Why COVID19 crisis should teach us something about the cruelty of captivity




The lockdown made humans experience how “imprisonment” looks like. This situation forced us to deal with the harshness of social distancing. Some of us have been isolated from their families, while we have all experienced how terrible it is to be distant from our beloved. Fortunately, for us, there is the assuring idea that sooner or later this will come to an end. But what if it won’t? For some creatures, this is the case. Zoos, aquariums, circus and other similar businesses expose animals to long-term quarantines that, unlike the real one, do not last just 40 days. If we go back to our childhood, probably our minds are able to recapture at least that one time in which we went to see wild animals in a zoo. Most of us must have found it amazing, but today we would probably immediately recognize a discrepancy between wildness and zoo. By creating this kind of places, which sometimes do not even allow animals to freely move within adequate spaces, humans have irrevocably connected themselves to wild nature. This abnormal interconnection, which goes against any natural law, made animals vulnerable and dependent on us. As Bill Maher points out in a recent episode of his late night show, most of diseases are zoonotic, which means that they start from animals and then expand to humans. But why would they start from animals? To explain it in simple terms, because we expose animals to amassment and confinement, that is exactly what experts are warning us not to do in order to get rid of the virus.


Due to Coronavirus emergency, another arguable aspect of zoo-business has been put under the spotlight. Beyond the unethical and immoral characteristics of zoos, COVID19 sheds light on the risky linkage between humans and captive animals. Indeed, many zoos are now complaining about the fact that, because of social distancing, zookeepers are unable to “take care” of the animals. The question is the following, what is the real concern of zoos? Animals or profit? For sure, zoos would not exist without animals, which are the money-maker actors. As a German zoo director declared: “If it comes to it, I'll have to euthanize animals, rather than let them starve, […] At the worst, we would have to feed some of the animals to others”.  To some of us, this might look like a paradox. We are responsible of animals’ imprisonment and, at the same time, we are going to become their executioners. Seals and penguins are destined to this horrific fate since they need big quantities of fresh fish daily. Certainly, if penguins were in the cold and ice of Antarctica the virus would have not had an impact on them. We are witnessing a dramatic reversal of the predator-prey cycle, in which, once again, humans had a hand in. 
Why should penguins be sacrificed for being in the wrong place? And why should be humans to manage the predator-prey cycle? This global emergency would have been limited to the human world, however, because of the zoo-business, it has spread its effects to some animals. 


Despite the unhappy destiny of captive animals, the COVID19 crisis had outstanding spillovers on wild nature. This is probably the best spring that animals are living since human’s footprint expansion and invasion over their habitats. It looks like animals are recovering from our occupation. Air is cleaner, pollution has remarkably decreased, wild animals are free to move in their environments without human interference. These are just a few of the uncountable benefits that nature is starting to collect with humans locked at home. As the Chief of Environmental Economist at the United Nations Environment Programme said: “every crisis provides the opportunity to learn”. The aforementioned step is crucial if we want to prevent our world from further disasters before reaching the final environmental tipping point. We have already crossed numerous tipping points, which marked irreversible variations such as the extinction of many species; however, there is still hope. Businesses should shift towards a greener reality, balancing profit with sustainability. Hence, the trade-off between human and nature’s sovereignty must stop. Continuing to prioritize human's interests over the environmental ones would be extremely short-sighted if we consider a bigger perspective. In fact, we are the ones depending on nature. Excluding distortions such as those occurring within zoos, nature bargaining power is much higher than ours and if we want to continue carrying out unsustainable lives we should also be aware that it will lead to a zero-sum game. There is no way through which we can win against nature by exploiting it to the full and expecting no backlashes. Zoonotic diseases (e.g. COVID19, Sars, Madcow…) efficiently prove it. Hence, the only remaining chance is the one of moving side-by-side with it, finding ways to fulfil both parties’ interests. For instance, the implementation of renewable resources is an example of good usage of natural resources. There is concrete evidence of Nations’ commitments (e.g. EU’s objective to become the first climate-neutral continent by 2050), however, individual effort is also necessary. This crisis is giving us the chance of reversing the situation, learning from prior errors and developing new solutions. Re-thinking about the presence of business like zoos is important as well as reinventing appropriate business standards, which, from now on, should go hand in hand with sustainability.