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Rabbi Marc Gellman on Zoos

Written by PETA | August 8, 2007
Griedel/Creative Commons

On the heels of its amazing cover story on gorilla slaughter, Newsweek has done it again this week with a superb web-exclusive commentary by Rabbi Marc Gellman, titled, “Tiger, Tiger Why it’s time to reconsider the whole notion of putting wild animals in zoos.”

The piece is incredibly interesting, especially when you consider Gellman’s perspective. Gellman, a Rabbi, uses moving vignettes from his grandfather (a zookeeper) throughout his article, which is one of the most thoughtful pieces I’ve read in ages on the issue of animals in captivity. Here’s just one interesting bit:

“He would patiently explain to me that they did not want to be in their cages but that we put them there so that little boys like me could see up close what they look like, how they move and what sounds they make. Grandpa explained to me that this was a deal we humans made with the wild animals of the world. We capture and display some of them so that people would feel something for them and protect the wild animals that were not in cages. I asked grandpa if he thought the deal was fair. He thought and said, ‘It’s a good deal for us, and not such a good deal for them.’ I still think grandpa was right.”

Amazing . . .

You can check out the full piece here.

Commenting is closed.
  • chris says:

    I am way out of my league with the other posts. But what I do know is that my son 9 years is now interested motivated and comitted to animal conservation due to our membership and attendence to our local zoo Miami Metro In a city like miami wildlife is a conceptnot a reality. He has grown to know and love them the animals with his interactions with them. He now wants to work with them in conservation. One person one life can make a differenc. I think that GOOD zoo’s have a place in today’s society and they can make a difference in lives both human and and nonhuman.

  • Ferretboy says:

    I was reading an article the other day and it said that Perth Zoo has released nealry 200 numbats just under 500 Western Swamp Tortoises and nearly 300 Diblers back into their natural habitat. That goes to show just how many animals get released back into the wild.

  • Ferretboy says:

    thanks Maya! i will do that

  • Maya says:

    Ferretboy you can email me at I have lots of info!

  • Ferretboy says:

    it only shows 21 commentsa here but it says 22 on the other page D one day ill take you all to Perth Zoo to have a look around you can see for yourselves haha

  • Ferretboy says:

    Hey Maya! I have seen it with my own eyes D and believe me they do. I also know a zoo keeper from there and have met a few others. I went of a day course thingo once and they showed me all around the back areas such as the Native Species Breeding Program and it is amazing. And YES I would love to be in a group like that as well if there were enough people out there we would be able to make a difference to the way some zoos treat their animals and the conditions in which their kept. Believe me Beijing Zoo isnt all that good. I know soemone who did work experience there and the keepers beat the Orangutans to get them to do tricks thats why they do tricks for the public. It took my friend over half and hour to get an orangutan to ocme over to her just for food thats how scared it was of humans. I still cant believe how people would release that number of animals into another area of the wild when it was completely inappropriate! Those poor Lynx didnt stand a chance. Iv always wanted to be a rehabilitator. How do you find being one? Do you enjoy it and does it get hard sometimes? Thanks again!

  • Maya says:

    Hi Ferretboy! Thank you for the response. What you’re talking about sounds more like augmentation not reintroduction. I am not at all opposed to augmentation. For example if there were say 150 sunbears left in the wild and 2 female sunbears were released that might be a good thing if the habitat was completely recovered. As you and I agree releasing 200 plus lynx or sun bears or whatever into an area that has inadequate protection is very very bad. I am a licensed wildlife rehabilitator and I can tell you that a human teaching a wild animal “how” to live in the wild is an imperfect science at best. I’ve done it. The wild animal’s mom is truly the only one who can teach them correctly. Then you have the fact that an animal bred in captivity has not developed the correct immune system or had the right colostrum to survive illnesses and they also have not undergone the years and years of natural selection that the native wildlife have. Then there’s the fact that a bunch of captive bred animals released into the wild will create competition for the few animals remaining and cause fights for territory etc. I just think endangered wild animals have had enough torture from us human beings and we should not keep torturing them. Plus if it costs a million bucks to breed these animals the money is better spent on protecting the whole area. However like I said before if they’re as cautious as you’re describing I think it’s a good method. But remember just because a zoo puts this idealistic plan on their website it does not mean they are actually doing exactly what they describe. You as a consumer have the right to see it with your own eyes before deciding if you agree with it. But I would LOVE to organize a group with you and others to reform zoos to be just like you and I both want them to be. Seriously. It’s the year 2007 and I think it’s time for zoo reform. Peace!!

