Animals’ Immobility: Ethical Issues Concerning Zoos and Directions for Improvement

The zoo, in its modern sense, was first established in the 18th century. It served as a public entertainment facility until the early 20th century, when it added new functions and purposes such as research and conservation of biodiversity. Meanwhile, most of the zoos in Korea are private, including many indoor zoos without outdoor fields. In addition, pseudo zoos and mini petting zoos operating in the form of cafés have been popping up, causing various problems. The “Act on the Management of Zoos and Aquariums” and “Wildlife Protection and Management Act”, which were revised in 2022, will convert the zoo registration system into a permit system, prohibit the exhibition of wild animals in places other than zoos, and prohibit newly possess species that are not suitable for exhibition. However, as zoos that enforce animal immobility, rely on, for the most part, the costs that spectators pay for viewing animals, the fundamental problems of zoos are challenging to solve and even ethically unacceptable. Therefore, in the short term, it is necessary to seek ways to improve the welfare of existing zoo animals; in the long term, it is necessary to transform of functions of zoos so that they can mainly take charge of animal protection, education, and conservation of species. Examples of overseas zoo and aquarium associations or advanced zoos suggest the following points:

It is necessary to standardise animal protection in the Constitution, develop provisions for punishing cruelty to exhibited animals, and present species-specific standards for improving the current situation of zoos and transforming their functions. Also, other aspects such as the specialisation according to the situation of each zoo, the collaboration for the conservation of species, and the development of programs to replace experience programs such as feeding should be considered.