When we think about keeping animals in captivity, then the perspective often heads toward zoos, aquariums, and research facilities. We keep a variety of animals there, sometimes for their own benefit, so that they can recover from an injury or receive an added level of security because of their endangered status. Then we visit the facilities who keep these animals in cages or enclosures as a form of entertainment.
What we do not often consider in the discussion on the pros and cons of keeping animals in captivity are the pets that we have at home. When there are cats, dogs, hamsters, fish, and other animals under our care, calling them “fur babies” doesn’t change the fact that the animals are not free to roam about as they please. We place restrictions on their movement, sometimes not even allowing them to be outside, because there are fears for their safety.
You might have the most beautiful home ever constructed in the history of humanity, but keeping a pet inside means that all they have is a beautiful jail.
Should we be domesticating animals for companionship? Is it ethical to train animals to be of service to us instead of allowing them to pursue their natural instincts?
List of the Pros of Keeping Animals in Captivity
1. Keeping animals in captivity can prevent their extinction.
Zoos, aquariums, water parks, and other facilities can help to maintain the viability of endangered species when humanity does not do a good enough job of protecting the animals in the wild. One of the best examples of this advantage is the Przewalski’s horse. Hunted to extinction in the wild, there were about a dozen left in captivity at a single zoo in Europe. Working with scientists and conservationists, a breeding program began to create new herds that were eventually released into protected areas.
One of those regions is the Chernobyl exclusion zone. The herds are doing so well today that the horses are now going back to Mongolia to live in their native environment. If we had not kept some of them in captivity, then this species would likely be extinct.
2. People can learn more about the animals and the natural world.
Doctors and scientists have an opportunity to study the animals with whom we share our planet with greater effectiveness when they are in captivity. That doesn’t mean we should be going out into the wild to take creatures away from their natural habitat. When there are orphaned, abandoned, or injured animals who require an intervention to live, then we can step in to save their lives with these practices.
When we visit a zoo or another facility that helps to care for the animals, then our monetary contributions help to fund the research that is necessary to improve the quality of life for each species. Without this information, there is the possibility that even more species would be extinct than there are today.
3. Captivity can provide some animals with better living conditions.
Animals that are orphaned or wounded may not have the capability of fending for themselves. There could also be unusual environmental conditions that exist which could put the survival of individuals, herds, or an entire species at risk. By relocating the animals into a captive environment, we are taking advantage of the lesser of two evils. Although we are restricting their migratory instincts or hunting behaviors, we are also giving them an opportunity to continue on with their life instead of perishing because of changing conditions.
4. Animal companionship provides stress relief for humans.
Many animals, especially those who come from a domesticated species, provide a constant source of support and comfort. When you come home at the end of a long day, the entire wiggling body of your dog who is super happy to see you can be a welcome sight. Their unconditional love for us is something that can help all of us get through difficult patches in life. Even if it seems otherwise, animals are not judging your choices.
Learning how to care for an animal helps people to develop a deeper sense of empathy. Dogs and cats teach us how to be more compassionate people. When they are present in your home, then they can provide a barrier of resistance to loneliness and depression.
5. Animals can help us to stay safe.
Even if we have pets who are in captivity by definition in our homes, we create a circumstance where our space becomes their space. Owning a dog helps people to feel safe because they can act as a guard against intruders. There are numerous instances when dogs and cats have helped to save human lives because of the deep relationships they form with us.
Sako was one of those dogs. He was on a fishing trip with a teen and his aunt when their car fell into a gully. After surviving the accident by being thrown from the vehicle, Sako fended off the coyotes who tried to attack while helping to retrieve water. At night, the dog helped to keep the boy warm.
6. Maintaining animals in captivity can provide an economic resource for some communities.
When we look at the process of maintaining animals in a zoo, then the community has an opportunity to promote tourism. There is an economic nexus of employment, retail spending, and indirect supports that form to keep the facility running. Large zoos, like the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, WA, produce over $17 million in employee wages each year.
You will also have hospitality, transportation, and food service positions available because of the presence of a popular zoo. The zoo in Seattle pays over $5 million out in vendor contracts each year.
7. We can mimic environments that encourage animals to use their natural instincts.
Modern zoos are fully aware of the challenges that animals face when living in captivity, especially if they are recovering from an injury or brought there because of survival needs. The dietary and physical activity requirements of each animal are taken under careful consideration, including the design of their enclosure. Zookeepers and trainers work with the animals to keep them mentally active, engaged in life, and away from the threats of boredom.
This process helps to prevent the mental degradation of the animal while they recover or adjust to a new life. Pets can receive a similar experience by offering them access to the outdoors or walks without a leash. Some critics may suggest that these efforts are not the same as a wild experience, but that option is not always available if the life of the animal is going to be saved.
8. Animals in captivity receive better healthcare than those in the wild.
Zoos have a veterinarian either on staff or readily available in private practice to help provide meaningful care to each animal. Pet owners provide the same access by scheduling regular appointments with their community provider. If an injury or illness occurs, then the vet can intervene to provide the necessary health supports that will aid in the recovery process.
These teams work to provide the animals with the best possible care in every situation. Although many animals see a reduction in their lifespan because of captivity or attempts at domestication, this outcome does not occur with all species. Sea lions live an average of 10 years longer when they are in captivity. Giraffes and tigers can also live an average of five years longer when they are in a protected environment.