  • Ferretboy says:

    The Australian animals they reintroduce are in areas where there are already animals of that species but numbers are dwindling they wouldnt just release them anywhere and in areas that dont support them. They are released into areas that are away form roads and human settlements and before they are released they are ‘trained’ how to live in the wild e.g. they are taught how to forage in the wild and collect food and they are also taught how to recognise a predator and run! this is done by a fake eagle being flown across the roof and an eagle call being played. The numbers of these animals are coming back in these areas. Perth Zoo never breeds more than they release they only have about 2 or 3 Numbats on display and these are the numbats that are used for breeding! I understand what your saying about being against cative breeding and release and i read that link. But the breeding program mainly runs on public donation. All of the zoos programs run on public donations including all their projects such as bringing the sunbears over to Perth and building them an enclosure and supporting 21st Century Tiger ect. Numbers of animals in the areas have increased where the zoo have released them. Even while in the zoo the animal is living what is very close to their natural environment even if they are not to be released. And about that Lynx thing thats terrible! It sounds like these people didnt even research anything at all about the environment they were releasing the animals into or of what the impacts would be to the populations where the animals came from. The areas in which the animals at Perth Zoo are released into have been carefully researched this is so they know they are going to a safe area.

  • Maya says:

    For all of you who support the Perth Zoo I agree on two things 1. The enclosures look beautiful. Good for them. 2. Conservation work is fantastic I’m really pleased they are so devoted to it! However I am strongly against breeding in captivity and reintroduction. I’ve provided a link to a post I wrote about why it’s not good. Mainly the habitats where they reintroduce the wildlife are usually still being destroyed. So instead of protecting the habitat they let loose more wild animals in a place that has been proven to not support those animals in the first place. The reintroduction often causes the remaining endangered animals to have even more problems. Breeding wildlife in zoos does not save the species it only creates more animals to live in captivity. When as you pointed out there are countless wildlife to be rescued. Also please consider that every time they build a large natural enclosure for an animal that takes up natural land that used to be used by native wildlife. Here’s the link httpmaya857.vox.comlibrarypostlynxcontroversey.html If Perth Zoo only did the first two things with humane enclosures and conservation I’d say they were one of the best zoos on earth!!

  • Ferretboy says:

    Perth Zoo also replicates the natural habitat of the animals as much as possible

  • Ferretboy says:

    I agree with you there Wolfie. I also live in Perth and iv seen how good the work is that Perth zoo does. Not only do they resuce abused and mistreated animals but they are also apart of many breeding and release programs. For example the zoo breeds Sumatran Orangutans which are a critically endangered species. Earlier this year Perth Zoo released an orangutan named Temara into Bukit Tigapula National Park in Sumatra. She is going really really well and has adapted to her environment and the wild orangutans. The zoo also has a Native Species Breeding Program. This program breeds native Australian species so they can be released into the wild. This includes Numbats Diblers Western Swamp Tortoises ect. And the way the animals are looked after is amazing. The keepers carry out regular stimulation excersizes with the animals to ensure they use their natural instincts and have chalenges so they do not sit there all day and be bored out of their minds. They are given excellent medical treatment and the zoo has an onsite hospital. There are a lot fo zoos out there that dont look after their animals and use them mainly for entertainment and achiece this through cruelty but Perth Zoo does so much good for not only the animals under their care but animals in the wild aswell. Have a look at their website and tell me what you think.

  • Scott says:

    oh good i see someone else does like Perth Zoo D . Awsome

  • Scott says:

    i did write something here supporting a good zoo that actually supported a zoo that was dedicated to conservation and breeding programs ect perth zoo in australia if anyone wanted to know but it didnt get posted publicly…thanks a lot for allowing everyones opinions

  • Wolfie says:

    I know a lot of zoos around the world are pretty bad but some zoos are okay. I admit I don’t agree with zoos entirely BUT big but here they do do some good for animals. For example in Perth Zoo Australia there are 3 rescued elephants. One Trisha was once a circus elephant that was on the brink of death from illness and injury. She has now been brought back to health and is being looked after. She wouldn’t be able to go back into the wild anyway because she had never been in the wild and was too old to be rehabilitated. There is also two new sunbears at Perth Zoo that were rescued from a bearfighting rink in another country. Some zoos do actually help the animals especially when they have no other place to go. And Perth Zoo honestly promotes and funds a lot of rescue operations all over the world. I don’t know about you guys but an animal being saved and living in a zoo is much better than them being slaughted by people and illness out of it.

