Is it time to close the zoo?

8th September 2000

I BECAME a member of Dublin Zoo this week. At £62 it seems like good value for entry for the family for the year.

There’s lots to do, it’s well set up for the kids and now that it has doubled in size, it makes for a great day out.

But enough about me. After all, I’m human, I don’t have to live there.

I’ve always felt vaguely guilty about the zoo where wild animals are caged for my entertainment.

And I’m not an animal rights type, having shot many a bird and animal. But it always jars with me to see lions and tigers enclosed in a space the size of a tennis court.

I always end up asking the question – should the zoo be closed and the animals released into the wild?

Zoos were originally freak shows to entertain the masses in the late 1800s. In recent years, under sustained pressure from animal rights activists, zoos have transformed themselves into centres of conservation and research. At least that’s what they claim.

In response to the claim that enclosures at zoos were unnaturally small came the safari theme parks.

Dublin Zoo has now gone down this route by adding 32 acres and calling it the ‘African Plains’.

Complete with fatuous ‘traditional’ African houses it comes right out of the McDonald’s school of enterprise. The animals do gain, however, with much larger enclosures and fields for the larger species.

I noted though that some of the old big cat cages that have been emptied of the lions and leopards will be refilled with different big cats.

Not much progress there.

And at the end of the day, it’s all a matter of degree. Making the cages a little bigger doesn’t really answer the arguments.

So let’s take the zoo’s contentions one at a time.

The idea that Dublin Zoo will preserve wildlife is bizarre to me. For a start, I don’t see how capturing wild animals can preserve their numbers in the wild.

It may be that in a small number of cases breeding programmes can be carried out. But surely that would have more chance of success if it took place nearer the animal’s natural habitat.

And it doesn’t necessarily follow that giraffes should be locked up so that parrots can be bred in captivity.

Dublin Zoo does carry out research. I’m not sure how much but it must only take up a small proportion of its revenues and couldn’t justify the existence of the whole complex.

The zoo’s trump card is the education one.

Irish people would probably never see a zebra if it weren’t for the zoo. Without doubt it is a fascinating place.

But where’s the beef? If the zoo is educating people, what is it educating them about?

Dublin Zoo is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Dublin. Hundreds of thousands of people traipse through every year.

If the zoo is educating people about the threat wildlife is under, where’s the reaction? Where are all these masses being moved to? I haven’t seen any marches. I don’t see hoards of young people taking up zoology or campaigning about habitat destruction.

Could it be that Dublin Zoo is just an alternative to the cinema or the museum and that the vast majority of people forget about what they see as soon as they leave the place?

And if this is true, what is the justification in keeping animals confined in ways that are completely unnatural?

Perhaps all together – conservation, education and research – the whole thing makes sense and the animal kingdom might be marginally better off for the existence of the zoo.


As I say, I am now a member. For the next year I can drop in at will and perhaps I will get a different view of the place.

I visited Winsor Safari Park in London a few years back and saw a killer whale a month before it was released into the wild. I believe there are now no killer whales in captivity.

That could be a result of the ‘Free Willy’ films. Or it could be that keeping animals in cages is becoming untenable.


As well as that…

Life after the O’Flaherty saga

I thought the O’Flaherty case would run out of steam out of the sheer boredom of it all.

The supposed huge public outcry must have happened somewhere else because the only reaction to it I noticed was yawns and eyes up to heaven.

But it’s now safe to comment on it as I can’t be accused of prolonging the agony.

I’m sorry the judge didn’t tough it out. I hate to see the mob get its way.

No fresh air drinking

I’m looking forward to the matches at Croke Park next year.

I don’t mean the hurling and football. I mean the sight of guards wrestling bottles and pints out of the hands of hundreds outraged fans on Dorset Street.

This will come to pass after the city council bans street drinking. Of course, the thing will never be enforced until it is needed to harass some young people.

I wonder if the corpo’ aren’t leaving themselves open to litigation. With passive smoking now recognised as a real danger, will some anti-smoking lawyer claim that the corpo’ forced people to drink in a hazardous area?

Watch out for the winos carrying iffy-looking bottles of Mi-Wadi.