value. Valuing itself I see as a fundamental moral concept, and stewardship, which term I use without any implied religious connotations, as necessarily avoiding any narrowly selfish or purely financial motivation in, especially, management of the natural world. Animals themselves have exceptional and remarkable claims for being conserved, aesthetic as well as scientific. Respect for their own lives as individuals should also be a motive for their conservation. While conservation in the wild must be our primary concern, zoos have a considerable supplementary conservation role to play. This role, if zoos can only grasp it responsibly as they should, will transform them from being the independent wildlife consumers of past history into cooperating guardians of centrally managed captive populations of endangered and other species, whose genetic variation will be safeguarded with a view to future reintroductions if and when necessary. Zoos' scientific and educational roles also have strong conservational connections. Zoos may also assist the protection of natural areas by satisfying much of humans' urge for wildlife contact: zoos are visited by millions of people who could never, in comparable numbers, visit "the wild" without irreparably damaging it.
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References found in this work BETA

A Matter of Individuality.David L. Hull - 1978 - Philosophy of Science 45 (3):335-360.
Faking Nature.Robert Elliot - 1982 - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 25 (1):81 – 93.
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What is Wrong with Slavery.R. M. Hare - 1979 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 8 (2):103-121.

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