I have always held a strong dislike for zoos, feeling that all creatures ought to have the full expression of their evolutionary complexity in the way they live. All creatures became what they are out of an inextricable relationship with their surroundings and thus should live within those surroundings.
However, upon starting the book “Life of Pi” by Yann Martel, his argument that animals don’t feel stress when in confinement, as long as that confinement fulfills their individual needs has gotten me thinking a lot about the nature of both what habitat means and what our own lives mean as we live in cities today. While I won’t give up my contention that wild animals ought to live their wild lives in wild places, I now wonder if perhaps zoos, good zoos, are a necessary part of caring for endangered species today.
Martel knows his animals. He has either really done his research or spent a lot of time with animals, because he knows details about them that only someone who has spent a lot of time with them could witness. And he doesn’t “cutify” them either, a practice here in Japan that has reached epidemic proportions (and is the sad source of the Japanese illegal trading in endangered species).
I remember stepping into a pet shop in Shin-Okubo about six years ago and coming upon a fennec fox curled up in the corner of a tiny cage. I was so shocked that such a rare animal was being displayed openly like that, that my anger left me speechless. But I didn’t even know what to do. Who to approach about this here in Japan? The country where whales are killed now more out of chauvinistic resentment than any need for the meat, where whale meat is brazenly sold on mid-day women’s variety show commercials, by a woman who presents the whole product line with such a pleasant voice you would think she was hawking perfume.
People too often think of animals as mere commodities. And with the world getting smaller day by day, any reform of such pot-bellied thinking seems quite unlikely.
Still, Martel has made me ponder my own prejudices. Time to look at my own motivations.