12th October 2017
The Hon. MARK PEARSON (15:58): It was not that long ago that we exhibited deformed, mentally ill and indigenous people in exhibitions such as circuses and zoos. There is no moral justification for the continued existence of zoos; they are just tourist attractions. The recent controversy over Taronga Zoo’s proposal to build a multiple-storey “eco resort” on its exclusive harbourside grounds is clear evidence of tourism first, animals last. As noted by Mosman Council in its objection to the development application:
The planned $45 million resort appears incompatible with the primary aims of the zoo, which are animal display, research, breeding and raising public awareness of species conservation.
Any feeble claim that zoos are “educational” assumes that the numerous award-winning nature documentaries depicting animals in their natural habitat expressing their normal behaviours are inferior to watching captive animals engage in stress-relieving behaviour in a cramped, alien environment. It has been well documented that wild animals cannot, and do not, have the capacity to express their natural behaviours in unnatural circumstances. Many zoo-confined animals exhibit stereotypical behaviours, known as “zoonosis”. Examples of this include compulsive pacing, over-grooming and obsessive head nodding and weaving, often seen in the elephants and giraffes currently at Taronga Zoo. What about the educational benefits for children? It is said that seeing animals in the flesh is the only way to stimulate their interest. Given the number of seven-year-old children obsessing about long-extinct dinosaurs or preschoolers watching endless loops ofPeppa Pig videos, I doubt that argument can be sustained.
The trite observation that twenty-first century zoos have transitioned into conservation zones must be contested. While the larger zoos such as the Taronga Western Plains Zoo can reasonably accommodate specialised conservation programs, it is hardly the case with metropolitan zoos. The dirty secret of zoo breeding programs is that zoos regularly kill surplus animals or, at best, break up kinship groups in order to export family members to other zoos around the world. The proposed new Sydney Zoo to be constructed in Western Sydney Parklands is a classic example of a zoo that is designed primarily as a simple exhibition for tourists, not for animal welfare or conservation. The promotional materials give the game away—spruiking the zoo’s proximity to other tourist attractions such as Wet’n’Wild Sydney, Sydney Motorsport Park and the Sydney International Equestrian Centre. Up to one-third of the space in the tiny 16 hectares will be devoted to car parks and visitors’ entrance—no doubt well stocked with eye-catching merchandise and an inviting cafeteria.
The zoo is planning on exhibiting up to 500 animals, including all the glamorous and exotic attractions such as rhinos, lions, tigers, cheetahs, gorillas, giraffes and monkeys. The zoo’s promotional video shows that predator and prey animals are confined in small enclosures that are so closely located they will be able to see, smell and hear each other. Judging from the information that has been released, there is not a shred of evidence that there will be any conservation programs for these confined exotic animals imprisoned in the suburbs of Western Sydney. In another promotional video, the former environment Minister is shown speaking enthusiastically about the zoo’s plans to establish a breeding program for native animals that have become threatened species in the wild. Given the ridiculously small area available for the native animal enclosure, I am at a loss as to how that can be achieved. At the very least, we should prohibit the construction of new zoos, close metropolitan zoos and move any damaged animals into conservation programs on rural animal sanctuaries that can best mimic their natural environment.