People's Thoughts on Pets, Zoos, Species Subservience, Conservation, etc.?

It is strange to think about pets…Strange in the sense that many people have found memories of their subservient fellow animals. Feeding them food, observing them, taking pictures of them…On one hand, they feel like they are family. But how much of this is perception? As many people know, dogs, while they are docile, they can also be very territorial. If one is not within their “tribe”, they will bark, snarl, and growl at those that he/she perceives as strangers/danger. From an Anthropological standpoint, it made sense to have animals as guards; now, this is no longer the case. With respect to conservation of species, is it not better to have animals or other species in Zoos? Of course, this depends on the ability of a Zoo to take proper care of its inhabitants, which also depends on an institution’s funding. What are other people’s thoughts on pets, zoos, species subservience, conservation, etc.?


I think we try to find joy and connection where we can. I’m hesitant to judge anybody else’s choices – though I’d like to see a future that respects and encourages biodiversity, and well-being for all individuals of all species.


I think pets that are domesticated are fine but many individuals want pets which are not domesticated which is when issues start. Like for example, Joe Exotic. When it comes to zoos I like to think of them as places where animals that are injured or endangered can get back on their feet with the help from humans. In my opinion if zoos should revolve around this type of existence.


Not a zoo for entertainment, but wildlife rehab (if it is sincere)


What is often forgotten is that some animals such as cats and wolfes/dogs also searched for companionship of humans. Historically speaking it is generally a win-win-situation for those species. In my opinion it is thus a different case than in some of the “pet-ships” with wild animals one can observe today.
Unfortunately, a lot of pets - exotic or domesticated - are not treated well but as if they are things to serve us and get rid of when we are fed up with them. I personally decided to always go for second hand souls and unfortunately I do not see how that would ever really limit my chances in my lifetime to share my life with a pet.

I think, modern zoos do serve multiple causes, from educating to conservation and I thus think the do have a valid purpose. However, that does not validate keeping just any animal…some are better suited to probably just feel fine behind bars than others. Some of the most iconic animals kept in zoos should for sure not be there, I feel, and more and more zoos stopped keeping some of them. I hope practices will shift more and more to adress the needs and well-beeing of all lifeforms - including its visitors AND inhabitants.
I see, how others might have completly different opinions on that.


It still is very much the case in much of the world. In many countries and areas, crime is a huge problem, and people keep dogs both as a deterrent and a warning system.

With respect to conservation of species, is it not better to have animals or other species in Zoos?

This should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis with each species. For some animal species, captivity is clearly detrimental to their well-being no matter how well-funded the zoo is. Examples that jump to mind include elephants, some large carnivores, cetaceans, and great white sharks.

Then you have cases where the species can be adequately cared for in captivity, and breed well.

As to the conservation value of zoos - especially cases where they claim to breed animals for their conservation - I find myself tending to be skeptical. If zoos can contribute to the direct conservation of species in the wild, that is one thing; it is another thing entirely to breed animals in zoos that are not rare or endangered, for example, impala or kangaroos.

Even then, it is very rare that animals bred in captivity can be returned to the wild. A much-touted success story of zoo-led conservation - the California Condor - succeeded in releasing captive-bred birds only because they returned a couple of the original wild-caught condors back to the wild, which taught the captive-bred juveniles the skills necessary to survive; this took place after a number of released juveniles had died.

I also don’t know how much of the supposed educational value of zoos has been verified. Anecdotes aside, how much do zoos really educate people about the ecological and cultural value that these species have in their native habitats? Speaking from personal experience, I find myself comparing the lives of, for example, elephants living in zoos versus wild elephants, and thinking how much more diminished those poor elephants are - how sorely lacking and missing is the context of elephants as ecosystem engineers, where they fell trees, dig waterholes, and spread seeds and soil nutrients in their dung (which are eaten/colonised by dung beetles and fungi). How cooped up are those zoo elephants, when their wild brethen roam many kilometres per day!

