When I was a little girl, the Miami Metro Zoo and the Miami Seaquarium ranked among my favorite places to be, right alongside Magic Kingdom and Chef Mickey’s. I loved seeing and learning about animals that I would never get to see otherwise. Seeing the king of the jungle hang out in real life at the zoo was among the coolest things that could happen to a kid like me who grew up watching anthropomorphic Disney movies like The Lion King. Kids have this wonderful ability to form connections with animals and empathize with them (I remember having full conversations at age 6 with my Pomeranian, Princess). Over the course of growing up, many of us lose this connection with animals, and even if we have pets with whom we connect, we sort of forget what lives can be like for animals that aren’t considered pets, beyond the idyllic, classical representations we have of those animals in our heads.
Animals at the zoo are a perfect example of this. We go there to see these beautiful, wild creatures that we don’t get to see in our regular civilian lives, but these animals are not happy and as a kid I never actually processed that (even as an adult, it can be easy to ignore). As a kid, I’d go to the zoo elated to meet new animal friends! I didn’t think about the fact that some had been snatched from their homes, their families, that some had never seen the vastly stunning wild that would be their natural habitat having been born into the dismal, artificial environment of their tiny zoo habitats. I didn’t see their sadness, their boredom, and their frustration the way I did when I went back years later as a young adult– as a kid, I just saw their beauty, their strangeness, I saw them as the physical representation of every cartoon and movie I’d grown up watching. But that’s not what animals are. Animals are trapped in the paradigm we’ve created for them in our society. Zoos aren’t necessary, they are cruel, and what they teach could be just as beautifully done with animatronics as they are done in several Disney Theme Parks. Sentencing these animals to life imprisonment isn’t ethical. The only places that house animals that I support are rescues, sanctuaries, and zoos that have discontinued bringing in new animals from the wild and are now working to sustain lives that have been born under their watch (if they’ve committed to making those animals the last generation born in the confines of a zoo) or have spent so many years at the zoo they wouldn’t know how to survive if released.
So to answer the question posed in the headline of this post, a vegan should not go to the zoo because zoos exist with the sole purpose of profiting from the use of animals.