Wildlife Parks: Right or Wrong?


Dr. Jeff Werber is an Emmy Award-winning, nationally renowned veterinarian and former president of the Association of Veterinary Communicators. For more from Dr. Werber, find him on Facebook or on his website at www.drjeff.com.

I’ve always considered myself more of an advocate of Animal Welfare than of Animal Rights, though I do respect many of the opinions and philosophies of some of the animal rights organizations.  One particular area that has always plagued me with much internal conflict is that of keeping animals in zoos and in wildlife parks and refuges.  This past week I had the opportunity to visit one such wildlife park, and having experienced the venue from a different perspective as well as having had the chance to really engage in conversation with the animal caretakers, my internal conflict was actually magnified.

I guess, in the perfect world, taking animals out of their natural habitats and placing them in enclosures, probably against their “natural” will, would be considered by many, myself included, cruel.  But, it is very clear to me, that we are no longer living in that “perfect world!”  We have in many instances encroached upon their natural habitats and successfully destroyed them.  By ruining these natural habitats, we have upset the balance that has helped these animals thrive and survive for so many years.  Even the “fittest” may no longer survive.  Because of us, the “playing field” is no longer a level one!

It saddened me to learn how many species of animals were near extinction because of habitat destruction—because their balance was upset.  It was the firm opinion of some of these wildlife refuge experts, that it has now become our responsibility to provide many of these animals with a safe haven, in an environment that closely resembles their own natural habitats to afford them the opportunity to survive and breed in order to prevent extinction.  They now need to survive because of us, and not in spite of us!  

Having seen these animals roaming fairly freely in their “man-made” habitats, and having visited with quite a few of the caretakers, I was admittedly pleasantly surprised.  Though certainly not perfect, it could have been worse.  Unlike a circus where animals are kept in very unnatural habitats, and are there solely for our “entertainment,” and, clearly, NOT for their own, many of these animal parks and refuges are there for the animals’ sake, and not for ours.  Our ability to visit and see these animals is a privilege, and allows us to learn about them and, hopefully, appreciate them.  They are not meant to entertain us.

Sharing my experience with you is not meant to convince you about the merits of wildlife parks, but will hopefully get you thinking, as it did me.  Before this visit, I was not a real fan, but I can see that the argument for having them is a bit convincing.  

I would like to start a healthy dialogue with you, our readers, to see how you feel.  I am sure there are varied (and passionate) opinions about this, so I do want to keep your comments civil.  Let us know here at the Pet Health Network—we’d be happy to answer your questions and comments.

Dr. Jeff

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian – they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.