One could argue the merits of captive life versus the wild - assured food supply and medical care, shelter from the elements, etc. But think on how humans and many other species require mental stimulation, the purpose that one naturally has to survive the wild, to earn one’s keep … Dogs LOVE having jobs; elephants derive much of their social lives in interacting not only with their herd, but other herds as well; and how dangerous and or broken great apes become if they are shackled in an environment bereft of mental stimulation and variation.

All-in-all, I find myself tending to not value zoos much for either their educational or conservation value.

For species that can be looked after adequately and breed well in captivity, such as snakes, raptors, or ungulates, I say go for it; for species such as cetaceans and elephants, I oppose. For animals critically endangered or extinct in the wild, i cautiously support - with the caveat that these captive animals may lose the cultural learning and skills that would have been passed down through the generations, and which perhaps we may find difficult to teach by virtue of being a different species.

I would rather people contribute to actual conservation by seeing animals in the wild where possible, thereby gaining a better appreciation for their existence and role in nature. This is why I support both public and private nature reserves and conservation programs.


Some random thoughts.
My dog is not subservient. I say ‘my’ because that’s the easiest way to say it. He has more leeway than I suspect his wild progenitors had. I try to enrich his life the best way I can (he chased a fox across the frozen river a couple of weeks ago), but he knows his place in the family ‘pack’. He knows what he can get away with and what he cannot. The cat is a different matter, but they generally don’t seem to care (indoor cat) as long as her needs are met. I don’t really like approved zoos for entertainment, but most of the animals there may have been injured, or cannot live in the wild. Zoos also serve as refuges for endangered animals and plants. Captive breeding programs are a way of ensuring a species continues to exist, with the hope of re-introducing into the wild if such a chance presents itself.
There have been some successful programs that have released a species back into their habitat - whooping cranes are an example. Conservation groups like Ducks Unlimited allow target animals (in this case waterfowl) to proliferate, enhancing the numbers of the target animal but also re-creating a habitat for non target species. I’m not a big fan of hunting, but if it is sustainable, it’s better than not.

EDIT - to be clear, I don’t take Finn out to hunt foxes. We walk along the Red river, which although it it is in the middle of a city, is amazingly wild. He had tracked it up along the riverbank, came back to me, and when the fox crossed the river (100m?) he saw it and took off after it. No chance of catching it.


Without making it personal, the idea of animal captivity changes culturally throughout history. Two hundred plus years ago, animals were reliant on transportation, protection, food, and entertainment. In semi-modern society, we saw the rise of circuses and zoos. By the next century, we see the rise of activists thinking for the well-being of animals. These ideas drove businesses to the ground starting the circuses, then SeaWorld and zoos are next on the list.

On a personal level, I believe as long as the animals are cared for, they should be ok. I went to the Oregon Aquarium last October and we had to pay double for emissions because of Covid. I had no problem paying for it because the quality of care is directly linked to the profit from tourism. If there is no profit, there’s no financial stability to make sure these animals are well taken care of.


Rather a loaded question, and you seem to telegraph your thinking by using the term “subservient”, but I’ll bite.

Are domesticated dogs (sticking to a singular example) truly a part of their “family” of humans? While I am unaware of any research study on the topic, I can speak from anecdotal experience of some 60 years. Yes. They are part of their families. (Of course, it could be a relationship anywhere along the spectrum from intricately involved and mutually beneficial, to manipulative or abusive–not unlike the spectrum of all human relationships.)

Dogs have personalities, both individual and on the breed level. Some are highly devoted and loyal, others will go home with whomever appeals to them at the moment. They have their own individual likes and dislikes. Over tens of thousands of years, they’ve evolved and adapted to live within the human sphere. At the same time, humans have complex relationships with their animals, both to meet certain physical needs, as well as emotional support.

