It can no longer be ignored that the world around us is changing in a big way. The way we interact with wildlife and nature itself is far removed from the hustle and bustle of the modern world. Humans are solely responsible as the agent of this change—mass producing waste products that are strangling our natural world at unprecedented rates. We are now at the brink of both the decreasing health of our planet but also the peak of our knowledge and understanding of ecosystems and how they interact on a global level. This makes us uniquely situated to handle are ever-present place within our interactions with the natural world. It seems only right in this position that we, the human race, would take a stance to alleviate the suffering we have induced. Aquariums, zoos, and other conservation institutions are a great tool to use in this endeavor as they are already equipped with the resources to maximize the potential we have for relief. We must start this relief by choosing to shift our idea of how our relationships with animals and their habitats function within industrial life.
Examples of animal exploitation and the exploitation of the planets resources are abundant in the modern world. Whether it be the one and one-half acres of rainforest that are lost every second that has tragic consequences for both developing and industrial countries. Rainforests are being destroyed because the value of rainforest land is perceived as only the value of its timber by short-sighted governments, multinational logging companies, and land owners. Or the 99% of farm animals in the United States that are raised in factory farms. This prioritizes profit over not just the welfare of animals but also human health, the environment, and farmers being hurt by the intensive farming systems, implemented on factory farms. Or the capturing and breeding of orcas and dolphins at SeaWorld that take animals out of the seas denying everything that is natural to them. This sends a message that an animal’s main purpose is to entertain and put on a “good” show for visitors. That a show matters more than educating people about the intelligence, social nature, or natural families, foraging behavior, and habitats of the animals held at SeaWorld. There are an abundance of examples to demonstrate the desensitization we are forced through in our culture so that we can still exploit animals and gain at their expense. We are focusing on profit and efficiency at the expense of animal welfare and when we do this it has a negative effect not just on the animals but on the whole planet. When we fail to see ourselves as part of nature and place ourselves above animals and above nature, using them both as tools to gain, we not only cheat them, we cheat ourselves. We need to instead have a more holistic view and see them as pieces within the puzzle that is the whole health of the planet Earth.
To solve the climate crisis and create a better world for ourselves and animals, compassion, understanding, and education must be spearheading the way. Aquariums and zoos must sensitize us to the issues at hand. Education must be the number one goal of having these institutions open to the public, not as a side factor in the entertainment industry they are now a part of. Increasing people’s understanding of both the animals themselves, their at-risk habitats, and how we can best support them through our behavior in everyday life must be fundamental to your experience visiting these places. The more we are correctly educated, the more our understanding for how the world functions increases, and the more we allow ourselves to open up the helpful compassion that is inside all of us. Rescue, rehabilitation, and release for all animals inside aquariums and zoos need to be these institutions organizational tactic. This is the only model that maximizes the potential for positive change in our world. A model founded on compassion and education ultimately will work toward limiting the amount of animals that will ever need to be in captivity and work consciously and consistently at getting us closer to restoring the world’s natural balance.
The Earth is the only home we have and we have got to get it right. The way institutions are organized now do not set us up to be caring and kind to animals and the Earth. The good news is that we can change this. Knowing how everything relates to everything else in nature is essential to solving our climate crisis and this starts with zoos and aquariums rethinking their business models and motives. We have a great capacity to sensitize ourselves and others around us through systems we already have in place that will make us more caring and compassionate individuals and will ultimately lead to a better, healthier world.