Today I took a trip to West Midlands Safari park with a group of friends; on the way I was like a child excited for Christmas, however I left with very mixed feelings – I’m a massive animal lover (I don’t even kill flies/slugs/spiders etc, much to the dislike of my mother) so I assumed seeing all these different animals would make me happy.
Don’t get me wrong, the park was amazing. We were able to feed the animals, get a close look at the lions; we even had a run in with an angry ostrich. It was a great experience… For us. I couldn’t help but think “shouldn’t they be out in the wild where they belong?” Instead they were in quite a small space (in comparison to the wild) whilst hundreds of onlookers drove past watching them stroll around the same grass day in and day out. It is nice to see these animals up close and personal, it’s entertainment for both children and adults, but is the entertainment at the cost of their freedom?
The Safari Park hosts a 4 mile drive through. You go through the African Plains in which you can find Rhino’s, Zebras, Buffalo, the Eland and more. The Grasslands are home to Persian Fallow Deer, the Wildwoods boast Dholes and in the Wild Asia section you can find Sambar Deer, Przewalksi’s Horse and the endangered Barasingha. Throughout the rest of the drive you can see White Lions, Cheetah, Camels, Elephants and more.
I think there are pros and cons to Zoos and Safari Parks. On the one hand, these animals are being protected in the sense that poachers/hunters cannot get them and they’re being fed daily. Whereas in the wild they’re always at risk of being killed by hunters and they are never guaranteed a meal. The Safari Park also holds the White Lion, an extremely endangered species, so it can be argued that they’re helping preserve these endangered animals to save them from becoming extinct. Zoos and Safari Parks also educate the public on different species they wouldn’t normally see. It also brings families/friends together as they are seen as a fun activity to do in groups.
On the other hand, you could question “what gives us the right to take these animals out of their natural habitat to make money?” Animals in captivity can often suffer from boredom and stress – no zoo or safari park can provide the same space as the wild. Even though it’s argued they’re saving certain animals from endangerment, removing individuals from the wild will further endanger the wild population because the remaining individuals will be less genetically diverse and will have more difficulty finding mates. Also, Zoo owners tend to argue that the conservation of endangered animals is their prime objective, but if that’s truly the case, one shouldn’t need to exhibit the animals for recreational purposes.
The federal Animal Welfare Act states only the most minimal standards for cage size, shelter, health care, ventilation, fencing, food and water. For example, enclosures must provide “sufficient space to allow each animal to make normal postural and social adjustments with adequate freedom of movement.” Elephants are known to travel long distances in the wild – they follow migratory routes and travel in herds so restricting their movements is unnatural.
The debate as to whether Zoos/Safari Parks are good or bad is all down to a matter of opinion. Animals should have their own rights, it shouldn’t be down to us to dictate whether they can or cannot live in their natural habitat. So, even though I felt the conditions at West Midlands Safari Park were good, they definitely do not compare to the wild. There just isn’t enough space to replicate the animals’ natural surroundings. But, the main thing is that they’re alive and happy. So, I’ll let you make your own mind up!
Pictures from the safari park can be found in the mini gallery next to this article (photos courtesy of Sanika Karnik).