I have a Labrador Retriever (Woody) who is my constant companion. Because I am hearing impaired to some extent, he alerts me to movements and sounds of which I’d otherwise remain unaware, an invaluable service rendered when I’m out in the field at night doing moth research, or at home anticipating the UPS man. He’s there when I’m having a bad day, to keep me from staying inside my head to my own detriment. On good days, he’s a part of the family plans. In return, he gets two meals a day, three orthopedic memory foam beds, numerous toys, daily runs of at least three miles, and a considerable amount of fetch time. His medical care is a certainty, while mine is sometimes set to the side. I’m not an overly emotive individual, but we get along well. He’s one in a long line of companion animals I’ve had in my life.

Subservient? Let’s see. I get up in the morning, not when I want to, but when Woody does. My first action is not a cup of coffee, but to let him out, then feed him. When I would rather stay at my work in the afternoon, instead I am taking him out for his exercise, 365 days a year, regardless of the weather. I could buy something nice for myself, or a $20 allegedly indestructible toy for him–you can imagine who is the winner. When he tore his CCL, I drove 500 miles round trip to a veterinary surgeon and spent $4000 for the surgery. When he did it the second time, I researched alternative therapies rather than subject him to a repeat of the extensive pain and healing, spending hours, weeks, and months doing physical therapy, and he is now the picture of health. (And before you think I’m an isolated individual who focuses solely on her dog to the exclusion of anything else because she’s pathetically lonely, no. I’m married, the mother of four, grandmother of four, and rather busy.) All I ask from Woody in return is that he exist in my home and not pee on the carpet, or chew my shoes–neither of which he does. I suggest that I am the subservient individual if one must be designated so.

I’m not alone. Any veterinarian can attest to the depth of relationship people can have with their animals, and the extent to which both thrive because of it.

The subtext here seems to be the suggestion that it is time to end this relationship; I think it’s a little late to stuff that one back in the bottle, unless someone is suggesting we summarily render every domestic dog on the face of the planet sterile and allow them to die out. To allow them to revert to a feral population is patently absurd and would be cruelty in its highest form.


In fact I’m kind of confused by different ideas you listed, so this answer will get more structurized with time.
As others stated, dogs and some other animals living in groups and having a strong hierarchy in those groups are in fact parts of the family. If dogs barks on someone it doesn’t know it’s not a reason to not have a dog. Dogs were domesticated for food, but they can do muc more, that’s why they’re so popular, plus people care more about animals they think that are more “intelligent”, though general public has medium sense in that question and tend to not like anything that is “too dumb”. Dogs know their place, they want to get attention from family leaders, though subservient is a wrong word, even fully working dogs are just doing job, not worse than a human guard (and we don’t call people so). Other than that pets have longer lives than their wild relatives, so they definitely agree for living in houses, cages and terrariums as long as human who owns them cares for them properly. We spent so much to keep our guinea pigs healthy that I would never guess before, spending real days with ill ones, exhausting morally and physically, it feels situation is reversed.
Pets are not kept for conservation, pets’ species are thriving. In very rare cases, like extincting amphibians, they can be pets and can be used to save the species. Zoos do some conservation now, but even then almost everywhere we see animal cruelty, small cages, stone floors, I’m ok with zoos as long as they do everything what is needed to give animals proper life.


Personally, as long as the zoo is respectful to the animals, and it is for wildlife rehab, not entertainment, I am ok with it. For pets, I believe that cats should be kept indoors at ALL times. It will kill many, many birds, and a coyote will eventually kill it. Not blaming the coyote, by the way. Dogs are fine as long as they are kept on leash. A coyote I found had 3 broken legs and a scar on its lip due to dog attack.


There are legit medical studies showing many health benefits provided by animal companions, such as cats and dogs, etc.

Dogs* are still a very valuable deterrent to crime. The neighborhood watch officer who addressed our community listed dogs as the #1 best way to keep thieves out of your house. Even a small dog barking can deter a thief from breaking and entering. For people without dogs, The officer even recommended getting a remote sensor to play a barking dog recording if someone approached your house.

