Richard Moore is an animal cognition expert who works with apes at the Leipzig zoo in Germany. But as he writes at Aeon, he's often reluctant to mention his work at the zoo, for fear of running into a familar argument along these lines: Zoos are terrible places that confine animals in unnatural habitats solely for the pleasure of human gawkers and therefore should be closed. In his essay, Moore pushes back and argues that "there's a strong moral case" for the existence of zoos. He uses his beloved apes as an example. To those who say set them free, Moore responds, where? "There's rarely a viable alternative," he writes, pointing to native lands in Africa and elsewhere "ravaged by habitat loss, civil war, hunting and disease."
Into sanctuaries? Great idea, but it's almost impossible these days to find the land and the funds necessary. Critics might then argue that it's better to stop breeding apes in zoos, but Moore disagrees. Such breeding helps preserve the genes of endangered species, with the added benefit of giving the apes presumably happier and more interesting lives as part of families. Someday, it might be possible to return apes to more natural habitats, but that's not the case now. "Instead of condemning zoos, we should dedicate our efforts to supporting them," he writes, "to pushing bad zoos to reform or close; to funding more research into the welfare of captive animals; and to encouraging all zoos to strive to do more for their inhabitants." Click for the full column. (Read more zoo stories.)