Being a wild gorilla is far more dangerous than being a zoo-born gorilla. Yet the wild is the only slim hope of true survival; zoos are dead-ends for creatures whose dismantled native habitat makes reintroduction impossible.
Instead of seeking justice for Harambe, or improving zoo policies or exhibit design, we should first ask what, precisely, are we conserving in zoos? In my view, we are perpetuating an outmoded worldview rooted in colonialism.
The killing of the gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo has received the attention one could only expect. I don't care to join in the bashing and blaming, but I do think this is the right time to ask a far more basic question. Why do we need zoos?
There is nothing I can accuse you of that you haven't already heard. There are no harsh words I can type that you haven't already read and etched into your mind, there has already been enough shouting to keep you up at night. So let me say something that isn't being said enough.
These are uncertain times for big charismatic animals in the oceans and on land. Many populations are declining. Money is scarce for pool repairs and big mammal research, made worse by the public's vocal distrust of scientists, zoos and aquariums.
The actions taken by the Dallas Zoo, the Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, and Wichita's Sedgwick County Zoo have done nothing to help elephants but will irrefutably harm them for decades to come. All three zoos should be roundly condemned by everyone who cares about elephants.
On February 11, in response to a lawsuit brought by the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), Judge Jon Scoles issued an order that the zoo must transfer its endangered species to facilities that can meet the animals' needs.