Are some species too wild for life in captivity?

An orangutan named Sandra, covered with a blanket, gestures inside its cage at Buenos Aires' Zoo

“When we return wild animals to nature, we merely return them to what is already theirs. For man cannot give wild animals freedom, they can only take it away.” ~Jacques Cousteau

Today we came across a great article on theconversation.com asking the question, “Are some animals better suited to be held in captivity?” The author argues that the answer is yes…some animals are better suited than others, and says:

“The principal question for me is whether a species can be kept in captivity without significant psychological suffering. If science can prove the answer to this question is ‘no’ then the animal should never be kept in captivity.”

While I don’t believe any animals should be kept in captivity, I am in complete agreement that the level of suffering for some animals in captivity is greater than others. Animals that have a significant sense of self and understand their living environment (e.g. whales, dolphins, elephants), such that the confinement / monotony of captive living leads to psychological suffering, should not be held in captivity.

The only issue I have with the author’s statement is the phrase “if science can prove”. What constitutes an acceptable level of scientific proof? How many pieces of neurological, behavioral and anecdotal evidence do we need to enact change? What about witness accounts and acts from the captive animals themselves? At what point do we say – “Enough is enough – what we’ve seen warrants change”? SeaWorld will argue to no end that there is “no scientific proof” that captivity is bad for its whales. That the life they’re giving the animals (one that is full of food and free of natural risks) is superior to one they would have in the wild.

We know this isn’t the case. The whales suffer – and there are consequences for both humans and whales alike

If there are no agreed upon (or legally enforced) parameters to determine “significant suffering” – the issue just continues to be contentious matter of opinion between the people that care about the animals and the ones that care about making money.

By Bailey Schroeder, ResQwalk Founder + CEO

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