9. We receive food from animals kept in captivity.
Many of the food items that we take for granted every day are present because we keep animals in productivity. Cows, goats, and other animals provide dairy products that we can use. Livestock and poultry farming give us meat items to eat. Chickens and other fowl give us eggs that we can use. When we practice sustainable and ethical care while managing these herds, then it becomes possible to maximize their living standards while creating a resource that can stop hunger in the world.
Some may not agree with the idea of using animals for food and see this issue as a disadvantage. For those who do consume animal proteins, this advantage should be a priority when grocery shopping.
List of the Cons of Keeping Animals in Captivity
1. Captivity alters the behavior of animals.
When you look at the behavior of the typical house cat compared to the ones that live in the wild, their activities are profoundly different. Feral cats learn how to hunt for their food while distrusting people. Domesticated cats that live indoors have everything given to them. When we put any animal into captivity, then we are changing their natural behaviors in some way.
Captive animals can no longer hunt for their food or follow their migration instincts. Some species may be kept separated so their breeding behaviors are kept under control. These actions can change the behavior of the animal to create complacency, aggression, or unpredictable results.
2. Animals are built for life in their natural habitat.
Even when we make an attempt to replicate the living environment of a species, it is not a true approximation of what the animal would experience in the wild. Most of them require vast acres of space without fences to embrace their natural instincts. That option is not available for most creatures. Imagine an orca who is used to spending their entire time in the ocean and its infinite space, and then being forced into a tiny pool.
Some domesticated animals have an extended lifespan when living in captivity, but that result is more of the exception than the rule. Some species can see a reduction in their expected lifespan of 70% or more when they move from living in the wild to being in captivity.
3. Animals born in captivity must usually stay there.
Another disadvantage of keeping animals in captivity is that when there are young ones born, they must stay in the captive environment because they have no way of fending for themselves out in the wild. Most zoos today are actually working with the offspring of animals that were captured in the wild, which means we are on the second, third, or fourth generation of domestication in these facilities.
That means the animals have no say over what their living conditions happen to be. If a facility is poorly funded, then they might not have the resources to provide proper veterinarian care, food availability, or clean living conditions. Animals have gotten sick, gone through forced euthanizing, or worse because there was no way to support them.
4. Animals in captivity can trigger human allergy issues.
When humans receive exposure to the same triggering items day after day, it can develop a histamine response in the body through the development of an allergy. The human system tends to cycle itself every 7-10 years, so there can be new allergies that you experience later in life that have a sudden onset. Pets are a common trigger that people encounter.
The proteins found in animal dander, saliva, and bodily fluids can all trigger an allergic reaction. Feathers and fur can spread them around a home very quickly. That means there are very real dangers that are possible which we must consider when keeping animals in captivity.
5. It can be expensive to keep animals in captivity.
Owning a dog or a cat can be a costly venture for the average family. When you budget the food supplies, water access, toys, dishes, leashes, collars, and veterinarian treatments, it can easily reach $2,000 per year for each animal. Skimping on any of these items can prevent the animal from having a well-balanced life.
When you look at the cost of keeping larger animals in captivity, especially ones that are potentially dangerous, then the costs rise exponentially. According to ZooChat, the cost of caring for an elephant over the course of an entire year is more than $130,000.
6. Many of the benefits of animal captivity focus on human outcomes.
It is important to feel safe in your own home. There should be coping skills in place that can help you to manage high stress levels. No one really wants to live a life that deals with fear, depression, or loneliness every day. Having pets at home can help to relieve those issues, but it is also essential to realize that you are keeping animals in captivity to bring about those benefits.
Even when you look at the idea of learning patience, the goal of younger pet owners is to focus on themselves instead of the needs of the animal. Treating pets well should always be a priority, but are you doing it for them or because of what you want to get out of the relationship?
7. It can be dangerous to keep animals in captivity.
Bites, kicks, and stings are the most common threats that people face when keeping animals in captivity. Farm animals, bees, and dogs continue to represent the most dangerous encounters that we have with these creatures, even though our legal system classifies them more as property and non-threatening. Although most fatalities from animal encounters are preventable, the number of annual deaths remained the same between 2008-=2015 in the United States.
During that time, there were over 1,600 animal-related fatalities recorded in the United States, with 57% of the incidents involving a non-venomous animal. The number has actually risen from 79 people per year in the 1970s to about 90 per year today.
8. Keeping animals in captivity can set the wrong standard of care for the next generation.
There are some animals who thrive in captivity, but then there are others who do not. We cannot base decisions on our needs when looking at how to care for animals who need help. Today’s children will become tomorrow’s leaders, and what they see us doing today will become the standard for tomorrow. There must be an effort at conservation and recovery in all aspects of animal care, including when we look at the pros and cons of owning pets, to ensure that we create a healthy partnership with our planet.
Verdict on the Pros and Cons of Keeping Animals in Captivity
The problem with domestication is that it can lead to a desire to capture wild, exotic animals to keep as pets. Some people are not satisfied with the idea of keeping a cat or dog at home. It is not rare for big cats to maul their owners or for chimpanzees to attack in a quest to achieve freedom.
Each animal evolved according to the environmental conditions that it experienced over time. This process took hundreds or thousands of years to develop specific features that helped them to adapt to what nature offered. Keeping animals in captivity changes that trajectory.
The pros and cons of keeping animals in captivity can seem harsh to some, but it is essential to remember that it is up to each of us to have the proper understanding of their habitat, nature, and needs. This process may teach us responsibility, but it may adversely impact the life of the animal in the process.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.