As for zoos, that’s a very broad topic. Many zoos and aquariums do good work, others maybe not so good.

The nature center I worked at had “animal ambassadors”. While most of the animals were small phlegmatic species (amphibians, insects, etc.), we had a few larger species like snakes, an opossum, and birds of prey. These were often injured wildlife that could not be rehabilitated well enough to survive without human help. The animal curators worked with them to get them comfortable with their roles. (Our facilities needed approval from Fish and Game. The certification was not easy to get; and the requirements included knowledgeable, trained curators to provide animal care and staff training and provisions for regular veterinary care.)

I do believe our presentations helped children come to understand that animals are real “beings” and not animated novelties. So many suburban/urban children have such little exposure to wildlife that having an interaction where they see and learn about a real animal can make a big change in their outlook and how they value nature.

*PS I guess I should say something about cats… my opinion is cats should be indoors whenever possible. They are wonderful, caring beings when socialized early to indoor living. That said, I have known of outdoor cats who were awfully good at catching rats. Sadly, they also go for birds, which are not invasive, non-native pests like rats.


So what about eating animals? I am vegetarian, almost vegan. If you eat chicken or beef or lamb, I don’t want to hear you complaining about people having pet dogs, or the existence of zoos.


With exotic animals (anything not domesticated), private owners should stick to animals that can be captive-bred or sustainably caught, and that do well in an enclosure. For example, I used to keep captive-bred poison dart frogs. They’re small, so they do just fine in a suitably set up enclosure, and they’re easy enough to feed if you culture wingless fruit flies and dust the flies in vitamins. Provide light, live plants to clean the waste, proper humidity and temperature, and there we go. It’s basically an aquarium, or a zoo exhibit. The animal is decorative, you don’t make any effort to play with it or treat it like a house pet.
Some bolder lizards and snakes (bearded dragons and ball pythons, for example) can be kept in a way where you keep them in a suitable enclosure, and occasionally interact with them. Heck, some fish are interactive, though they of course have to stay in the enclosure. There are a decent number of exotic animals which can be kept this way and live perfectly good lives. Many fish, some reptiles and amphibians, plenty of invertebrates, and a few small mammals like mice. Let’s call them “box exotics”.
Box exotics are why I’m not in support of banning ALL exotic animals. But there are certainly plenty (foxes, alligators, etc) that should be left to zoos, or in the wild. The average person simply can’t give them a good environment as a pet, and people who want them tend to want them as pets. Now, if someone converted their backyard into a proper alligator enclosure, that’s another thing.
A notable exception to “private owners shouldn’t have any exotics except box exotics” is birds used in falconry. Falconry does not involve a bird of prey as a household pet. When done properly, it means a good quality of life for the birds involved. Since falconry involves releasing birds to fly around on their own, it pretty much has to be done properly- otherwise they’ll leave.


I have no problems with zoos or exotic pets, as long as the animals are well cared for.

Remember that zoos are extremely important for conservation - captive breeding has saved many species and organisations like the Wildlife Conservation Society and San Diego Zoo Global have done much for wildlife conservation.


This is true to a large extent evolutionarily as well. How are dogs doing compared to wolves? Donkeys vs. wild asses? Cattle vs. aurochsen? Domestic vs. wild camels?


Domesticated animals as pets? Fine, if cared for well. Especially if they’re species that have been domesticated for millennia.

Zoos? It is currently impossible for certain species to avoid extinction in the wild. We wish it weren’t true, but it is. Many zoos are helping preserve them. Accredited zoos have a place. And in order to pursue that goal, they have to provide additional entertainment, to bring in the money to support conservation. That’s just real. And zoos do have some educational benefit and some opportunity to help people form emotional links with wild animals. So I’m all for accredited zoos, though with a bit of ambivalence.


