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Should This Lion Cub Be In A Zoo?

A fuzzy lion cub rolls around in the high grass. Its mother rests in the shade nearby. The area might be mistaken for the plains of Africa. Well, except for the kids waving at the animals through a glass wall. You guessed it—these lions are in a zoo. 

For decades, zoos kept animals in small cages. But in recent years, many zoos have built bigger, more open enclosures. They are more like the animals’ natural habitats. 

Despite the improvements, critics say there’s nothing natural about locking up animals. They argue that the animals belong in the wild.

Here are some more views about zoos.

Zoos teach us about animals

Today, zoos are more popular than ever. More than 185 million people visited U.S. zoos last year. For most people, going to a zoo is their only chance to see wild animals up close.

“Most people won’t have the opportunity to travel to Asia or Africa to see orangutans or elephants,” says Rob Vernon. He works for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). The group makes sure zoos treat their animals well. 

But zoos aren’t just places to see animals. The best zoos also educate visitors about the dangers wild animals face, like habitat loss and illegal hunting. Also, some of the money zoo visitors spend on tickets goes toward protecting animals. Zoos spend roughly $230 million a year on animal conservation, according to the AZA.

Harold Barkley/Toronto Star via Getty Images

This is a zoo in the early 1970s. How does this cage compare with zoo enclosures today?

Zoos can't compare to the wild

Critics argue that even the biggest zoo enclosures aren’t big enough for many animals. Polar bears might walk or swim up to a hundred miles a day in the wild. In zoos, they often live in an area about the size of a school gym.

Many animals also need more company. In the wild, elephants live in large family groups. But in zoos, they often live in pairs—or alone. More than 25 U.S. zoos have changed that. They sent their elephants to sanctuaries, where the animals live in large groups with more room to roam.

Life in captivity can be hard for large animals. Many show signs of being lonely, bored, and sad.

“When you see a tiger pacing back and forth, that is a very stressed tiger,” says Lori Marino, a scientist who studies animal behavior. 

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Should this lion cub be in a zoo?
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  1. What improvements have zoos made in recent years?
  2. According to Lori Marino, how does living in captivity affect animals? Include an example.
  3. What is the purpose of the graph on page 5? Why do you think the authors included it?

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