EDUCATION AND CONSERVATION: DO THESE JUSTIFY COMPROMISED WELFARE IN CAPTIVE WILD ANIMALS?
National Council of SPCA’s (NSPCA), Wildlife Protection Unit
Abstract: Contemporary ethics regarding the keeping of wild animals in captivity are evolving. Educated, informed people are starting to question the conditions in which these animals are kept (particularly for display purposes), as well as the justification for keeping them in captivity in the first place. The emerging field of Animal Welfare Science is providing more and more evidence that wild animals have ecological, physiological and behavioural requirements that cannot be met in captivity, and many concerned countries are banning particular uses of wild animals, e.g. in circuses. The NSPCA’s Wildlife Protection Unit undertakes inspections at captive wildlife facilities throughout South Africa.These inspections are either complaint-based or pro-active to ensure that high standards of animal welfare are upheld. Our inspections are not made by prior appointment, thus allowing us a truer reflection of how these facilities operate on a daily basis. At almost all display facilities that we inspect, we find serious animal welfare concerns and legal transgressions. In addition, the number of display facilities is increasing continually, coupled with a decrease in welfare standards. Most facilities cite conservation and education as justification for keeping wild animals in captivity. Our findings indicate that very few facilities contribute to either cause, and that many of them are actually involved in the potentially lucrative business of wildlife trading. I will present our concerns regarding the captive wildlife display industry and discuss some of the ways that these facilities fail to contribute meaningfully to either conservation or education. The majority of facilities we investigate provide entertainment, and are a form of recreation only. Whilst some leading international zoos have moved on from the old menagerie style zoo where animals were simply on display, unfortunately many South African facilities still claim that the mere display of a live animal is sufficient to serve both conservation and education goals, but are unable to provide any substantiating evidence for these claims.