DOES AN Asian lion or a bottle-nosed dolphin care whether it is a captive? As serious scientists, most animal managers would scoff at any suggestion that animals necessarily suffer because they are contained. There is no evidence that even the most intelligent animals have any perception of captivity. A compelling case could be made that, if one considers the best interests of animals as individuals, they are better off in zoos than in the wild. They live longer lives, their toenails clipped, cataracts removed, lacerations stitched and hunger sated with carefully balanced, sometimes vitamin-enriched foods. Animals in inhumane, overcrowded, filthy exhibits forced to live outside natural social groupings or denied the opportunity to practice natural behaviors may indeed suffer. But Heine Hediger, the renowned director of the Zurich Zoo, once opined: "If all the needs of the animal are adequately met, the zoo offers its inhabitants a man-made, miniature territory with all the properties of a natural one. The animal will then consider the territory its own: It marks and defends the area and does not feel imprisoned."
In the end, the aversion to animals in captivity may be a purely human one. My own disgust with an old prison-style menagerie comes in large part from that love of wild places and subsequently from a sense of dismay that magnificent creatures are so demeaned--presented for the purpose of being gawked at in a tiny, barred cell.