Animal rights advocates, and even many animal welfarists, decry the keeping of animals in zoos, especially the unregulated, private ones like Thompson’s. And I have to confess that when I see images of animals pacing in cages, mutilating themselves, being gawked at by human observers, or lining the road like they were in Zanesville, part of me agrees. My heart goes out to suffering zoo animals mostly, I think, because I feel fully identified with their precarious place in the world. But there are other truths that beg for consideration. The first is that we are losing our wild animals at a rate nearly a thousand times faster than background natural extinction. Global warming, climate change, deforestation, human development and human overpopulation are putting the lives of all wild animals in grave danger. Wild animals have no more room, no more resources. We humans have taken everything. We have doubled our population in 20 years and are now consuming not twice as much of the earth’s resources as we were in 1990, but 10 times as much.
We should continue to pour resources into conservation, but at the very same time we need to recognize that the vast majority of these efforts are failing. Failing miserably. The harsh reality is that if we cannot find ways of accommodating and controlling wild animals in places like zoos and sanctuaries, we will lose them for good. Extinction really is forever.