  • Jody says:

    i really hate zoos to me they’re just as bad as abatiors. My family always say how stupid i am to hate zoos and they say that zoos are good. it makes me upset that my family supports zoos because i can see through the appearence of the animal and actually understand how the feel about living at a zoo. their misserable.

  • Aleasha says:

    It’s so sad and sick to put animals in zoos. It’s disgusting and needs to be stopped.

  • Tamara says:

    Just a note I think that is an ‘internet only’ article cause I looked all through my copy of Newsweek and couldn’t find it. Anyway the whole article is so touching. I hate living in St. Louis where they think the zoo is just the most wonderful place in the world.

  • Ana says:

    Sorry Maya… was meI forgot to write my name….. The cats need us out there helping them!!

  • Maya says:

    Hi Anonymous!! Thank you very much! Wonderful that you rescue cats. It’s needed now more than ever.

  • Anonymous says:

    Hi Maya! I clicked…love the cat photos!!!! I also do cat rescue work!!! …….nice website!!!

  • Maya says:

    Hi Sonia! Nice to meet another rehabber. Interesting about Australia I didn’t know that. I had a wonderful conversation through email with a PETA staffer years ago and as she pointed out there is NO evidence that seeing animmals in zoos makes people respect them more. Reintroducing animals to the wild has been proven to make things worse not better. Breeding in captivity should be banned. I’m glad this is being discussed! Also I beleive there should be laws that force zoos to make humane enclosures for all wildlife snakes and spiders included. Even the best zoos in the world have atrocious enclosures for these animals. Sonia best wishes for your rehab work. STASYA if you need any advice on getting licensed click on my name and visit my website if you want.

  • stasya berber says:

    I understand zoos they are the stars and the dollars they promote conservation and establish well needed breeding programs for rare aninals even though i think the real heroes are the wildlife rehabilitators and i hope to be one myself there is certainly a place for zoos though i think they may be missing the mark zoos are often the only way for urbanised guppy raised domesticated people to get off their duff and see what they often fear and are prejudiced against. Im noticing now that its not the animals that are the main attraction if zoos need waterparks and lengthy entrances and simulation rides. this is depressing. i wish their efforts could have been used to expanding the perimeters of their animals quarters to increase the quality of their lives. but again. its all about attracting that family that would have rather spent their lives in an armchair instead of giving their dollars to the park. could there be necessary evils?

  • KathyF says:

    I once walked through a zoo alone in the morning before it filled with people. That experience would convince anyone that zoos are bad places.

  • Tamara says:

    Wow….nothing else to say except what you said Jack…”Amazing.” I will never forget what Rabbi Gellman’s grandpa told him…again amazing.

  • Sonia says:

    Maya I am also a wildlife rehabber but over in Australia. The rules over here are that you can’t show any animals to the public that have an obvious injury. So the zoos over here wouldn’t be interested in taking on these animals as there is no profit in it for them. I agree with your sentiment though. The zoos over here are always quoting how they are helping by breeding endangered wildlife but I would love to see how many of these animals actually get released back in to the wild. It is all a money making thing as they can get funding for endangered animals.

  • Brianna Fritchey says:

    I absolutely HATE zoos… the animals always look so miserable. They just stare back at you like “Why? Why am I in here?” All they get to do is eat sleep and get pointed and laughed at…

  • Maya says:

    There are thousands of wild animals that belong in zoos. Where are they? Wildlife rehab centers and sanctuaries. For example there are hundreds of wildlife rehabbers like myself who have small rehab centers. They often get owls with wing injuries so serious that the wing must be amputated making it impossible for them to live in the wild. These owls will spend the rest of their life in a small aviary on an underfunded rehab property. Of course they are treated well but a big zoo can give them a million dollar enclosure that is much better. Some zoos do this and they are the few humane zoos around. Also tigers crocs etc kept as pets cannot survive in the wild and they wind up at tiny sanctuaries. But zoos instead will breed thousands of wild animals and force them to live in the zoo when they never should have been created to begin with. It’s time we demand all zoos take unreleaseable wildlife only.