I would like to add that I don’t think an animal being in captivity purely for human entertainment is necessarily a bad thing. Not if that animal is being properly housed, and has a good quality of life. An animal in a (good) zoo or a (good) pet exhibit is an animal which has a constant supply of nutritious food and clean water, whatever temperatures and humidity it does best in, enough space and enrichment to fulfill its needs for those, and a level of veterinary care that no wild animal will ever get. If it’s an animal that’s being bred, its offspring will go to similar homes. That’s a pretty good deal.
Even if all zoos did was provide entertainment in the form of happy, healthy, sustainably collected animals, there’s nothing wrong with that. And they do a lot more than entertainment.


@haemocyanin11 You do ask some interesting questions and there’s a lot that could be said. This is probably not going to be one of my shorter answers but I’ll do my best.

Subservient is an interesting word in this context. It fits with the Biblical notion of humans having “dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” which is the foundation of attitudes and laws regarding ownership and use of animals in so-called Western cultures.Other cultures have different views, some even more rigidly utilitarian than the dominant model in Western systems, others more egalitarian in their view of relations among species. Among North American Indigenous cultures the belief that humans and other organisms are persons in a community with roles and responsibilities to each other is widespread.

My own views are not straightforward. I understand that we are part of a web of life that nurtures and sustains us in various ways, including by providing us with things to eat. I grew up hunting and fishing. I still own guns but haven’t hunted in decades. I still occasionally fish. I also understand that as humans we are what ethicists refer to as moral agents; we have a sense of right and wrong and we are capable of measuring our behaviour against those concepts.

I believe that our relationships with other living things should be predicated on respect for life and that respect extends to the things (like clean water, clean air and clean soil) on which other things depend. Respect includes respect for the dignity of other living things and a willingness to resist the tendency to disrespect creatures whose essence is radically different from our own. I believe that callousness toward suffering, whether it be human or animal, is wrong. To kill something to eat or to defend life and home is not wrong but to kill for pleasure is. I feel the same way about dragging fish around on a hook for fun and then letting them go.

As a kid I was always bringing stray things home. I currently share a house with (in addition to my wife and son) two dogs and three cats, all of them rescues. They bring me immeasurable pleasure by virtue of their unconditional love (talking about dogs here), their individuality, their intelligence and their companionship. They don’t have hard lives but they also don’t get to do whatever they feel like either. From where I sit it looks like they have a pretty good deal.

I dislike zoos. Most of my reasoning is similar to Henry David Thoreau’s reasons for disliking museums - their displays are hollow shells of the real things. I’ve worked with wild marine mammals and I really don’t like aquaria that put them on display. Anybody who would take a killer whale or a beluga from the wild and put it on display in what amounts to a largeish swimming pool is clueless at best and that’s a charitable read. Yeah, some zoos take a role in captive breeding of endangered species. They also provide the social context for grotesques like Joe Exotic to do what they do. And let’s be clear, the captive breeding business is a relatively new thing for most zoos and largely an effort to repair a really tawdry reputation earned over many years of displaying wildlife in appalling conditions. Some are definitely better than others. Captive breeding is needed in some instances but the standard model sucks.

I eat some kinds of fish, some kinds of invertebrates, haploid versions of some other kinds of vertebrates and dairy. Mostly I eat vegetables (I have a thing for curries). I pay a lot of attention to where things come from. There is no single reason but dislike of factory farming is on the list. I’m not dogmatic about it; I’ve been offered meat dishes by Indigenous elders and eaten them rather than appear ungrateful (I would not know what muskrat tastes like if I hadn’t). It’s just a personal choice.


Having lived in Ecuador for a while, the story about the amphibians there is just so sad. Some species only seem to only have survived up to now, because scientists and conservationist went into the wild and collected as many species as possible before the chytrid fungi erraticated them. Some are only alive in the lab now. At the moment, plans to release them again in the wild seem hopeless. But loosing hope is no solution. Maybe at some point CRISPR or protein-Switches or whatever will provide a solution to prepare those species for being released. Until then, I think it is good, that the world did not just watch them die, but tried something, even if it means keeping them.

…Similar stories can be told for other species/animal groups.